“Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned,” repeats the dirge-like voice in the beginning of “Say the Name,” the second track in Clipping’s latest album, “Visions of Bodies Being Burned.” It’s supplemented by a thumping, bass-heavy backing track, bleeding into Daveed Diggs’s monotone first verse, referencing “Candyman” and blood dripping in the same 16 bars.
L.A. based rap trio Clipping has never shied away from the darker, noisier side of hip-hop, with albums like “Splendor and Misery,” and “There Existed An Addiction to Blood” showing how far noise-rap has come since I, a sweaty 16-year-old degenerate, pirated “Exmilitary” and blasted it in my car going 70 on icy hills in the middle of an Alaskan January on the way home from drama club. Those were good times, I gotta say – but I digress.
Clipping knocks it out of the park here, following up on “TEAATB” with a similarly themed horror-rap album, focused on classic horror films, and viscerally chilling listeners with greasy, grimy, sonically violent beats and rhymes straight out of a Stephen King short story.
Diggs’s dedication to both old-school gangsta rap and horror really shows in “Say the Name,” a throwback to the 1992 “Candyman” movie, paired with Geto Boyz, Wu-Tang, and Big Pun references scattered throughout, a scavenger hunt for rap fans willing to sniff out the callbacks.
“96 Neve Campbell,” one of the singles released before the official album drop, starts off with a banging door, throwing the listener into a state of meta-panic. I listened to this album hungover cooking eggs and bacon, somehow not burning my apartment down, and every time the sample banged, I physically twitched, which is a testament both to the power of R & R whiskey, but also to the trio’s masterful production and sense of paranoia they’re able to instill. Cam and China, twin sisters, and up-and-comers in the Cali rap scene, guest on the track, spitting lines like “Got my foot up in your ass like a G-string,” and “Put him in my body bag just like I got the Birkin on him.” It’s good as hell, and the undulating synths combined with the in-your-face verses make this one of the standouts on the album.
“Make Them Dead” is stylistically incredibly cool because of the almost choral backing track, combined with Diggs’s stutter-step, broken style – almost a call and response between “Make them” and the electronic “dead” response. It’s like being inside the motherboard of an overtly hostile computer, and if I were to turn “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” into a music video, I’d use this song as the backing track. (See, I blew my Harlan Ellison reference in the first 4 songs. Oh well.)
“She Bad” is told from the perspective (with the help of some really sick ambient sounds – gates screeching, dog whining, etc) of a witch in the woods, stalking a group of unruly kids. It’s a campfire story condensed into 4 minutes, and it’s able to really capture that feeling of barely concealed terror – your flashlight’s just gone out, you spin around at a stick breaking, and there, standing behind you – is Shia LaBeouf. (Just kidding.)
“Check the Lock,” one of my favorite songs on the album, tells the story of a man (presumably a drug dealer) under attack from some unknown force. “Check the lock every time he walk by the door,” in other words. This one reminded me of “Nothing is Safe” from “TEAATB,” in that it’s functionally about a guy (or a group of guys) under attack, hiding in a safe house.
With that said, it’s interesting to see some of the commonalities between the two albums, beyond the immediate “horror-rap” similarity. “Blood” seems more slick and refined, in a lot of ways – it tries to tell a more succinct story, whereas “Bodies” is gorier, more scattered, though not to its detriment. It’s almost more of an anthology, whereas “Blood” was more focused specifically on the vampires theme.
Both of the albums sing, and scratch an itch in the genre, but they’re both uniquely built around the same theme, but different premises. I’d love to see a Clipping trilogy in the future, maybe based around a UFO or robot apocalypse future – more technologically refined beats, maybe a collab or two with Four Tet, El-P – producers that can tap into that sense of “future horror,” if you will.
My absolute favorite track on the album (and interestingly, the only one Fantano didn’t like) is “Looking Like Meat.” It’s got an incredibly nasty little intro beat that almost immediately cuts into this grimy synth section, counterpointed by pounding drum n’ bass beats. I don’t know any way to describe the whole feel of the song other than “juicy,” almost like meat tenderizer dripped into the laptop while the boys were working on it. Daveed keeps the meat metaphors coming throughout the track: “Looking like a snack, no cap, no flattery,” “like Tyson just bite right through the ear,” “Hey you, step up, cause you looking like meat.”
Where the track goes from good to great, though, is the Ho9909 feature at the end – the guest verse comes pounding in, driving the energy of the song up to 11. I know it’s old hat at this point to compare Clipping to Death Grips – but this is technically a Ho99o9/Death Grips comparison, so no one’s allowed to laugh at me. theOGM comes in like peak-era MC Ride, just annihilating a guest verse and blowing the song out of the water. “Big one, you don’t wanna smoke a pack of razor blades for fun / Underneath your tongue, I do magic tricks / God save him, I’m a specialist, ’cause I’m a wizard with the shit / Pearl Harbor with the clips.” Incredible stuff.
“Eaten Alive” acknowledges one of the kings of the horror genre – the backwoods Southern family, ready to kill the clueless college campers and feed them to ravenous alligators. The beat’s a lot slower, more languid on this one, as Diggs talks about gators and swamp living. There’s some real sexy jazz guitar work on this one, and some weird background drumming that I can’t quite place.
The last real track on the album “Enlacing” doesn’t embody horror, in a sense, but more of a cosmic sense of dread. Lovecraftian, in a way, while Diggs’s vocals are autotuned and stretched like melted cheese over a spacey, dissolving track. It’s almost a reprieve from the violent, head-banging tracks we’ve heard over the past 45 minutes or so.
And finally, “Secret Piece,” a Yoko Ono composition, is 3 minutes of ambient forest noise. It’s reminiscent of the last track from “Blood,” which was around 15 minutes of a burning piano, reminding us that, first and foremost, Clipping is an art-rap band. The track bookends the album, in a way. The horror movie is over. The credits are rolling. Anton Yelchin has escaped the Nazi club. Leatherface is spinning in the fading sunlight, forever. The protagonists have survived – maybe, and we’ve just listened t0 the latest Clipping album. It’s great. Check it out.