clipping. – a retrospective analysis

Despite the recent spike in attention towards the Sub Pop signed, Los Angeles hip-hop trio clipping., Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Snipes, & William Hutson have all been floating around in various projects for some time now. A few of their more notable contributions include the long running experimental project Captain Ahab (Snipes), hip-hop outfit True Neutral Crew (Diggs), and Snipes and Hutson’s inspired soundtrack for the documentary Room 237 about the multi-layered interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ adaptation. All these projects are awash with elements that have resonated throughout the clipping. sound.

clipping. only formed as a project in 2012 with the release of their Untitled cassette through Deathbomb Arc. Both Hutson & Snipes had begun deconstructing and recontextualising compositions before they invited Diggs to join, who inherently rounded out the group in a way that brought lyrical proficiency to a sparsely textured production trail. The result is something that while intensely power-driven & caustic, has found its way into a growth territory already encroached by artists such as Dälek, Food for Animals & similarly hyped Death Grips. Not to belittle their efforts by any means, to the contrary for it was only a matter of time before the thematic link was drawn between the provocative lyrical content of rap and equally provocative harsh noise sonics, looped and loosely structured. In two years alone, the trio have achieved what many projects take years to finesse.

Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson are in charge of the electrified collage, serving as the landfill upon which the lyrics sprawl. At its harshest, the production resembles T.E.F (Kevin Novak; Black Leather Jesus) – cut-up harsh noise, sparingly used and interspersed throughout various tracks. Both midcity & clppng begin with this approach; shock value electronics that lead the listener to quickly recognise that intensity sits at the forefront. Other tracks include Chain, Face, Guns.up, Killer, & Body & Blood where abrasive distortion rusts the backdrop and allows Diggs to be the only redeeming quality to the controlled mayhem gnawing at the bone of each track.

At it’s subtlest, disjointed loops of field recordings or broken rhythms muse strategically allowing the vocals to supply an almost Gestalt Law of closure – where the beat is incomplete albeit intentionally, the lyrical continuum fuses a consistent path. As opposed to the all-out-assault of the harsh noise sonics, instead field recordings, distinct metal junk tinkering, & corrupted kicks and snares stabilise patterns of ghostly hip-hop beats once living. Block, Loud, Mobb2it, Taking Off, & Dominoes all exercise this restraint and partially crossover into trap music territory because of it.

Although melody is a rarity, it constitutes the missing element and provides some slack around the tightly wound production muscle. Bass commonly offers the most melody, which on Get It or Killer can be as simple as a recurring bass drop or on Inside Out, underpins the entire beat. Snipes and Hutson also fascinatingly use rhythmic clanging to furnish the musical inclusion such as Studio Freestyle 1, Work Work, and Dream where the pitch of the bell-like stabs determine the mood. Elsewhere, melody operates freely and harks back to a familial hip-hop beat such as Jump, Tonight, Story 2, & Dominoes. Despite all this, the cleverest uses of melody or tone are on Overpass (skit), where the offensive language beep is manipulated to crescendo into the following track, & on the track Get Up where an archetypal alarm clock sound not only creates the beats rhythm but is auto-tuned to form the chorus. Simple production decisions with an impressive effect.

The beats alone may serve to differentiate clipping. from their industry hyped, hip-hop counterparts however the trio are not complete without Daveed Diggs. As an actor, he understands motivation, concept, and adaptation; as a rapper he understands how to connect with the rhythm, promulgate his position of power, and write suitable lyrics for the appropriate beats; as a musician, he knows how to create tracks with replay value, and adhere to structure. All of these are the reason he’s posited as the front man.

Obviously, the content can get salacious. Patrick Kennelly’s film clip for the song Body & Blood perfectly encapsulates the visual accompaniment to Diggs’ lyrics, with other tracks such as Face, Killer, & Guns.up openly covering murder, street crime, sexual abuse, aggression, power, as well as other titillating topics to excite all the private school children’s parents. To avoid contention and add to a growing pile of justifications for such lyrics, these are used for dramatic effect only and as aforementioned, work within the context of the audio defilement offered on the production end.

The second topic of interest is scene construction. Diggs has a poetic way of building a context around the listener, describing the small details of a room, an object, a scenario, and coupled with the brooding glitches and pops of the background tapestry such as in Block, places you there in the darkest of nights armed only with a fear you thought you never had until it was thrust upon you. Bullshit and Summertime similarly transport the listener with descriptive finesse, just into slightly less ominous environments. If Diggs’ debaucheries felt distant and removed from your way of life, his ability to provide a frame of reference chisels away at the thick exterior of your comfortable listening space.

The polish to these lyrics is the way they’re structured. Diggs is not afraid to use a catchy hook and in fact will repeatedly utilise chorus’ to maximise replay. The only track that feels all too sickly sweet without the seedy clipping. production is Tonight, however following this is Dream and Get Up respectively, creating a seamless party-sleep-morning amalgam that’s much too robust to cast aspersions on. Artistic considerations such as memorable and even quotable lyrics (“it’s clipping bitch”) give listeners something to cling to, audience’s a chance to be become fans, and clipping. an opportunity to transcend introspective thoughtfulness into a much more broadly accessible musical entity.

Overall, clipping. are worth a look-in. Dälek was lyrically and musically dense and crossed many genre’s to acquire a fan base of niche music lovers the world over. Death Grips took it one step further, introducing tenacious, spit-fire lyrics with observational obscurities and hyper-realistic insight. clipping. combine the best of both – baron beats one minute, impenetrable distortion the next, and lyrical versatility snapping to each beat like a magnet to metal filings all the while wrapped up in a surprisingly accessible, homemade cassette tape. Lars von Trier famously stated, “a film should be like a stone in your shoe” – if clipping. were the musical equivalent, they’d annoy the fuck out of you.