The minute the L.A. trio clipping. emerged, combining clinically precise raps with assaultive squalls of electro-noise, they invited comparison to another California group, Death Grips. But those comparisons don’t work, and the main reason is also the main reason I can’t stand Death Grips. Here’s the thing: clipping. are, on some level, a rap group, and Death Grips are not. Stefan Burnett doesn’t really rap; he bellows and harangues and booms out cryptic slogans. He uses his voice as a blunt weapon, crashing his way through tracks, forcing you to pay attention. And his delivery is really closer to an industrial carnival-barker type, a guy like Al Jourgenson or Pigface’s Martin Atkins, than it is to, I don’t know, Kurupt. Daveed Diggs of clipping., on the other hand, is a rapper, a fast-darting double-time specialist who, in a more innocent era, would’ve probably found a home in one of those lamented West Coast underground crews. He’s someone who thinks hard about cadence, about keeping his voice in the pocket of the beat — even when the beat is really just the insistent, alarming beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up. And in a week when both Death Grips and clipping. have new music out, the contrast is stark. Death Grips have plenty of admirers around these parts, but clipping.’s sharp, mean constructions and their layered signifier play strike me as being a way deeper, more interesting achievement than what Death Grips do with niggas on the moon. And there are moments when CLPPNG is even a fun listen. Don’t worry, though. They don’t last long.
The three members of clipping. all have other things going on. Diggs is a stage actor, producer Jonathan Snipes makes music for films, and other producer William Hutson makes noise music on his own. Together, Snipes and Hutson did the music for Room 237, a documentary about people who are obsessed with the hidden messages they see in Kubrick’s The Shining. Those two also started out clipping. by making noise remixes of rap tracks, and then started making their own music when Diggs, an old friend of both, joined up. They haven’t been around for long; their Bandcamp-only debut midcity came out just over a year ago. But they’ve already grown a lot, and where midcity largely belonged to the brick-through-window school of track construction, CLPPNG pulls at least 14 different moods into its 14 tracks. For every squirming, intense burst of synthetic viscera like “Body & Blood” or “Inside Out,” there’s something like the single “Work Work,” an eerie and insinuating piece of music that owes some of its tingling texture to Steve Reich or early Aphex Twin. And for all their experimental impulses, clipping., in their press releases but also in their music, make it very clear that they consider themselves a rap group, not an ongoing comment on the statement of rap or whatever. They toy a bit with the genre’s conventions, but they also hear the genre as one that’s big and inclusive enough for whatever horrible noises they come up with. And they’re right. Rap has always been a more fluid and advanced form of music than its detractors, or even some of its devotees, are willing to believe, and it damn sure has room for these guys.
It helps, certainly that the members of clipping. are honest-to-god rap nerds, something that immediately becomes obvious when you look at CLPPNG‘s tracklist. You don’t put King Tee, the forever-underrated West Coast gangsta rap godfather, on an album if you’re not a rap nerd. As the overlord of the Likwit Crew, Tee is responsible for rap careers from Madlib to Xzibit, and he’s got a handful of classics of his own, but I hadn’t heard his voice on a new track in years before hearing him sounding great on “Summertime.” Similarly, Gangsta Boo, the eternally badass sole female member of the original Three 6 Mafia, adds an effortlessly slick verse to “Tonight.” Of the tracks on CLPPNG, “Tonight” comes the closest to rap-parody status. It’s about looking for girls in the club, and its chorus includes the phrase “who fuckin’ tonight?” repeated a bunch — all familiar elements. But the track isn’t celebratory; it’s anxious and fevered, about capturing the weird desperation of looking for sex and knowing you’ve only got a few moments before the club closes. In the midst of all that wriggling uncertainty, though, there’s Boo, helpfully advising that you should “make sure you have a freak that knows how to bend and touch her toes,” sounding completely at home. “Work Work” is absolutely stolen by Cocc Pistol Cree, a tough-as-fuck young female rapper whose biggest previous credit was a showcase appearance on DJ Mustard’s Ketchup mixtape. Her mere presence on this album suggests that the members of clipping. were sitting around listening to Ketchup, were justifiably impressed by Cree on “LadyKilla,” and were moved to seek her out for a collaboration. That’s how these things should work. I have a hard time imagining Stefan Burnett and Zach Hill banging, like, PeeWee Longway tapes and letting lightbulbs go off, but their hermetic isolation style prevents the presence of actual rap music from creeping into their music. Your mileage may vary, but I think that’s too bad.
