Dark, brutal and terrifying in equal measure, Music Critic Ben Forsdick reviews experimental hip hop trio’s killer return to horrorcore
Halloween season is upon us and thankfully, we have 2020’s soundtrack.
Over the last decade, few hip-hop artists have released music as bold and adventurous as Clipping. It was 2014 that saw the release of the group’s sub pop debut; yet the prolificacy of Clipping. in the latter part of the 2010s and the quality of their output set them aside from the majority of hip-hop artists around. Their wild approach to noise rap as well as the more industrial side of hip-hop permeates their discography, making them a unique voice within an often overly saturated market. To this day, Clipping. features the soundscape inspired production of Johnathon Snipes and William Hutson, and the rapping of Daveed Diggs. All three members have projects outside the group, the most notable being Daveed’s involvement with the Broadway production of Hamilton. However, it is Clipping. where the trio have focused the majority of their energy over the last year.
Almost exactly 12 months ago, the group released their third studio album, There Existed an Addiction to Blood. In some respects, this record was business as usual, featuring spacious production and deeply intricate flows from Daveed. However, the difference with this record was the injection of horrorcore into the trio’s music. Daveed can be heard rapping about werewolves, cannibals and serial killers, in what is essentially an audible horror film. Some of the instrumentals on this album sound like an updated John Carpenter score. There Existed an Addiction to Blood was released days before Halloween 2019 and for many listeners composed the seasonal Halloween playlist on their behalf. Likewise, days before Halloween 2020, the sequel to this filmic album was dropped. It is testament of Clipping. that this sequel is every bit as frightening as its predecessor.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned expands on many of the ideas and aesthetics that There Existed an Addiction to Blood explored. This record is dark, at times nasty and possibly the most inaccessible Clipping. have ever sounded. Many of the beats lack concrete rhythmic drives and when they do, those rhythms are disorienting and complexly constructed. The result is a record that may be the group’s most cinematic release to date, even more so than their Kubrickesque hip-hop odyssey, Splendor and Misery. However, there is not a total lack of traditional songwriting, and some of these tracks are enjoyable as an isolated listen. The first full track ‘Say the Name’ is built around a rerecording of the Geto Boys’ ‘My Mind is Playing Tricks on me’ and is subsequently one of the most instantly recognizable hooks the trio has ever produced. Daveed tells the story of the Candyman character, summoned in a mirror in a similar way to the Bloody Mary myth. The horror of these bars is matched by a chilling beat, during which the bass breaks from the centre and spreads wide after each initial hit. The climactic ending to this track feels both threatening and euphoric, as the clashing synths pierce through the mix. At one stage, Daveed refers to a murder as producing a ‘Guernica in blood on the wall’. Guernica itself is a harrowing painting, exploring the horror of war in a spectacularly large piece of work. Reference to the infamous depiction of a mass destruction, in blood, is one of many examples of Daveed’s storytelling being integral to this record’s terrifying aesthetic. Proceeding this track is ‘Intro’, running in a similar way to every other Clipping. album, only this time being more distorted, noisier and tenser than any of the three other Clipping. record introductions.
‘‘96 Neve Campbell’ is a direct ode to horror films, the title itself referencing one of the leads in the film franchise Scream. Guests Cam & China trade bars with Daveed in another haunting set of verses. However, this track stands out for the incessant noises of someone banging on a door being integrated into the mix. The listening experience is visceral to the point when one may feel like a character on the run, fearful that one of these knocks will penetrate the wooden door, just for Jack Torrance’s face to emerge between the splintered cracks. ‘Something Underneath’ is one of the more soundscape inspired tracks which sees Daveed tell a zombie inspired horror story. The beat is largely built around the sounds of someone banging on a coffin door and static noise. These sounds get louder as the track progresses bringing about an extreme sense of paranoia. The more one hears of this record, the more apparent it becomes that this it is an after dark record, to be listened to alone while constantly checking the door and windows. Speaking of which, ‘Check the Lock’ is another immensely dark track, the narrative of which surrounds a character who is sure that something is wrong with their surroundings and is thus forced to ‘Check the lock every time [they] walk by the door’. The production is densely packed in at the low end with a smooth bass that winds its way in and out of the mix.
‘Pain Everyday’ is perhaps the most intricate track on this record, with a beat that is compositionally closer to an acousmatic aesthetic than a hip-hop one. The mix is fragmented, mechanical and yet all these sounds fit snugly into place. Most rappers would not dare perform over such a jagged and angular beat, yet Daveed spits over a seven time beat as if it is a standard warm up routine. The performance is effortless. Similar to ‘Say the Name’ the huge ending to this track builds on a simultaneously tense and euphoric framework that is ‘edge of your seat’ listening. ‘Looking Like Meat’ is the heaviest song on the record, with each bass hit sounding destructively crushing as the notes are compressed to an extreme level. Punk rap duo Ho99o9 provide a feature that is perfectly fitting for a band like Clipping. on a record like Visions of Bodies Being Burned. The clash of both groups’ respective sounds is layered and woven into the mix with care, yet still sounds completely brutal. ‘Enhancing’ is perhaps the last of the more accessible tracks on the record. Everything on this song feels big, from Daveed’s passionately spoken/sung chorus to the sampled vocal that the beat is built around. One of the final tracks on the album, it is the spiritual closer of the record, before the usual Clipping. experimental foray that closes the album for good.
There is then the matter of the more soundscape driven tracks, which do not land quite as successfully as the heavier and more direct songs. Nonetheless, they provide Hutson and Snipes the opportunity to flex their compositional skills and build upon the thematic nature of the record. ‘She Bad’ is an excellent example of how compelling this style of composition can be. Instrumentally, the two main sounds are built upon a rusty gate and a sonic allusion to a ticking clock. Over this, Daveed tells the story of some variety of creature with something of a ‘Blair-Witch’ inspired narrative. Some of these sounds are also heard towards the end of the record on the track ‘Body for the Pile.’ This is another deeply unsettling moment on the record, with lyrics that explore a sense of dread, ‘You can’t run, you’re just a body for the pile’. The way Daveed uses his varying flows to build tension on this track is hugely impressive and mirrors the instrumental perfectly. Again, this is an example of the three members working together like a well-oiled machine. ‘Eaten Alive’ and ‘Make Them Dead’ are moments which continue this more acousmatic approach being employed to combine with the harrowing storytelling in place. It is somewhat of a shame that they have a habit of breaking up the natural flow of this album. This does not necessarily stop the record from naturally progressing from one track to another. It is more a case of Clipping. forcing the listener to position themselves so greatly outside their comfort zones, resulting in moments where this record appears to be more a series of fragmented stories than one overarching piece.
Having said this, Visions of Bodies Being Burned is a spectacular follow-up to There Existed an Addiction to Blood. The latter probably features the better flow from track to track, but the sheer intricacy and torment behind both the production and storytelling on Visions of Bodies Being Burned is so complex and vastly outside of anything seen in hip-hop right now. This is a brutal record, terrifying in places and haunting in others. But through this horror and through these depths of lyrical despair, Clipping. reach the peak of their creativity and continue to release great record after great record.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned is available now via sub pop records
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