Review Summary: ... in which a middle-class, white English boy battles valiantly not to lose his audience.
It’s bad form for a reviewer to hit the ground running with too much of an insight into themselves, but I feel it serves this piece to at least acknowledge the following:
I am, at best, a casual hip-hop listener – raised on Eminem like every late 90’s teenager, and just about scratching the surface of the wider world after a few late nights in front of MTV2 and trips round the record stores taking a puerile glance at everything with a parental advisory sticker.
But nothing really resonated – beyond the tongue-in-cheek bars and threatening swagger, I guess it just didn’t hold anything for me.
From the first few seconds of the intro track, it becomes apparent that this is not a group content with standing atop the ivory tower bragging to those below – these guys will grab the listener by the collar and drag them into the cold, uncaring underworlds, the blissfully serene dreamscapes, and visceral fantasies that this record has to offer.
The production has a consistently abrasive electronic feel that that cleverly slides between subtle but jagged basslines, breathy fluttering synth patterns and strong foundations of power electronics – and all without sacrificing the really accessible hooks that give the album it’s structure.
You won’t find any clean 808 loops here – these sounds snarl.
Take the single ‘Body And Blood’ for example.
Atonal growls, drills, hisses and crashes make up the gruesome backbone of this track, but when powered by a relentless bass-heavy kick, one can’t help but be drawn in.
The lyrics are macabre and gruesome in equal measure, detailing almost a rallying call for a femme fatale cannibalistic serial killer, and somehow the end product is not just accessible, but it almost encourages you to dance.
While we’re on the subject of singles, bear in mind that 6 of these tracks have had videos released for them – Clipping don’t give off the impression that they want to put out an album that’s hard to crack: the individual songs all have immediate replay value, which is ultimately refreshing considering the composite parts that make up this record.
Daveed Diggs as an MC is a fascinating prospect on his own – immaculate flows and jarring lyrical imagery never once sound at odds with the constant shifting landscape of the production.
His most rewarding parts however, come about in the tracks ‘Summertime’, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Work Work’ and ‘Or Die’ when he pulls the listener into a vivid scene of a life surrounded by drugs, murder, corrupt authority and chaos, only to stop dead and say ‘this is our day-to-day, it’s not fair so face it’.
It’s this kind of detached resignation that makes the album such a compelling listen – Diggs is always capable of projecting such despair with 100% conviction.
This is not hip-hop that exists to smirk at those who have less than the storyteller, this is pleading with you to feel the struggle.
Even on the extremely divisive track ‘Tonight’, this attitude leaves a bitter yet moreish taste that only seems to manifest itself when you take in the album as a whole.
The empty endeavour of basing a ‘successful’ night out at the club on whether or not you get laid isn’t being glorified here, even if the auto-tune and ‘come ‘n’ get it’ back and forth of the vocals would have you believe otherwise.
There’s a sad inevitability in the search for sex, as guest MC Gangsta Boo opines;
'Lookin' for a victim, caught him slippin', I just want some sex
Nothing else to do when I leave the club so that's the best thing next.'
And in this track (alongside ‘Inside Out’, ‘Work Work’ and ‘Dominoes’) another underlying surprise pulls you in: throughout, this album has a remarkably well-delivered pop aspect to it.
It is truly unique in that the harsh monotone of the vocals alongside the obscure and violent production can carry off this overall sound – but Clipping are not fazed by the challenge they have set themselves here.
This should, for all intents and purposes, be an art piece, a subtle and brooding affair that only rewards the most observant of listeners, but it never alienates, it never loses sight of it’s primary function as a rap album, and the consistent novel ideas are always kept reigned in to maximize the potential of these songs, and this is it’s defining strength.
If ‘clppng.’ does have a downfall, it is the wholly unnecessary John Cage-inspired ending track ‘Williams Mix’ – in which jarring snippets of the preceding 13 tracks are played at complete odds with each other.
It’s an interesting principle, but the entirety of the album to this point has shown how simultaneously unconventional and accessible this record is, and this causes it to fall off from an anti-climatic sour point.
However, this is a subtle inconvenience, and there are countless gratifying moments for those who choose to embrace this superb album.
Bleak has never sounded so much fun.