Those guest appearances also help because Diggs sounds better with other voices around his own. By himself, Diggs is a good but not great rapper — clean and rhythmically advanced but without much charisma of his own. At various moments, he reminds me of the Coup’s Boots Riley, of Latyrx’s Lateef The Truth Speaker, and of Anticon’s Sole — all, in one way or another, mainstays of the late-’90s backpack rap underground. The moment on “Tonight” where Diggs quotes Ludacris’s “What’s Your Fantasy” show that when Diggs is rapping fast, he sounds a bit like a younger Luda, but without that important snarl in his voice. But while Diggs is a bit dry and brittle as a vocal stylist, he’s also got an endlessly impressive rhythmic command. On “Intro,” he raps entirely over what sounds like a peal of guitar-amp feedback, or like the ringing in your ears after you accidentally blast music way too loudly into your headphones, and he serves as his own internal metronome, finding a beat where there is none. On spacier tracks like “Taking Off,” too, his delivery becomes an important element of the beat, serving as, more or less, the drum track. Diggs is also a hell of a writer, capable of coming up with images that linger in your mind long after you hear him describing them. Here he is, on “Taking Off”: “What is in the mind of a motherfucking killer when he chilling on the porch with his daughter in is lap? Peace.” He delivers all that as one breathless string of consonants, then pauses for a split-second to let the image sit in. A few seconds later, he’s going on further about killers and contradictions: “The only God here is the Jesus piece they rocking like hipsters rock Jeezy tees: ironic.” If you’re reading this site and you’ve ever owned a Snowman shirt (I had one, orange glitter Snowman), it’s an uncomfortable pang of recognition; Diggs has roped you into this fucked-up world he’s describing.
And in its prioritization of discomfort, CLPPNG owes nearly as much to industrial music — old industrial music, like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire — as it owes to rap. That’s how we end up with something like “Story 2,” a deeply fucked up narrative track about a working stiff who returns home to find his children burning to death. “Body & Blood” is constructed like a you-a-bad-chick sex song, but it moves quickly toward Cronenberg-style body horror: “She don’t need you for shit but your dick and your veins and your guts and your body and blood.” Throughout, the group makes music with deeply unpleasant sounds: Feedback, sirens, dental-drill whines. Closing track “Williams Mix” is a rap-free glitch collage, and it’s the only track I skip. The greatest parallel between clipping. and Death Grips is that both really do make bracing, tooth-jangling, impossible-to-ignore music. It’s just that clipping. manage that while, at the same time, making rap. As someone who loves rap, and who loves hearing what can be done with it, that makes a listen to the album as gratifying as it is harrowing.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Jack White’s messy, feverish, effective Lazaretto.
• Tombs’ transcendently bruising scuzz-metal assault Savage Gold.
• Tomas Barfod’s pulsing, melodic, beautifully wrought Love Me.
• Lust For Youth’s gorgeous synthpopper International.
• First Aid Kit’s rootsy glimmer Stay Gold.
• The Fresh & Onlys’ expansively psychedelic House Of Spirits.
• Chrissie Hynde’s decades-late, Bjorn Yttling-produced solo debut Stockholm.
• Trap Them’s life-affirming metalcore blitzkrieg Blissfucker.
• Wreck & Reference’s sputtering, grimy, misanthropic Want.
• Mayhem’s progressive black metal bugout Esoteric Warfare.
• Alexander Turnquist’s 12-string guitar meditation Flying Fantasy.
• The Atlas Moth’s psych-metal odyssey The Old Believer.
• Craft Spells’ internet-obsessed indie-pop effort Nausea.
• Former Altar Of Plagues frontman WIFE’s solo electronic debut What’s Between.
• Stagnant Pools’ noise/shoegaze crossover move Geist.
• Dub Thompson’s lightly psychedelic debut 9 Songs.
• Popcaan’s carefree but commanding dancehall full-length Where We Come From.
• Free Cake For Every Creature’s DIY debut Pretty Good.
• The Jónsi-heavy How To Train Your Dragon 2 soundtrack.
• The soccer-and-soda Pepsi Beats Of The Beautiful Game compilation.
• Dust Of 1000 Yrs. and Bad History Month’s Famous Cigarettes split EP.