Clipping. have always been on the more accessible side of experimental rap compared to their often-cited counterparts like Death Grips and JPEGMAFIA. Their old material had a charming brutality to it—their debut mixtape midcity sits comfortably amongst other records from the abrasive horrorcore and noise revival. Seven years after the fact, the trio has ventured into more cinematic territory both literally and figuratively, paying homage to classic horror films on Visions of Bodies Being Burned and ending up with something like a twisted rock opera. However, Visions misses the mark for that exact reason, removing the grit that makes horrorcore special.
Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes have a tried-and-true formula: creating glitchy, staticky soundscapes interspersed with minimalist tinkering noises that increase in ferocity until Daveed Diggs, the group’s star (and actor of Hamilton fame), is spitting out more words than a court stenographer. There is no shortage of that on this project, and even after all these years, it’s still impressive. Diggs’ ability to mold the English language into a playground for his expansive vocabulary is no small feat, but it does get stale.
That speedy delivery worked well on their previous “Story” installments, all of which told stories of human despair and depravity. Even there, the group’s slow descent into campiness is shown, starting with the tale of a trauma-stricken police officer driven to madness in the first “Story” to a recurring character named Cynthia turning into a werewolf in “Story 7.”
The group are admitted horror buffs, reveling in the serious and the corny, but that’s where Visions falls flat. Clipping. is consistent in sound and theme, using harsh noise as a backdrop for nerdy nihilism. However, their approach to these sensibilities is hit or miss. Their stellar Wriggle EP from 2016 is a short and sweet industrial bloodbath with a little of everything that makes Clipping. work: tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendos and flipped, obscure Whitehouse samples. Even Splendor & Misery from that same year found the group at their peak, chronicling the madness and romance between the sole survivor of a spaceship and the artificial intelligence watching him. Clipping. are best when dialing all the way into their sci-fi nerdiness or capturing small pockets of everyday horror.
That is not to say that Visions doesn’t have its highs, like standout track “Looking Like Meat” (featuring hip-hop/hardcore outfit HO99O9) that sounds like a futuristic slasher flick where the kills keep coming. There’s also the hilariously self-aware “‘96 Neve Campbell,” a tribute to the badass final girl trope in horror films. Inglewood-based Cam and China have some of the most memorable lines on the album, like “Who the fuck want war? / Come through killing everything, leave the credits for the boards / Yeah, I’m talking billboards, type of shit you can’t afford, n****.” Diggs’ rapport with the duo, plus the verses punctuated with a clever sample of door knocking, sounds straight out of Three 6 Mafia and Crime Mob’s playbook. However, when Diggs is alone, his charisma flows in and out, and it almost becomes a chore to listen to.
It’s clear that Visions is a loving ode to the dirty Memphis rap pioneered by the likes of Three 6 Mafia (the group’s frequent collaborator Gangsta Boo also appears on Clipping.’s 2014 track “Tonight”) and Project Pat, but that’s also its exact issue. It tries too hard to pay homage to horrorcore tropes, like the chopped-up horror movie samples and heart-pounding bass, and sounds too polished as a result. It’s horrorcore for people who don’t want to listen to the real thing. Clipping. is an incredibly innovative and talented group, especially in creating entire worlds within their songs, but at their most inhibited, they come off as try-hard.
Jade Gomez is a New Jersey-based freelance writer, dog mom, Southern rap aficionado and compound sentence enthusiast. Feel free to shout into the void or follow her on Twitter.