Clipping makes the party music for the “club you wish you hadn’t gone to, the car you don’t remember getting in, and the streets you don’t feel safe on.” Clipping first bled into the modern rap scene with a twisted combo of radical lyrics and minimalistic production. The trio maintains a fearless approach to hip hop, taking a classic West Coast sound, flipping it, and then distorting it into a warped vision of “twenty different rappers looking into one broken mirror”. They stunned audiences with a set at the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn a week ago, and have since been confounding critics with their latest EP CLPPING. FDRMX spoke with the trio Daveed Diggs (MC), Jonathon Snipes, and William Hutson to figure out where the music comes from, and stumbled across some insightful commentary on rap music, production ingenuity, cricket farming, and violent music videos.
Pulling out our trusted copy of…Wikipedia, we found the technical definition of the verb ‘clipping’ is “a form of waveform distortion that occurs when an amplifier is overdriven, and attempts to deliver an output voltage/current beyond its maximum capability.” It’s possible this plays into the band’s name. William says “I believe that’s how we came up with it,” while Jonathon claims the band’s name actually stems from their “shared interest in clipping coupons.” As far as musical influences go, the group may as well create their own Wikipedia article. As producers, Jonathon and William cite some of the “really specific production influences and references on CLPPNG (in no particular order) as: Autechre, Deathpile, Steve Albini, Karma Moffett, Steve Reich, John Cage, Philip Glass, Tangerine Dream, Sickness, Wobbly, Prurient, DJ Mustard, Skinny Puppy, Regis, Mannie Fresh, Dj Paul & Juicy J, Chris Watson, DJ Screw, KLC, Whitehouse, Bernard Parmegiani, Clams Casino, and the list goes on. As for rapping, Daveed counts Prurient, DJ Mustard, Skinny Puppy, Regis, Mannie Fresh, Dj Paul & Juicy J, Chris Watson, DJ Screw, KLC, Pedestrian Deposit, Block Beattaz, Whitehouse, Bernard Parmegiani, Clams Casino as influencers.
It may be the group’s open-minded approach to making music that creates the loose, echoing beats for songs like “Work, Work.” Jonathon describes the process: “we recorded ourselves hitting, striking, scraping, tapping, etc. on a metal thermos that was lying around the studio. Then turned those recordings into a sampler instrument, and did all the IDM-y stutter sequencing with MIDI in logic. That ‘hihat’ loop is a recording of crumpling a beer can with our hands, that we sliced up and arranged so it would land on beat. There’s also a recording we made out in the desert (while shooting some press photos) of smashing a cinder block. We play that forwards and backwards. There’s a snare sound that’s just filtered white noise from the modular, and the west-coast high synth lead at the end is an Arp Odyssey.” It may be one of the strangest ‘instruments’ they’ve put together for a song. “The first two things we had SupPop buy for us,” a vibraslap featured in “Summertime” and the bar-chime used in “Tonight” are also unique additions. “I think they were pretty confused,” says Jonathon, “we used same bar chime in “Dream” but we played it by pressing dry ice into the chimes.” When it comes to compiling all of their music into albums, Jonathon argues that while “both midcity and CLPPNG feel” more “like collections of songs,” if you arranged midcity in chronological order, you would hear a pretty clear progression of us learning how to make tracks.” William adds that “for a pop record…CLPPNG was somewhat cohesive. There was a lot of attention paid to the sequencing of the tracks.”
If Clipping’s music comes off as abrasive, their videos are no different. Their latest music video for “Work, Work,” directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, was published a few months ago, and has some pretty “f–ked up” scenes of Daveed getting curb-stomped. “We were actually afraid it wasn’t tough enough. It has those cute little rats at the end” says William. “That’s actually how Carlos got us to do the video in the first place. He’s a pretty scary guy, and it took quite a bit of violent intimidation on his part to get us to agree to work with him. Once we got out of that situation, we realized it was a pretty good idea for a video.”
The music and music video don’t necessarily reflect on the men within. Jonathon explains that the three are “fairly balanced, but that’s possibly part of the reason we’re all so interested in extreme music. I’m never interested in art that I feel like relates directly to my actual life. I love work that feels fantastical, unrealistic, explores emotions and states that aren’t necessarily present in my day-to-day. Maybe if I was a violent or extreme person in my own life, I’d be interested in making pleasant and soothing music.” It could also hint at why the group has a steadfast rule that all rap narrates in second and third-person. Daveed, the group’s MC, says “it seems like such a harsh constraint but it actually has broadened the storytelling possibilities for us without forcing us to sound inauthentic. We don’t have to be limited to talking about things any of us has seen or done. We also felt that with music that was this technical, and given our personalities, the ‘hook’ for this band was never going to be how cool we or how fun we would be to hang out with. We wanted to make rap music that highlights the technical abilities and doesn’t rely on personality.”
“I continue to be blown away by how few people notice this, actually. I think that this aspect of Diggs’s rapping is far more radical than anything the beats are doing” Jonathon adds. It’s also interesting to note that Diggs has a voice and flow comparable to West-coast rapper 100s, yet maintains a entirely different style. Diggs says he’s “been listening to 100s for a long time. He’s great. I’d never heard that comparison but I’m not mad at it.”
So what do we expect from the trio in the future? “That’s a question we probably shouldn’t answer even if we could, but I will say that we’re definitely thinking more and more about the long form in upcoming projects… Making sure that pieces belong on an album together, and that the album itself has a specific sound, style, aesthetic, narrative, what have you.” As for side projects, Jonathon is currently “working on building a cricket farm for my home,” since they’re clearly both “delicious and sustainable.” William continues to write reviews for The Wire magazine, trading off with “other writers on a column of capsule reviews called Outer Limits… the stuff that’s too weird for the rest of the magazine to deal with.”
In the meantime, you can check out clipping’s most recent EP, CLPPING on Bandcamp. Just try not to make the mistake of searching for ‘The Clippings’. “It drives me f–king crazy every time someone spells our name with an “s” — clippings. I just picture some old clueless person, ‘Oh are you going to see the clippings tonight? Have you heard this album by the Sonic Youths?’ Like it actually makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.” William quips, “I always joke we should introduce ourselves in those cases as Billy, Johnny and Davey Clipping — The Clippings.”