Clipping Throw An Experimental Noise-Rap Party At Oblivion Access
“This one requires my focus,” says Daveed Diggs, right before he lets off another furious torrent of dizzying technical rap. That statement demands a question: Did all his other furious torrents of dizzying technical rap not demand his focus? Apparently not. Diggs is an extremely talented human being, and his capacity for precise syllable-blitzkrieg rapping helped him win a Tony when he was in Hamilton. But when Diggs is doing that blistering speed-rap thing over music that sounds like a computer eating itself, when he’s talking about gore-splatter anxiety, it hits different.
Daveed Diggs’ career is a crazy thing to consider. He got famous for being in Hamilton, and he’s become more famous since — for Blindspotting, for Black-ish, for the Snowpiercer TV show. Before all that, though, Diggs joined two old friends and became the voice of Clipping. William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes were noise producer and film-score composers who were making their own rap remixes; Diggs joined up and became their frontman. While Diggs has become normal-people famous, someone who my kids recognize when he pops up in TV commercials, he’s continued to make disorienting, bugged-out rap records. And as they proved at Mohawk on Saturday night during Oblivion Access, Diggs and his bandmates can take those records to the stage.
Clipping’s music does not sound like party music. On record, it’s dense and suffocating, and it persistently refuses to fade into the background. You can’t really go about your day while listening to Clipping. You need to give yourself over to the experience. In person with those tracks played loud as hell and with Daveed Diggs commanding a room, the music isn’t just heavy and overwhelming; it’s fun. You can jump around to Clipping records, and when they played the Mohawk, people did exactly that.
The transitions might’ve been the best parts. You don’t get space between tracks at Clipping shows. Instead, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, standing behind their equipment at the back of the stage, mix the beats together into a continuous piece. Maybe they remix the tracks on the fly, or maybe I just hear things in those beats in that context that miss me when I listen to the records. The drum tracks take on a sputtering physicality that reminds me of electro or Detroit techno. Giant swells of synth give me Nine Inch Nails flashbacks. A bassline will suddenly erupt onto the beeping sound of a backing-up truck, turning an irritant into something funky. It’s awesome.
Over that constantly-evolving racket, Daveed Diggs raps so quickly and nimbly that you almost can’t believe what you’re seeing. Even when he’s talking about disturbing shit, which he usually is, Diggs never comes off as a dangerous or unstable person. Lil Ugly Mane, who I saw the day before the Clipping set, doesn’t do all the technical pyrotechnics that Diggs does. But Ugly Mane seems like he’s constantly teetering on the edge of something. When he raps about feverish desperation, Diggs sounds more like he’s visiting. (Even Diggs’ most outlandish visions are nowhere near as disturbing as the big-eyed CGI crab that Diggs voiced in the new Little Mermaid movie.) Diggs seems like someone who’s got his life together. In rap, that can weirdly serve to make someone feel uncompelling. Fortunately, Diggs is such a laser-focused, energetic performer that he doesn’t need to sell a character — not when he can rap like that and when the music sounds like that.
People went off for Clipping, and the performance seemed to energize the group. They started doing tracks that they didn’t load up on their computers first — including their mutated version of “Tipsy,” the 2004 J-Kwon hit, which they recorded for our Save Stereogum compilation a couple of years ago. A full hour-long set of experimental noise-rap doesn’t necessarily sound like a good time, but Clipping made it into one. In the context of a festival like Oblivion Access, Clipping make perfect sense. Jagged, intense outsider music can be cold and harsh and alienating, but when all the ingredients are combined just right, it can also make for a great night out. Clipping are proof.