Mach-Hommy: The Man Behind the Mask

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The car is not unmarked—in fact, it’s very conspicuous. It’s about 8:30 in the morning, and I’ve been told to meet the Haitian-American rapper Mach-Hommy at a cafe east of downtown Los Angeles. The moment I find a patio chair, however, my phone rings. A woman’s voice: “Change of plans. Mach’s friend is there; he’ll take you to where Mach is.” A slender man of about 70, wearing a surgical mask and grey hair down to his shoulders, appears above my table. He tells me to follow him into a yellow Volkswagen Beetle with bold black stripes and, he says, a much more powerful engine than I’m expecting. “I only care about three things,” the man tells me as we buckle in: “God, dentistry… and cars.” We peel out of the arts district and careen toward I-10.

Without going too far into detail, the dentist’s methods are unconventional. His theories about what many commonly-used materials do to the bloodstream and nervous system are distinctly Californian: at once outlandish and full of intuitive sense. He says he blends his own alloy for his patients’ fillings and speaks like a Pynchon stoner (“Guys these days, they’re whacking off, looking at their iPhones… there’s no more Howard Hughes”). An hour into our drive—I eventually realize we’re going to, or maybe past, Malibu—he pulls off the highway to show me the buildings that house HRL Laboratories, the opaque aerospace research firm Hughes founded in the ‘40s.

We finally arrive at a secluded property that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The only building on the expansive lot is a custom-built studio which belongs to a well-known film composer. This is surrounded by a moat for koi fish who have a Pavlovian attachment to a large gong; the interior walls, an assistant shows us with Vanna White flair, move on tracks fixed to the ceiling. There’s a piano signed by those who have written or recorded here, everyone from Ariana Grande to Fran Drescher. Toward the back—toward the ocean—in a white Martin Brodeur jersey is Mach-Hommy, his startlingly tall frame folded into an office chair, staring patiently at a mixing board.

Mach is here to listen to an early mix of his new album, Balens Cho, which was released last week. (The title means Hot Candles in the Kreyol he frequently lapses into on record.) Even in its unfinished state, Balens Cho is full of warmth: horns and sampled vocals that provide spines in the mix, touches of soul, rich drums. Despite this, I tell him, it sounds like a winter record. Mach—in the Devils jersey, smirking against the California sun—nods. “That’s seasonal depression,” he says. “You know what it is.”

Over the past five years, Mach has made some of the strangest, most incisive, most tantalizingly intertextual rap music in the world. Until recently, only a modest percentage of it was widely available on streaming platforms: After selling his breakthrough LP, 2016’s Haitian Body Odor, through Instagram, he proceeded to list many of his albums for hundreds of dollars on Bandcamp and other websites. This scarcity helped create an aura of mystery that stood in for traditional press hype, but the records themselves hold up to careful scrutiny. He has a pliable voice that effectively communicates contempt (often) or longing (selectively); his writing seems like collage until it doesn’t, breaking from interpolated lyrics and allusion into richly rendered scenes from his own memory. His album from this May, Pray for Haiti, is his most acclaimed and widely-heard to date, an ecstatic burst of ancient wisdom and Vetements linen. In person, he sounds much as he does on wax, speaking in a blend of cryptic wisdom and joking asides.

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