Rapping In Space: How Clipping Broke The Fourth Wall And Entered The Fourth Dimension

09.30.16 3 weeks ago • 2 Comments

Ralph Ordaz

It’s Clipping, bitch.

Even the most diehard fans have trouble following whatever comes next. Daveed Diggs raps with a typewriter-off-the-edge cha-ching fury, firing phrases like bullets, weaponry designed to speed through the silvery screen of unrelenting noise that William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes summon. An early rule in the trio’s evolution was that the production must be subservient to the vocal, and though they’ve bent most of the other initial parameters, this one reigns supreme.

Diggs’ voice is always there, thrusting forward, high-stepping like a football player into a wide open end zone; there’s a victory in his cadence even when he’s rapping about utter desolation, which is often. His blistering delivery circles back on itself, doubling down like a lawyer interrogating a witness about to break. You can’t keep up with him even if you’ve memorized the words; he’ll tweak phrasing last minute like late era Dylan, warping it until it fits his own newly-realized purpose.

For their part, Hutson and Snipes similarly molt, working within a shifting framework that only people who’ve known each other this long can intuit. When performing live, the trio maneuver with the kind of unspoken musical calibrations that border on telepathy, an internal communication and flexibility that powers any successful creative act. You could say that ability itself is the creative act.

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Watching Clipping in real time leads to the realization that noise is like jazz, it requires the same intuition, respect and fundamental understanding of forms. Once mastered, of course, it also requires that these forms be smashed to pieces. The three members move at a breakneck pace, but remain a unit even when they’re destroying shit. No matter the speed, they’re discrete, separate, utterly unconcerned with whatever unfolds around them. If you lose the thread, there’s always one phrase everyone can unite on.

It’s those three words, spit with an insolence that borders on a sneer but that never bleeds into malice. It’d be a snarl if it wasn’t over so quickly. But everything Daveed Diggs says is over quickly. Of all the phrases in Clipping’s intergalactic lexicon, it’s the one that has become their calling card. Succinct. Descriptive. Aggressive.

It’s the one that lets you understand why, in mid-July, right after winning a Tony award, Diggs left his role in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning, internet-breaking, culture-jamming phenomenon Hamilton to complete the noise rap trio’s third album. The record, called Splendor & Misery, is a fifteen-track Afrofuturist dystopian concept album with no real singles that came out at the beginning of September. It’s the opposite of a safe bet, it’s one of the longest shots the three of them have ever taken.

Then again, that’s what most people thought about Hamilton right around this time two years ago. And maybe they aren’t so different after all. Both projects use hip-hop to decenter the traditionally white narrative; where Miranda’s musical looked backward, reimagining the past in playful bars, Splendor & Misery looks forward, interrogating the present and yearning toward a better future. But if you’re a Hamilton fan and came here looking for a Lin-Manuel Miranda rhyme, this is not that.

It’s Clipping, bitch.