Clams Casino - Instrumentals 2

When Clams Casino released his first Instrumentals mixtape just over a year ago, he was living off the rap grid, studying to be a physical therapist at home in New Jersey and putting together head-blown rap beats in his spare time, entirely as a hobby. He’d supplied a bunch of instrumentals to Lil B, and he’d randomly placed a few beats on a Soulja Boy mixtape or two, but he wasn’t making any money for his work, and he didn’t particularly expect to. When my friend Ryan Dombal interviewed him for Pitchfork around that time, he said that he’d never met Lil B, his closest collaborator. He’d bought a ticket for one of B’s New York shows, but he’d left early because the show was sold out and his friends couldn’t get it. (Ryan said something like: “Dude, I think you probably could’ve gotten in for free.”) The tracks on that first Instrumentals tape had mostly already lived as rap songs, but for most of us, they weren’t especially familiar rap songs; we hadn’t fully internalized those random Lil B mixtape tracks. And now that Clams has gotten around to releasing his second Instrumentals tape, his circumstances couldn’t be more different, even if his music relies on the same feelings and sensations.

Over the past 15 or 16 months, the music that Clams was making at home in New Jersey has become a sort of aesthetic movement, one that’s come to dominate certain corners of the instrumental rap landscape. His style is all hazy, swoony gloop. His drums hit hard sometimes, but he’s not exactly working in the Pete Rock/DJ Premier tradition — or, if he is, he’s pushing the trippier elements of that sound way past their logical extreme. Samples burble up from the deep and then sniff themselves out; it’s almost like those pieces of vocal are in the process of drowning. The bass-pulses are faraway echoes. His sound is the rap beat as haunted-house new-age, and it’s a big part of the reason why a space-cadet rapper as disconnected and undisciplined as Lil B can sometimes sound close to brilliant. In a way, his sound has as much to do with the Orb or early Aphex Twin as it does with DJ Shadow or the Heatmakerz, perhaps accidentally. And hearing a collection of Clams beats with no rappers only amplifies those feelings. Without those voices, his music becomes pure longing drift. It’s often just beautiful.

But now there’s a familiarity to Clams, and the tracks he’s chosen for Instrumentals 2 are among his best-known. The first track on Instrumentals 2 is ASAP Rocky’s “Palace,” which was also the first track on LIVELOVEA$AP, one of the past year’s best-known and most important mixtapes. At first, it’s hard to focus on the instrumental itself, since that instrumental now has its own associations; I can’t hear that opening cymbal-smash and those sampled choral vocals without mentally filling in Rocky’s absent introduction (“Unh, goddam, how real is this”). The songs that appear in instrumental form on Instrumentals 2 are, for the most part, big songs — tracks that Clams made for Rocky or the Weeknd, or his remixes for Lana Del Rey and Washed Out (now stripped of all traces of the original tracks). He’s included his instrumental for the best song that Lil B has ever recorded (“I’m God”) and the most instantly-recognizable beat he’s made for B (“Unchain Me,” which prominently samples the “thou shalt not kill” song from The Lost Boys). Clams hasn’t exactly had a pop breakthrough, but there’s a beat here from an honest-to-god #1-on-Billboard album: Mac Miller’s “One Last Thing,” now blessedly free of Mac Miller. When most of these beats don’t exist in a vacuum, when they’ve basically already had a life as underground hits, it’s a bit harder to give yourself completely over to the ebb and flow of the mixtape. It’s distracting.

But then, that distraction-level is also a powerful reminder of how far Clams has come in a short time. The sound he helped to pioneer, the one that’s come to be known as “cloud-rap,” has taken on a life of its own, and Clams has taken his rightful place at its forefront. On some level, he’s still just some relatively anonymous guy making rich-in-feeling tracks on his computer in his basement, but now those tracks have proved durable enough to stand on their own, as actual songs. And after a few spins, Instrumentals 2 starts to lose the displacing weirdness of deja vu and to play on its own. Instrumentals 2 is still brand-new, so it’s only starting to lose those associations for me. But the great thing about Clams’ sound is that it can completely fill up a room and transform whatever mundane activity you’re engaged in into something grandly, romantically dark. It’s perfect rainy-day background music, and it’s strange and fascinating to consider the idea that rainy-day background music is now a huge part of underground rap. If the first Instrumentals tape marked the moment where Clams announced his arrival, this new one — the updated resume — is the one where he forces us to come to grips with the strange and improbable form of dominance he’s achieved.

Download Instrumentals 2 for free here.

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Comments (8)
  1. dudes like Clams here make rap music and hip-hop enjoyable to people, who usually wouldn’t like it, mostly because his beats are incredible no matter what voice you put on top of it

  2. The clear pick for Mixtape of the week. Good job, tom.

  3. Let’s discuss how well Clams sequenced this mixtape.

    I fully agree that the A$AP instrumentals are a bit distracting. It’s hard to listen to those and not sing-a-long to fill in the pauses. Thankfully he puts the three well-known beats at the front, getting them out of the way to give space to the rest of the amazing instrumentals. (Personally, that “Palace” beat will never get old as an intro).

    One of the best parts is “The Fall” original mix. It seems Abel tinkered with and in my humble opinion, ruined the original beat. I recall scratching my head when I first heard “The Fall” on Echoes of Silence and saying to myself, “This is a Clams beat??” Now I know.

    ClammyClams once again saves Track 5 for an unreleased beat. How long you think before G-Side turns it into a smash?

    I love the inclusion of the Washed Out, LDR and “Swervin” remixes – all in one place now. Their atmospherics help to balance out the more hip-hop oriented beats that were actually used by said rappers. I FINALLY get my “Unchain Me” instrumental (THANK YOU BASED GOD!!) that was my favorite track from Lil B’s “Im Gay” last year.

    Then, as tom mentioned above, ending where the Instrumental mixtape legacy began: A Lil B joint.

    I agree it’s going to take many more spins to disassociate the individual tracks and begin to enjoy this as a full cohesive release. But I think given how strong the sequencing is that it may take fewer spins than first imagined.

  4. I love this mixtape because it lends an air of grandeur to every mundane act. I feel like a boss when I put on my pants in the morning while listening to “Unchain Me”.

  5. i’m just stoked that i finally have an instrumental of “i’m god” that’s not a shit-quality rip off of youtube. that beat is straight from the heavens.

  6. Oh man. So excited about this. I loves youse Clammy Clams!

  7. this is the best album to study to or put on when your drunk white friend wants to freestyle without being shown up by the person actually featured on the track in the background haha

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