[12 June 2014]
Darkness, in lyrics and musical modes, is a topic that is brought up constantly in album reviews. Just this year we’ve had the crushing ramblings of Sun Kil Moon, the gritty gang life soundtrack of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, and La Dispute’s devastating poetry. For all the gloom cloaking those albums, light still shimmered through. Benji’s closer “Ben’s My Friend” was near whimsical, Gibbs had an ode to his favorite restaurant between stories of robberies, and La Dispute’s spoken word attack could be just as life-affirming as it was terrifying. Clipping. is different. No rays of sunshine here, nothing to alleviate the horror. The darkness doesn’t just cover the album; it encases it, then seeps into its very DNA. It’s the first album of 2014, and the first album in a long while, that seems—well—evil.
The L.A. based noise-hop trio has often been grouped together with Death Grips and post-Yeezus Kanye. At the base level, it’s a good comparison. Producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson are fond of ripping ear drums apart with canon blasts of white noise and MC Daveed Diggs has enough rage to keep up with Yeezy and MC Ride. Their debut album Midcity was an abstract release that was unpolished to the point that Diggs’ bars were buried underneath mountains of scratching sound. CLPPNG is a more focused release that separates Clipping. from their experimental peers. Anyone who’s kept up with Diggs since his solo record Small Things to a Giant knows he has the potential to weave some terrifying stories and his chemistry from Hutson and Snipes has vastly improved since Midcity. It’s a perfect storm of harrowing insanity. If MC Ride’s delivery is like a shocking act of violence then Diggs’ lines are the cold and calculating moments beforehand. It’s a claustrophobic album with Diggs giving you painstaking detail that plunges you into his stories of serial killers, cannibals, and cities built on anything but rock n’ roll. “The fire alarms are oddly calming”, Diggs intones and, compared with the rest of the noise here wailing alarms would be a comfort. Those screeches would give a semblance of order.
Diggs has improved since Midcity; opener “Intro” only has a piercing note in the background as Diggs spits a dizzying verse: “Wrapping five fingers ‘round that much cash will make a motherfucker Cassius Clay.” His weapons are his blinding bars and his cold as a corpse flow. He cuts down other gangsta rappers calling out the fake MCs in lead single “Work Work”. Over the year’s strangest beat (ball bearings in a thermos) a wanna be star is trying to “say something slick on some Jay-Z 99 Problems type shit”, but Diggs informs him “It really doesn’t matter cause you already dead / No obituaries for the most part / Nobody cares you’re not even a co-star.” While he’s deconstructing empires. Diggs is building his own. “Motherfuckers still die in the summertime” he threatens, sounding like hip-hop’s version of the Joker. Hip-hop deserves a better class of MC and Diggs is going to give it to you. His story telling is on another level. “Inside Out” has Diggs surveying one fucked up neighborhood before he zooms into a seemingly random house (“Orange couch, plastic wrap, what’s happening re-run / Oak frame / Hologram Jesus portrait”) then he makes everything a bit more terrifying. “The coroners’ report of the seven exit wounds, three in the skull four in the torso,” his words are punctuated by decimating ear grenade. “Story 2” is Diggs’ best storytelling and I won’t dare give it away.
I’ll briefly point out that CLPPNG does have two pitfalls: “Tonight” and “Williams Mix”. “Williams Mix” ends the album and it feels unnecessary. “Tonight” takes Clipping.’s parody of mainstream hip-hop too far. They attempt to satire club rap, but end up making a song that sounds too close to the source material and it suffers for it. CLPPNG is all about the warped sounds coming from the trio’s twisted minds, not outside influences. The Auto-Tune cursed chorus of “Tonight” is the only time Snipes and Hutson stumble. The can rattle your brain around in your head with sonic guerrilla warfare, but they’re just as good at making eerie near beats. The ghostly chimes of “Dream” become goddamn petrifying as Diggs monotones “It was all a dream / Pictures in murder dog magazine.” They also pull off the alarm clock symphony of “Get Up” with ease and “Ends” is the album’s real closer with brooding synth work. The backwards and punishing drum machines of “Taking Off” duet in dissonant harmony with Diggs’ realist (and possibly most shocking) lines; “What is in the mind of a motherfucking killer when he chillin’ on the porch with his daughter in his lap? Peace / That man just doing his job fam”. That’s why Clipping. are so scary. They don’t glorify the violence and gore, they’ll force you to smell the newly spilled blood. See they’re not monsters, they’re just ahead of the curve.