A Conversation With clipping.

from left to right: Jonathan Snipes, Daveed Diggs, and William Hutson
from left to right: Jonathan Snipes, Daveed Diggs, and William Hutson

from left to right: Jonathan Snipes, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson

Los Angeles based experimental hip-hop group clipping. has been on a winning streak. Known for their unique style, which fuses progressive, noise based, and glitchy instrumentals with rapid fire, highly technical, and mind-bending raps, clipping. represents the perfect marriage of traditional West-Coast gangsta rap with this new wave of experimental punk, electronic, and noise influenced hip-hop, exemplified in artists such as Ratking, Blackie, and Death Grips.

Although the trio, composed of MC Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, was off to a good start in 2013 with their excellent debut mixtape, Midcity, they really started making big waves in the music world when they dropped their second album on Sub-Pop Records last year, the self-titled CLPPNG. The project was a display of all of the group’s best qualities. Most importantly, it showed their ability to push boundaries and make some of the most daring and experimental new hip-hop of the past few years, while simultaneously being unapologetically proud of their gangsta rap lineage. It’s near impossible to find any hip-hop artists that sound quite like clipping., yet it’s also impossible to divorce clipping. from their influences, all the way from Public Enemy’s legendary production team, the Bomb Squad, to abstract West-Coast rapper Busdriver, to late-80’s/early-90’s gangsta rap icons Above The Law.

The LP went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop releases of 2014, gaining a lot of attention and rave reviews from many major music publications, form Stereogum to NPR, and for good reason too. The album was a diverse and powerful work, containing everything we’ve come to expect from a good clipping record: the noisy instrumentals paired with the technically stunning verses and narratives of Daveed Diggs, yet it also delivered on many other levels, giving us some bonafide, bass laden, bump-in-the-whip bangers, and even a few more melodic and beautiful sounding tracks.

Since the release of CLPPNG, the group has put out a slew of strong singles, from the underground hip-hop posse cut “Something They Don’t Know” to the grim and depressing “Knees on the Ground”. In addition, they have released a series of high quality, mind-boggling music videos for various cuts off of CLPPNG, such as “Work Work”, “Story 2”, “Inside Out”, and “Body and Blood”.

A few months ago I got to sit down with the trio for a brief conversation via Skype, featured bellow. Take a look.

The Interview

First I’d like to congratulate you on the new album. Its been getting a ton of good press and I've noticed that you've gained many new fans. Was the record’s success mainly due to the fact that you’re on Sub-Pop now?

William Huton: Well the main difference in the exposure is definitely because of the funding. That’s all it takes. I mean, just look at the Grammy nominations that just came out. Albums that got universally bad reviews are nominated for best record. Like Iggy Azalea. I don’t know a single person who wasn’t like “Fuck that shit”… so money gets you somewhere. Promotion gets you somewhere.

Jonathan Snipes: That’s morbid.

The new album stays true to the nature and mood of clipping. but it also seems a lot less afraid to show its roots in more traditional hip-hop. For instance, you worked with rap icons like King Tee and Gangsta Boo. What was that like?

Daveed Diggs: It was awesome, and that was also by design. We worked with those people for that reason. We wanted people to understand that it’s rap music, y’know? Both of those features were actually set up through twitter.

WH: Part of it is that we’ve been listening to rap music for a really long time. We want to show where we’re coming from and the dudes we admire. I feel like there’s sort of a timelessness in inviting some of our heroes on, as opposed to who’s convenient to feature. There are a lot of young rapper friends, rappers that are coming up at the same time as us that we actually put off working with so we can work with these people that are legendary.

DD: We also worked with those people because they belonged on those songs. It wasn’t like we had a pool of rappers to pull from or anything. We started working on the song and we were like “you know who would be awesome on this song? King tee” so we just hit him up on twitter.

CLPPNG sees a lot more sonic and melodic diversity than Midcity. Was That a conscious decision?

