Music

Clipping.: Splendor & Misery

If any group were to succeed in making a rap opera in outer space, it would be Clipping.


Clipping.

Splendor & Misery

Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2016-09-09
UK Release Date: 2016-09-09
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

LA-based hip-hop group Clipping. reared from the starting gate an unwieldy beast, crafting some of the harshest rap music of the early 2010s. The moniker alone reveals their machine worship, named for the distortion produced when an audio signal maxes out the amplifier. The trio -- comprised of William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes, and Daveed Diggs -- holds pedigrees in domains well outside hip-hop: Hutson and Snipes have composed for film, and Diggs starred in revolutionary Broadway production Hamilton. While noise rap and musical theatre exist in distinct ecospheres, both works serve as culturally informed pastiche, demonstrations of a “conscious” mastery of disparate forms. And in Clipping.’s case, the product falls at the juncture of hardcore, industrial, and abstract hip-hop -- though this will be the last time we speak of genre labels.

If anything, Clipping. proves the categorical futility of labeling hip-hop, laying to rest all doubt that hip-hop can be anything you spit verses over. This trio feels just as comfortable finding their rhythmic center in power electronics and field recordings as their contemporaries do in 808s. Though Clipping. is by no means the first or even the most radical rap groups to dive into the abyss of noise -- take the Beatnigs of the ’80s, Techno Animal of the ’90s, Dälek of the ’00s -- the group reaches as dark and transgressive depths as any other. One may have difficulty speaking of Clipping. without mention of Death Grips, though the two groups exist merely as points in the vast constellation of no holds barred hip-hop. Decades of experimentation have forged the way so that only now can a group of this disposition garner anything like mainstream attention. So how does such a group, equipped with Broadway-crossover appeal and a Sub Pop contract, go about their third full-length release? By making a rap opera in outer space, of course!

When done right, concept albums relate grand narratives through a mix of humor and insight, but more often, they alienate listeners with bombast or heavy-handedness. In these instances, it seems the music must continually play catch up with the concept, and unfortunately, Splendor & Misery can fall into this trap. Frankly, if you don’t know what to make of this record, you’re not alone. You can’t ignore its streak of brilliance. Diggs’ tongue twisters alone, spit rapidfire with impeccable diction in the vein of Busta Rhymes or Busdriver, make for a compelling listen. And the overt Afrofuturist concept, which expands on the mythology laid out by Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic, charms far more often than it addles. With its gospel overtones -- the a capella “Story” and work song-inspired “Long Way Way” -- the result, in theory, crafts a revisionist post-slavery narrative as relevant as ever to black America. In the mechanics, however, things begin to unwind.

Splendor & Misery paradoxically stands as Clipping.’s most and least accessible albums. “True Believer” sounds like something you’d find on an Anticon release, and the verses of the Kendrick-referencing “All Black” wouldn’t be so out of place on K-Dot’s next release. The second single, “Air ’Em Out”, recalls 2014’s elegant banger “Work Work”, though this time, we’re serenaded about space trapping and space pussy: "With his partners tryna make his fuckin’ name in the traps / All the way from Panshekara to the Kefahuchi tract." And compared with any of the pleasantly earsplitting beats of 2013’s midcity, the beeps and fuzz of Splendor & Misery feel tame.

It’s the high-concept eclecticism, however, that makes this record so cumbersome. Amidst unprecedented stylistic leaps and machine-gun rapping, comprehending the meaning of Splendor & Misery is a true challenge. Sub Pop’s release page spills the record’s storyline, but part of fun is in decoding the fate of our cosmically lonesome hero and his sentient computer companion for yourself. The album lacks breaks between songs, and the 17-item track list, complete with interludes and “freestyles”, compels you to digest the album in its entirety, so you have little choice but to be patient. Furthermore, Clipping. has always exuded technocentrism, and this record only affirms a view of the universe as a cold and empty place. (It’s a double-edged sword that when you take on a robotic theme, the product may come across as, well, robotic.) But the final track, “A Better Place”, does wonders to wrap up the album and restore a sense of humanity. Triumphant, feel-good verses sit atop a jingly, minimalist beat with the repeated hook: "There must be a / Better place to / Be somebody / Be somebody else.” It’s fitting that a group committed to the limitless expansion of the hip-hop canvas end its dystopian saga on a note of optimism -- a nebulous yet undying faith in a better tomorrow.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Music

Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.

Music

Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.