Experimental hip-hop trio clipping returned this year with a more focused and more adventurous album than anything they’d released to date. Splendor & Misery took the groups blend of harsh noise and hip-hop into orbit, its 15 tracks comprising a tight but detailed concept album about a man who escapes from a deep space slave ship. The unusual subject matter proved to be a perfect fit for the group’s cold and unsettling music, while Daveed Diggs’ technical lyricism took on a new level of cohesion when applied to a more structured narrative style.
Throughout Splendor, Diggs raps from the perspective of both the escaped slave, Cargo 2331, as well as the ship upon which he escapes. And the detailed story he tells plots a course through slavery, religion, love and a healthy dose of space madness. Just as on previous clipping releases, Diggs raps at a very fast pace, and the variety of flows, cadences and topics he covers proves very impressive. But this time around you can hear a greater range of influences extending past the violent excesses of gangsta rap. The sci-fi raps of Deltron 3030 prove just as influential, particularly in the albums only real single-worthy track, “Air ‘Em Out”, which contains some pretty great lyrics about blasters and suns and solar systems.
Musically, too, Splendor was weirder than anything the group had done before. No longer shackled to the blueprint of traditional hardcore hip-hop, Johnathan Hutson and William Snipes produced an album that pushed the sparse, industrial elements of the groups sound even further. ‘Baby Don’t Sleep’ is without drums entirely, and instead features three alternating channels of static and found sound over which Diggs raps. ‘The Breach’s only musical accompaniment is a pulsing noise that sounds like cold air being sucked through a vent. And the percussion on ‘Break the Glass’ sounds like pistons and heavy machinery creaking away in the bowels of the ship.
There are even more bold musical choices to be found in the inclusion of several gospel interludes – purely vocal spirituals which tie the theme of slavery back down to Earth. It seems an unusual combination at first, but the fact that it somehow works demonstrates that one of clippings greatest strengths as a group is their ability to combine disparate sounds and styles together into a cohesive whole.
It takes guts and a lot of creativity to pull off an album like this, but clipping have it in spades, and with Splendor & Misery they have charted a course into undiscovered galaxies with a sound that is truly their own.