Let’s get this out of the way immediately: yes, that is the guy from Hamilton.
If you know anything about Los Angeles experimental hip-hop trio clipping.,chances are it’s about frontman Daveed Diggs and his Tony-winning performance in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s inescapable Broadway hit. And despite what some hip-hop purists might tell you, that’s OK. There’s no bad reason to give a group or artist a shot, and no shame in not listening to an artist you’ve never heard of. So I would personally like to welcome first-time listeners to clipping.’s particularly noisy corner of experimental hip-hop.
I just can’t promise you’ll want to stay for very long.
I couldn’t help but be amused by Diggs’ success on Broadway, if only because it makes his work with clipping. seem like his own personal Mr. Hyde — the dark side of a secret double life. By day, he delights audiences by speedily rapping his way through the Revolutionary War; by night, he strikes terror into the hearts of hip-hop fearing suburban moms with the utterance of his signature catchphrase, “It’s clipping., bitch!”. This isn’t to shortchange the other two members of the group, producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, whose contributions do just as much if not more to define clipping.’s off-putting, abstract sound. Still, the inescapable reality of Diggs’ rise to mainstream fame has the potential to lead the band in a multitude of directions, even with Wriggle, an EP dropped just 3 months ago, seemingly promising that the group will remain true to its left-field roots.
clipping. waste no time making their intentions clear on Splendor & Misery. By the time the sirens blare to close out the second track “The Breach”, it’s already apparent that this is not a typical clipping. project, if such a thing even exists. Rather, Diggs and company have elected to follow up 2014’s CLPPNG, a genre-expanding probe of the limits of hip-hop, with something perhaps even more high-concept: a space opera. Specifically, Splendor & Misery is a tale of an intergalactic, futuristic slave trade that borrows much of its horrific cruelty from previous models.
Besides the ambitious premise, one other thing that immediately grabbed my attention in advance of this record was its length. On paper, the 37-minute long project promised to provide a breath of fresh air in a year already crammed full of overstuffed rap albums (I’m looking at you, Schoolboy Q). Especially when working with a narrative concept, a runtime of less than 40 minutes leaves relatively little room for filler. I gladly assumed that clipping. had done their prep work, cut the fat, and were ready to deliver their tightest, most memorable work to date.
In that regard, it’s safe to say the Hamilton fans aren’t the only ones who will be left disappointed.
Splendor & Misery is far from the worst album I’ve heard this year, in fact I can’t in good conscience end this review without recommending you give it a listen, however tentative that recommendation may be. The trouble is, for all of its seamless transitions and lofty ambitions, Splendor & Misery is one of the least engaging projects I’ve heard this year. The album’s repeated usage of the phrase “long way away” is unfortunately apt not only in its description of deep space isolation, but of the emotional distance the album puts between itself and its listeners. One could argue this is somewhat intentional; the decidedly abstract narrative, riddled with low-fi radio transmissions and science-fiction references that are likely to fly far over most listeners’ heads, makes little effort to pull at any heartstrings. Sonically, it also does little to hold attention. The album is lazily yet strictly structured in a general pattern of alternating tracks and interludes, often to the album’s detriment. The criminally short “Wake Up” seems to be rudely cut off by the blues-inspired interlude that follows, serving as an early indicator that this album is unfortunately eager to take the mic out of Daveed Diggs’ hand.
To keep with the space theme the group has established, the album’s interludes are musical phasers, set to kill and aimed directly at the album’s pacing. “Interlude 02 (Numbers)” is the most prevalent example of the narrative enthusiastically crossing the fine line separating abstract and pointless. If you find a minute-long track of an unidentified women reading letters from the NATO phonetic alphabet to be a compelling song concept, then this is the album for you. If, like me, you are listening to the new clipping. album to hear new music from clipping., you’ll likely find yourself skipping about half of the songs in the track list, a devastating if not fatal blow to a concept album.
With all of that being said, Splendor & Misery is a solid album. Among the tracks that I could comfortably call “clipping. songs” there are far more hits than misses, and a surprisingly diverse array of sounds from a group that has already cut out such a defined niche — one which many artists would feel comfortable spending a career firmly nestled within. The lead single, “Baby Don’t Sleep”, is the closest any track comes to “typical” clipping, with Diggs’ nihilistic lyrics and one of the album’s more impressive flows complemented by and intensely noisy, industrial beat. That being said, as the second-to-last song on the album it feels horrendously misplaced in the tracklist, as its solid build up never receives a payoff, giving it the feel of a lost intro to a very different clipping. project.
The album’s true highlights emerge when clipping. ventures farther from their comfort zone. The strangely religious bent of “True Believer” leads to one of the album’s more memorable moments in a chorus that’s equal parts deeply unnerving and strangely soothing. The verses will certainly throw you for a sizeable loop if you haven’t caught up on your obscure sci-fi literature, but the group delivers four dynamic iterations of the captivating hook that arrest the listener’s full attention (before immediately relinquishing it to another forgettable interlude). “Story 5” is the album’s biggest non sequitur, a full a cappella spiritual that, like many moments on the album, would feel right at home on the Bioshock Infinite soundtrack. But it’s the closing track, “A Better Place”, that’s lightyears ahead of the others. Riding a synthetic instrumental reminiscent of a ballpark organ of all things, Diggs delivers his most thought-provoking verses between frequent repetitions of an immediately ear-grabbing hook. “There must be a better place to be somebody else” posits Diggs, speaking with robotic cadence in the role of a spaceship AI. For clipping., it appears Splendor & Misery was created to be that better place, a place where they could freely experiment with new sounds and styles. Unfortunately for the group and its fans, this futuristic paradise only delivers on a portion of its promise, and the journey to reach it is a long and lonely one.
Listen to Splendor & Misery below.