Friday, May 22, 2015

clipping. - CLPPNG Review (2014)

Unbeknownst to me the lengths at which Hip-Hop can expand its diversity seem to push the boundaries year by year. No other genre has the ability to craft such magnificent works of art starkly different from one another yet are able to accompany themselves under the same roof. We found this ever-deepening rabbit hole in 2014 with three releases; Death Grips' Niggas On The Moon, Shabazz Palaces' Lese Majesty, and clipping.'s CLPPNG. These three albums were highly-regarded on my end-of-year lists, their experimentation the driving force behind their success. The latter of the group may have sacrificed the most to make a name for itself, with the only tether holding it to Hip-Hop being Daveed Diggs' rapping prominently featured atop loosely formulated industrial beats. Even the content, a character-driven story criticizing the glorified gangster life, couldn't be further from its derived source. Patch in a unforgiving tale of sin, attempted revenge, and agonizing defeat all told from a hyper-literate, quick-tongued mouth spewing with annunciation previously unheard at that speed and beats so deconstructed they remain undefinable. What's left is CLPPNG.

If there's one clear-cut example of a success story in change of scene it's Daveed Diggs. An underground rapper with tenacity on the mic struggling to be known due to his atypical production finds renewed interest over the guise of Industrial beats, so abrasive that upon first listen the wretched churning in your head forces you to find comfort in his voice. This is CLPPNG's 'Intro.' A pulverizing minute, a heart-stopping verse, and a broken siren fill the speakers as Diggs rambles off the inner-city turmoil met by the lead character. "Ghosts on the avenue are talking to themselves" kicks the album off with mystery. It isn't until 'Ends' that that connection is made as Diggs reiterates that "everyone here been a ghost since day one," a stark reminder that the events occurring in the ghettos will be seen by no one outside of them. Those bred into gang violence were born invisible and die in the same way, their life nothing more than a continuation of stark events. 'Williams Mix,' the true finale, sees the lead overdose on heroin, seeing jolted visions of his past flash in front of his eyes before succumbing to the tribulations his life had endured.

The story is unforgiving and realistic. From 'Tonight's' predatory search for a late-night hook-up, to 'Story 2's' pulsating recollection of a house fire with the leads daughter caught inside, there is no wiggle room for fantasy, the events of gang life all too apparent. To further emphasize that vision the production uses inspiration of the grounds themselves, rather than pre-determined studio instruments. Distortions here range from crackling TV static, to gunshots, to alarm cocks, to tumbling concrete, none of which sounds pleasing but all present an internal fear. The ability for clipping. to morph these inert noises into pleasurable beats deserves copious amounts of praise. 'Taking Off' uses a savagery of drums and bass to pulverize the message of a hit men conducting his business, a perplexing saxophone solo disrupting the procession aims at honoring the victim midway through. 'Work Work' takes a improvisational cup and glass beat-making session to new heights, with reversed chopping and an overwhelming bass. And 'Dream' detaches itself from reality, with a white noise hum and lighthouse bell to masquerade a dream gone haywire. These variations in noise allow the album to create distinct moments while remaining inherently unified under the umbrella of Industrial, forming a visceral experience that never ceases to surprise. 

With all the intrigue that the production brings to the table it's quite shocking that Diggs' rapping steals the show. When compiling my top 10 verses of 2014 list my initial collection featured a handful of verses off CLPPNG alone, with no other artist having more than two. From the introductory verse, to his ramped finale on 'Get Up,' to all three stunners on 'Dominoes' Diggs is never short on sensational performances. These aren't just for show however, the cliche of rhyming fast only pertains to a needed emotion, with lyrics that are jam-packed with clever, thought-provoking bars far removed from the empty messages littering other quick-tongued emcees. The difficulty Diggs endures whilst rapping over these beats is nothing short of impeccable. Even slowed verses are deceptively masked through Diggs' talents of making ease of a demanding foundation. See the album's pinnacle 'Dominoes.' An all-in-one kaleidoscope of everything CLPPNG stands for, 'Dominoes' features Diggs rapping off-flow, bouncing off the stumbling beat as destruction lays waste around him. The character's nostalgic trip warrants an emcee capable of rhyming around one's crumbling life played out sonically, the addition of children singing the chorus only highlights the innocent life long since past. 

The structure and pacing of CLPPNG is yet another point to be made towards its status as one of the best of 2014. Being a narrative concept album proper cohesion is a must. From the days of innocence to his fateful encounter with heroin, the lead never sways from the destined path of those ghosts in the ghetto. Beyond the story the basic structure of the album equally divides the highs with the lows, as rambunctious party anthems are met with silence, which is met with a startling wake-up call, followed by a climatic three-part finale culminating with 'Ends' that ramps up the intensity before the barren overdose urgently exorcises it all. While their debut release, Midcity, set the tone of their sonic soundscape, CLPPNG throttled leagues past it in terms of scope, lyricism, concept, and direction. Few albums have been able to steer so far left from their distinctive genre while remaining true to their roots. Roots that have now been ripped out, shredded apart, and condemned for the wrongful portrait they've shown. Street life isn't pretty. It isn't something to be admired, lusted over, or wanted. Hip-Hop's insistent praise of inner-city turmoil only leads to further dilemmas. CLPPNG's opposing viewpoint is a welcome addition to a slim catalogue of releases hellbent on showing the realistic underbelly of street life, one where muted gangsters live their lives as purveyors of avenues long since forgotten by the masses. 

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