Review by: Jonathan Moss
Clipping’s latest album is a concept album that made me completely re-evaluate my opinion on the group. Prior to the album I had viewed them as a minor noise-rap group, with a few catchy songs and a generally interesting sound, but nothing compared to Death Grips or Dalek. This album made me take them seriously as a modern experimental hip hop group and realise I’d been unfair to their previous releases. It made me feel like a fool, but I’ll happily be a fool if I can continue listening to this album.
Like I said, it’s a concept album, and while the concept is interesting I really won’t be going into it that much. What I will talk about is the general sound of the album. Well, it’s got a really claustrophobic vibe, like a mother shoved her child into a washing machine because she didn’t love it enough to clean it herself. It’s also got a lot of neat sounds, shit like metallic clanging and other noises. The synth lines remind me somewhat of PiL’s album The Flowers of Romance, though probably more in spirit than actual sound, just the same gothic coldness and weirdness. Less abstractly, they’re pretty glitchy and cold, like an iceberg with some asshole playing a Gameboy on it. This really gives the album a sound matching its setting as a malfunctioning space slave ship, the whole album sounds clanky, dank and leaky.
Daveed Digg’s rapping on the album is pretty great as well. Whilst in the past I’d dismissed him as a rapper with a really good flow and delivery but little in the way of any personality, this album made me realise he has a pretty interesting overall style, managing to sound cold, cocky, sentimental, unsure, whatever mood the album and story demands. He also has some really neat lyrics on the album, especially on songs such as “All Black” (“That time will not afford him, any cover, any pardon, This is the choice that he has made, No matter how much time or space has passed since his escape, he is still a runaway slave and so lonely”) and “Baby Don’t Sleep” (“No home, you’ve been there, clearly off safety, no destination, no time for waiting, saviors are fiction, memories fading like ghosts, ghosts, go”). I also find it interesting that Daveed chose to make the album about a slave in the space age, as it of course shows raps place in black culture, making them seem like they’ll take the place that spirituals took during American slavery.
“All Black” is the first proper song on the album and fuck is it magnificent. Pretty much the moment I heard it I realised I’d made a mistake with my evaluation of Clipping in the past. It’s a very creepy, minimalistic song, six minutes and repetitive, but in a good way. The songs backing instrumentation sounds almost dark ambientish. I’d just like to point out when I made notes for this song I didn’t know what the album was about, and I wrote “sounds like an empty, decayed ship”.
I’m a fucking genius.
“Wake Up” is a really cool song as well, being short and having a very manic pace, with Daveed’s rapping being a whirlwind of fast paced paranoia, which matches the BLARING SIREN. It sounds like the ship is being hit by asteroids, which serves the concept well. It also has some nice singing, adding an eerie vibe, with the singing being clearly influenced by, shit, the type of music in Fallout 3. “True Believer” has some bashing percussion and more of the ye olde style singing. “Air Em Out” is a fucking classic, just one of those songs that you feel cool listening to (though when you realise this you feel really uncool). Its the closest the album comes to embracing contemporary rap, percussion is trap and synths are grime, kind of. Daveed’s vocal performance is very confident and braggadocious, adding to the vibe. The driving, dancey beat helps, though the song is deffos too abrasive to be played in a club.
I’m going to talk about the last two tracks separately, because they work so well as almost a mini-suite, a good juxtaposition. “Baby Don’t Sleep” is a particularly abstract and menacing song, while “A Better Place” is really pretty and poppish. “Baby” creates its bleak atmosphere- it sounds the like ship is disintegrating- with a multitude of ominous noise influenced sounds, urgent, stern rapping from Daveed, especially on the chorus, which takes a leap into dark ambience and general robotic weirdness with a high pitched robot voice saying the title of the song. “A Better Place” meanwhile has an atmosphere which suggests a calming universe, created with beautiful, melodic keyboard playing, pleasant spacey tangerine dream like sound effect, and an uplifting rap performance by Daveed, with some pretty singing as well. The song could be the first in ambient pop-rap. Lyrically both songs are pretty bleak though, “Baby” appears to be about the ship being destroyed whilst “A Better Place” makes it clear the protagonist wont survive. And of course, even if he does, he’s still a runaway slave. This is perhaps why despite the ostensible positivity of “A Better Place” the song actually ends on a burst of nihilistic harsh noise. Together the two songs work together beautifully to create a sad end to the album, which is what makes me look at them as a piece.
This review is getting a bit long but I do have to criticize the album a bit before I can end it. Not that the criticism is perfunctory, I really do feel like the album doesn’t contain enough songs. The interludes are cool thematically and I did like them the first time I listened, they do become annoying and in their place they could have included some other songs, perhaps a few other bangers like “Air ‘Em Out”.
Overall though this is a very strong album and it makes me feel excited about Clippings future.