Ambition outpaces execution
Clipping. has always been a wildly original outfit, comprised of Hamilton breakout star, Daveed Diggs, and producers William Hutson and Johnathan Snipes they have often pushed the boundaries of hip hop with noisy and abrasive production that would even make fans of Death Grips flinch. Despite this inclination towards aggressive production they have managed to avoid the punk associations that have followed Death Grips, and have found themselves snugly nestled among odd bedfellows ranging from Bay Area legend Busdriver, all the way to power electronics mainstay Whitehouse. On Splendor & Misery, Clipping. continues to push the envelope, capitalizing on the hip hop musical spotlight to create a hip hop space opera detailing the life of a slave uprising survivor drifting lonely through the cosmos. It’s as ambitious as it sounds, but somehow not nearly as strange.
The intro of the album is immediately different from that of any previous clipping. album, opting for an atmospheric dirge, a sort of musical prologue as opposed to the traditional a cappella rap marathon typically found on their albums. The second song “The Breach” details the event that lead to the uprising of the slaves on this ship. Explaining in great detail how the slaves deactivated the sedative system and used their superior strength to overwhelm the crew. “All Black” stands as the longest track on the album and contains much of the main story, spending nearly all of its six minute run time describing how only one survivor remains, floating through the “All black everything.” The song touches on the overarching themes of absurdism, a sort of comforting nihilism where meaning and peace is derived by the inconsequential nature of ones actions, he floats along in space and nothing that he does can ever again matter outside of himself. To add a level of strangeness the ships onboard computer develops an infatuation with her sole passenger, becoming protective and possessive as she threatens any would be pursuer with promises of annihilation should they continue their futile chase.
The first interlude is a freestyle delivered by Diggs, who plays the part of the survivor as he brags out to the pursuers, or perhaps only to himself about his superiority and the violence he will bring down upon anyone who would threaten him. “Wake Up” touches on the survivors first encounter with nihilism through a suicide attempt, forcing himself into a foggy nightmare riddled sleep, the song uses a distant filter on Digg’s voice to great effect, encapsulating the hazy perception of the survivor as he wrestles with the realization that he will spend the rest of his life alone on the ship, unable to find a planet suitable for habitation. “True Believer” adds mythology and history into the world, incorporating the religion of the slaves through rapped verses and sung choruses reminiscent of slave working songs. The production lends credence to this chorus delivery, incorporating claps and metallic thunks, like sledgehammers driving spikes into long abandoned railroad tracks.
At this point the album takes a slight turn into its final bulk, passing by the instrumental for “Long Way Away” the listener arrives at “Air ‘Em Out” which is much more immediately recognizable as a standard clipping. song. Somewhat similar to their song “Work Work” in terms of flow and delivery, it also incorporates the airy tapping percussion from that track. The song is the most immediately listenable song up until this point and proves itself as a standout single from the album, holding its own much better than many of the other tracks which tend to rely too heavily on the conceptual narrative instead of their own musicality.
“Interlude 03 (Freestyle).” reverts to the same surgical delivery featured in “The Breach” and “Interlude 01 (Freestyle).” This track again serves as a journal entry of the survivor as he raps about black history and how his people were lead to their current state but largely focuses on the pride he has in their history, again this track incorporates the distant filter on Diggs voice, this time more aggressively, reflecting the unstable mental state of the survivor and the growing dilapidation of his vessel. “Break the Glass” is heavier than much of the album. The track is peppered with heavy bass and bursts of steam that paint a vivid picture of the rusting cargo ship, Diggs distant rapping comes across as less sterile, at times almost a bit slurry, allowing a clearer look into the survivors deteriorating psyche an image that becomes even clearer as the song pauses then enters into a metallic high pitch following a chant of “Time to, break the glass.”
The second single “Baby Don’t Sleep” stands out on the album as more similar to the outfits previous work. Diggs utilizes his stellar punchy delivery over harsh static, creating the exciting juxtaposition of chaos and precision that has often made clipping. such an exciting project in the past. This track is an example of Hutson and Snipes working at their best, peppering in bursts of exceedingly harsh noise against bass drones and strange samples that keep the track feeling engaging and fresh against the rest of the album. On top of that the song does a fantastic job of reintroducing the growing insanity of the ships computer as it attempts to hold onto the mortal survivor as even she falls apart under the ravages of time and sub-standard maintenance. The album closer “A Better Place” is strangely triumphant in its production, it details the desire of the survivor to carry on living in hopes that he may again find a place with people to miss him and care for him, repeating that “There must be a better place to be somebody else.” Fully convinced of the hope that drives humanity forward despite the overwhelming odds stacked against him. The album closes with harsh feedback and static as he departs transmissionless into the void in search of somewhere new.
Clipping. has never been a group that could be accused of lacking originality. This has proven to be both a blessing and a curse as the group has created some of the most engaging and enraging tracks of the past five years. Unfortunately Splendor & Misery stands out as a moment where their ambition outpaces their execution. The album often succeeds on a conceptual and narrative level but frequently falls short in its delivery. The production is and delivery are far too often reserved, a jarring transition from the exceedingly harsh but endlessly enjoyable Wriggle EP released hardly two months ago. Diggs rapping style remains fairly consistent from previous albums but occasionally lacks the charisma from tracks like “Story 2” and “Get Up” on the semi a cappella moments on the album. The album comes across as enjoyable but ultimately disappointing when balanced against its lofty expectations. Fortunately the concept and ambition manages to carry what would be a fairly forgettable album into an exciting new area where humanity floats on broken ships across the night sky, just not as excitingly as you might expect.