“Hamilton” Alumnus Finds Success With Hip-Hop Space Opera
Anyone even passingly familiar with the contemporary hip-hop scene has no doubt already heard performances by Daveed Diggs, the de facto leader of LA-based industrial rap group Clipping; the 34-year-old rapper has already made a name for himself in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cultural bombshell Hamilton, in which he features heavily as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. But before being known as the fastest rapper on Broadway (for whatever that’s worth), Diggs had already made a name for himself in the hip-hop world for exploring the boundaries of what different sounds the rap medium was capable of accommodating,
On their new LP, Clipping takes a sharp turn away from the hook-heavy industrial sound found on their last full-length album (CLPPNG, 2014), and opt instead to veer into the realm of concept albums and science fiction, while taking musical cues from genres as varied as trip-hop and gospel. In a way it’s reminiscent of Chance the Rapper’s excellent 2016 release Coloring Book, fusing seemingly disparate sounds to create a perfect backdrop for the story being told. In the case of Coloring Book, this means exactly what the name and the overall theme of the album imply – a colorful, joyful celebration of sentiments like fatherhood and fulfillment. For Clipping, the portrait being painted is more dystopic and fragile, with elements of noise and trance rock being incorporated alongside dance beats and 90’s rap-esque freestyles in an attempt to set the scene for their grand concept: a hip-hop space opera.
The soundscape found on Splendor and Misery is very informed by industrial music–even by the group’s previous standards–and the proficiency of the group in the art of mixing and production is likely the high point of the album. Not to gush about the incorporation of different musical styles, but the fact that the album is as cohesive as it is is just extraordinary given how easily it could have fallen apart.
As for the songs themselves, this is definitely a concept album through and through. I would highly recommend listening to the entire album at once, with lyrics, if possible, to assist with understanding the sci-fi elements that compose the plot. The sound design on the LP was engineered with the setting in mind, and as such is very much focused on evoking images of machinery and futuristic beeps and boops; that the sound is so entwined with the story on a conceptual level makes the lyrics that much more relevant to the overall enjoyment of the album.
That said, I can see a notable decline in the band’s focus on sheer catchiness on Splendor and Misery, especially when considering some of the tracks on CLPPNG; if you liked “Work Work” or “Taking Off,” you may not necessarily like “All Black,” for example. Whereas the band’s 2014 work was fun, unadulterated LA swagger, 2016 Clipping is out to evoke images of a man adrift in zero gravity, lost but for the ability to rhyme.