32 Levels is the album that Clams Casino’s production up to this point has been promising, and he made good on it.
You can count on one hand the most influential beats of the 2010s. There’s “I Don’t Like” from Young Chop and the one-two punch of Lex Luger’s “B.M.F.” and “Hard in da Paint”, and Willie B’s “Rigamortus” presaged the jazzy brilliance of To Pimp a Butterfly. But competing with Luger’s productions for the most imitators has to be Clams Casino’s “I’m God”, the song that for many changed their view of Lil B from an internet curio to an artist worth exploring. Built around a sample of Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now”, frequent and hard-hitting bass complements Lil B’s koans (Heap’s harmonizing as Lil B says “Sorry for the cuss words / Fuck that, curse more” is an exemplar instance of cloud rap’s potential) and is as enjoyable to listen to as an instrumental as it is with the based musings. And it’s only fitting, then, that Casino’s most famous beat spawned the title of his debut album, 32 Levels. On this album he shows a consolidation of his previous work all while holding down his title as one of music’s most original producers.
Though Casino gained his greatest fame from his Instrumentals series of mixtapes, there’s a definite argument to be made for his Rainforest EP as containing the pinnacle of his potential as a producer until 32 Levels. Vocal samples were completely distorted and stretched to their sonic limits; cloud rap was shown what it could do in a storm. Later productions began to nod towards chaotic electronica influences, and there is a clear confluence of styles on this album.
It’s certainly not a stretch, after listening to 32 Levels and having solid background knowledge of Casino’s productions, that he recruited specific artists that he knew he could create a cohesive product with while still showing off soundscapes individual to each artist. The opening half of the album is distinctly past Clams Casino, bringing on Lil B four times (three credited), and A$AP Rocky and Vince Staples once. All three of these artists have had some of their best work backed by his productions, and everybody involved brings their top game. “Be Somebody”, the track bringing together Lil B and Rocky, sounds like the demonic evolution of the production he brought to Live.Love.A$AP. “I know Clams got me / … / So how can I lose?”, Lil B raps, justifiably confident in his producer’s abilities. Later, on the Lil B solo track “Witness”, we’re treated to one of the most pop-minded tracks he’s ever put out, chant-ready hook and conventional rhyme scheme and all. And “All Nite”, the track with Vince Staples, is as indebted to the stellar production of No I.D. on his Shyne Coldchain Vol 2 as Casino’s signature cloud rap, and the pairing couldn’t work better.
The fulcrum point of the album, however, is the fifth track, “Skull”. This is Casino’s most quintessentially Tri-Angle production yet, invoking the horror of the Haxan Cloak and Brood Ma while not sacrificing his sluggish drums to add that personal flourish. It signals one direction 32 Levels could go: completely dark and challenging, pushing the limits of conventional hip-hop production. Instead, he puts together a back half of alt-pop/R&B tracks unlike any he’d done before.
The two standouts in this section are “Thanks to You” featuring Sam Dew and “A Breath Away” featuring Kelela. The former track moves at the same pace as his Rainforest EP tracks, but with a brightness that those were without. The latter utilizes a smokier production to complement Kelela’s uplifting vocals, changing enough times during the track’s nearly-five-minutes to remain interesting. Elsewhere, however, these attempts fall short. Namely on “Ghost in a Kiss”, featuring Future Islands singer Samuel T. Herring, it’s hard to listen to the song and think of any word short of “melodramatic”.
Thankfully, the album ends on one of his strongest instrumentals, “Blast”, and the option to purchase the album as all instrumentals is quite tempting given the quality shown throughout. 32 Levels is the album that Clams Casino’s production up to this point has been promising, and he made good on it. Being boxed in as just a “cloud rap” producer is an ill-fitting label for somebody who has created one of the most influential beats of the decade. His legacy will live on thanks to “I’m God”, but with the rest of his discography just as strong, it’s hard to see him as anything less than one of music’s foremost production talents.