WH: Well, the way I characterize it, and I don’t know if anyone else agrees with me, is that a side project can be really specific because its not the main focus of your musical output. When Midcity dropped we all had other projects going on and those were our main projects, and we would get together every few months or so and do a Clipping track and we could be really stylistically narrow with it and adhere more strongly to a single concept.But when we all decided that Clipping was more important to us and that it was our major project, I wanted to have more freedom and be able to a wide range of things. So this album was sort of a way of marking territory and marking the boundaries of what Clipping’s sound could be, and what kind of tracks we could apply our techniques and our ideas to. So this album was a lot more like stylistically specific references that we made using Clipping techniques. For instance, the track “Summertime”. We actually made that because we had hit Tee up on twitter, and we said ok, like some 1994, L.A., ride around your car summer song, Whats the clipping version of that?

JS: I think we realized a few songs into Clipping that the palate in “Loud” and “Guns Up” was pretty similar. They’re like really aggressive, full blasts of noise that are sort of cut rhythmically to make a beat, and I think we pretty quickly realized that there’s not a lot of variety in just using those sounds. Then we were like ‘what other sounds in experimental and nosie music can we use to make rap beats?’ and that was really the tip of the iceberg. I wouldn’t say the approach or working method changed, but it just so happens we did a bunch of harsh stuff at first and then we grew up.

How do you see yourself in the context of this new wave of more abrasive, punk influenced hip-hop that’s being made popular by acts like you guys, Death Grips, and Blackie?

WH: I’ll say you’re right that [experimental hip-hop] is more visible than it ever has been right now, but I wouldn’t exactly call it particularly new. There’s always been extremely experimental and forward thinking hip-hop throughout its entire history. Perhaps its just the association with punk culture that’s new.

Nothing is brand new if you know the history of it… I don’t think that there is as radical of a shift going on [in music] as people say there is, but I don’t think there are any radical shifts at all.

JS: I always find it interesting to go back and listen to even really mainstream rap records from the 80’s, because people didn’t really know what rap music was and didn’t have a standard for what beats should sound like, so there were all types of different beats and styles and sounds and people rapping over them. So you got guys like the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C.

WH: And the Beastie Boys started as a punk band, so you could say that the Beastie Boys were the first Blackie: punks that turned to some other genre and brought some element of that with them.

JS: And then of course there’s Public Enemy and other people, and it feels like after that [hip-hop beats] sort of coallessed into a particular kind of tempo range and sound for a little but there’s still people doing weird things.

It's interesting, if you do enough research about punk and hip-hop you realize how similar they are. It's almost like their progression is completely parallel in terms of their rise to popularity.

JS: I mean, I feel like if you do enough research into and get educated in any kind of music that there aren’t that many differences with other genres. Nothing is brand new if you know the history of it. So I don’t think that there is as radical of a shift going on as people say there is, but I don’t think there are any radical shifts at all.

DD: I think there’s a reason that our die-hard fans are the age that they are. Because they’re finding this stuff probably at around the same age that I found Freestyle Fellowship, and if you find something like that at the right time in your life it can really blow your mind and shatter what you used to think music could be like.

The last track on CLPPNG, 'William’s Mix', shares the same title with the famous and influential composition by John Cage. I’m assuming that reference wasn’t accidental?

JS: Actually the track is the piece by John Cage.

WH: Yeah we paid a fee to his publisher and it is a completely faithful performance of that piece.

So you just played the piece and just used samples of Clipping?

JS: Yeah. The piece is indeterminate to what the sources are. It has descriptions of what the sounds should be like, like ‘sounds from the country’ or ‘sounds from the city’ or ‘music sounds’, so we were able to use our own sounds from the records and fit them to perform the score.

One of your new singles, 'Knees on the Ground', addresses some of the police brutality that we've witnessed in Ferguson, Missouri. It's definitely one of the darkest tracks you guys have released. What was the writing process for that like, Daveed?

DD: That track was really hard to write. The story behind it is that one day we had a studio date, and when we went into the studio we originally intended to make a hype track, the clipping. equivalent of making something for the club. But when we got into the studio all we could think about was the Darren Wilson verdict and the protests that had followed it in the previous few days. Up to this point, we’ve made clipping. a decidedly nonpolitical project, but this is just something we felt that we had to do. To this day I can’t even perform that song live, because when I’m performing I need momentum and I need energy, and that song just kills me. I can’t really think about anything else after I perform it.

Do you guys have another project in the works or are you just touring?

WH: Yeah that’s vaguely public, right guys?

DD: Yeah, we have a new album that will be out next year.

Purchase CLPPNG on Bandcamp or iTunes, and download Midcity for free on Bandcamp 

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