Experimental rap group clipping. always seem to be pushing the envelope when they release an album. With their debut midcity, they used abrasive white noise to back gritty raps, pulling bangers from the static. With their sophomore album CLPPNG they added a diverse palette of sounds and samples — at one point they use an alarm clock beeping as an instrumental — while still staying gritty/heavy hitting and took what made them great to new levels with catchy tracks, technically impressive rapping, and engrossing stories. Now on their third full-length Splendor & Misery, they’re taking aim at a sci-fi concept record which depicts the struggles of a slave who is the lone survivor of an uprising on a slave transport ship in the cold, unforgiving reaches of space. If anyone is capable of properly executing something like this, it’s clipping..
For a concept record, Splendor & Misery is quite lean clocking in at a little over 37 minutes. The short length is a boon as it allows the listener to digest multiple spins of this complex narrative with ease. In the snappy run time you get a narrative that is well executed, thought provoking, heart wrenching and at times relatable, though never in the way that makes you feel excited that you can understand what’s being felt by the main character, Cargo #2331. As with most works of fiction, some of it you aren’t meant to relate to, but you can nonetheless sympathize with 2331’s plight and wish that he had been dealt a better hand. Frontman Daveed Diggs has truly outdone himself with this album’s raps and concept, showing an immense amount of ambition to go with his immense growth as an artist. This isn’t something that could have been done when the group released midcity back in 2013, but now it feels like the sky isn’t even close to the limit for what this group can come up with and execute. As a sidenote, it’s impressive that they basically included a silent “It’s clipping., bitch” at the end of the second track ‘The Breach’ without breaking the concept. It’s amazing how you can set listeners brains to hear it even when it isn’t verbally present, just buy having the combo of Daveed rapping quickly followed by a series of loud noises.
The music that pairs with the concept/lyrics is equally well-crafted, blending atmospheric noise and more traditional forms of music to make something that feels cinematic and immersive. On one hand you’ll have tracks like “Interlude 01 (Freestyle)” that has sub bass rumbles that suggest the vastness of space and a light ping that seems to mimic a distress signal. When combined with Daveed’s rapping you have a song that not only carries the concept forward, but also sounds like it’s more than an amalgamation of atmosphere and distortion. On the other hand you have songs that are more straightforward like “Story 5”, which features a choral group singing about a woman named ‘Grace’ and how she had done so much in their war against slavery. It’s a touching arrangement that hits all the right notes and is done a capella, letting the purity of the voices shine through.
clipping. find middle-ground in unconventional and traditional styles of music on songs like “True Believer”, where you’ll hear the clang of metal for percussion and a choral group singing slave spirituals to punctuate a verse from Daveed. “Air ‘Em Out” acts as the album’s only “true” banger and could be played in a friends car (with minimal complaints), and the closer “A Better Place”, which features Daveed accompanied by an organ gradually playing him out into a maelstrom of white noise. It should be noted that the concept of the record carries the aforementioned stylistic shifts with ease, as it doesn’t feel jarring to go from a song about losing your mind in space to a field chant that parallels the characters struggles. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but this is clipping. we’re talking about after all.
Much like clipping.’s previous efforts, Splendor & Misery is no exception to their rule of only putting out albums that push the envelope and raise the bar for the genre of experimental rap. It’s a dense journey that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and focuses on being given freedom in a universe where there is none for the main character. It’s a gripping and thought provoking story that will stick with you to the point that you’ll want to re-listen to make sure you get every last detail. The music that backs the story is top notch as well, combining atmosphere and traditional sounds to make environments that feel immersive. The only criticism to possibly level at this record is that you basically have to listen to it front to back as it flows so well as one cohesive piece and the tracks don’t make sense out of context for the most part. Since it was meant to be experienced that way and it’s better than if they made it one long track, it’s a flaw that seems minuscule in comparison to the album’s multitude of triumphs. Though there’s misery within the splendor of this record, it cant possibly drag it down.
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