"clipping. makes 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." This is how the trio of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson describe the creation that is clipping, who recently signed to Sub Pop Records. Hailing from Los Angeles the band have just released their debut album CLPPNG. Rather than trying to destroy or recreate the genre of Hip Hop, clipping are creating a new language within it. We had a conversation with the trio on the new album, the definition of good and evil, casual racism and definitively loud music.
How did you approach creating clppng? Were their any discussed goals for the record?
Jonathan Snipes: We had already started writing before we signed with Sub Pop. This album feels more like a collection of songs to me than a cohesive whole with a concept or anything. I think the songs work together, and we definitely trimmed a lot out to make sure we had something lean and coherent, but we definitely never said, “let’s make an album that sounds like [x].” It evolved pretty naturally from where we left off after Midcity.
William Hutson: That said, there were some overarching conceptual plans that we stuck to. We’re just waiting to see if anyone notices them.
Daveed Diggs: I think we also used our signing as an excuse to make something that was a lot more polished than its predecessor. I think we would have done that anyway, but it seemed like a good reason.
What was your first experience with definitively loud music growing up?
WH: I know what you mean, but personally, the loudest show I ever went to was an E-40 concert in Long Beach. Most noise shows can’t compare. I’ve been following experimental and noise music for most of my life now. A particularly definitive moment for me was discovering late-career John Coltrane and Merzbow around the same time.
DD: Yeah, I think I was at that E-40 show with Bill. I also think that we started discovering late period Trane and free jazz stuff around the same time. After that, my tastes sort of stayed in that realm and I started listening to a lot of jazz-fusion which is why I think I have this affinity for odd or changing time signatures. But my interaction with noise and other experimental music is mostly based on the fact that I have been friends with Bill for over 20 years now, so even when I wasn’t looking for it, I got to listen to what he was listening to and of course the music he was making.
JS: I probably found noise music in the late 90s on mp3.com, through artists like Cock ESP, Jon Borges, Prurient, Jason Cambpell, others I can’t remember. That led to tracking down Merzbow, Masonna, Aube, etc. When I hear music that I don’t understand, that doesn’t sound like what I think music should sound like, instead of turning it off and pulling away, I find myself uncontrollably drawn to it; trying to understand.
What are the extent of clipping's ambitions in regards to “pop?”
JS: Not sure if you mean pop sound or pop appeal. I will say we have never made a decision while making a song based on what we think might make us more “popular.” Everything we do we choose to do because of our own tastes and interests. We love a lot of pop music, and that taste definitely informs our choices while writing tracks. I think it’s pretty short-sighted to dismiss music just because a lot of people like it, or it’s on a major label, or whatever.
Daveed: Do you have any interest in featuring on established rappers songs?
DD: Of course!
I was introduced to clipping by a friend who relished the fact that Daveed went to Brown University. What did you study there and how has your formal education lent itself to this project?
DD: I studied theater. I think my formal education as well as all of the experiential learning I’ve done before and since college feed into clipping. the same way it would into any art. At any moment that I am working on something I am the sum of all the experiences and knowledge that I have, so I try to use all of that when I write. CLPPNG was, at the time, the best thing I’d ever written because it was the best stuff I was capable of writing. Since then I’ve written things I like better. I hope to keep improving in that way. But sometimes people like to point to the fact that I went to Brown as some sort of special training for being a good artist and that’s just not true. It was just college. And undergrad at that. I don’t think I am any better prepared for anything than a person who went to any other college or a person who didn’t attend college at all. I’m glad I went. I learned a lot. But I’ve learned a lot more since then.
Coming from your respective backgrounds in film and theatre, does the idea of being in a rapidly growing, touring band intimidate or excite you?
DD: I love playing shows. Being on the road so much can get taxing.
JS: Juggling the schedules is a challenge, for sure.
How did you define the distinction between good and evil? When do you remember first formulating this line as a child?
JS: I’m not sure I’ve made this distinction yet … I guess I would say I think it’s pretty evil to try to divide the world into two categories, regardless of what you name them: good/evil, dark/light, black/white, us/them, etc. That seems pretty shallow-minded and reductive. The kind of thinking that leads to wars and genocides.
There's a moment in the song "Dream" where Daveed laughs at his own line. What made you decide to include this?
DD: Given that we don’t use first person narratives on CLPPNG, the voice on dream became sort of an inner monologue for somebody or something. Kind of a dream narrator. In that section of the song the narrator is suggesting that it might be nice to relax instead of working so hard all the time. There is a lot of beach imagery, the dumbest of which is: “Trade the bricks for sand dollars.” It occurred to me that having laughter there gives some personality to this non-person, while still remaining anonymous enough. It also provided a reason for moving on from that line of thinking (the idea of getting to relax is laughable). And also, and most importantly, it sounds cool and uses up space where I didn’t want silence but also didn’t want words.
Where did the idea for the “Work Work” video originate from? I’d love to hear about the conceptualization, production, and direction of the video as well.
JS: The video was mostly Carlos Lopez-Estrada’s idea. Carlos came to us with a pitch that was pretty similar, and we didn’t actually input that much. He wanted the rats to be cats, and we told him cats were too cute. Actually, we also said we thought rats were too cute. I suggested scorpions. You can hear us talk with Carlos about making the video here: http://imvdb.com/video/clipping/work-work
When you were approaching artists to collaborate with on clppng, how did you explain the project and its respective tone? Was there ever a time where you had difficulty with this kind of pitch?
JS: For the most part, we just told them we were making rap songs. We told them what the song was about, and they wrote a verse. Nobody said they thought our beats were weird, or that they thought anything was different or ‘experimental’ about this project. Gangsta Boo did ask what all the sounds were in “Tonight” and she seemed to think it was pretty cool that we’d done all that recording and sound design.
WH: Each song with a feature on it was a beat we made especially to work with those specific artists; they were designed for them, so perhaps that’s why they responded so well when they heard them. Nobody flinched, nobody blinked. They just said they liked the music and got to work. It’s funny, but none of them — not King T, not Boo, not Guce, not Cree — ever once suggested that they thought we were doing anything other than making rap songs.
I read a recent interview you guys did with Louder Than War in which the interviewer asked how long you had been fans of rap, adding “I guess this is more directed to Jonathan and William - it’s assumed with Daveed right?” Do you experience this kind of casual racism on a regular basis?
JS: Is it racist to assume that a rapper is a fan of rap music? I think that question has less to do with race, and more to do with our roles in the band. I think to the interviewer, it sounded like Daveed was more inspired by rap music than Bill & I are. Which is not terribly accurate (we *all* draw a lot of inspiration from rap past and present), but I wouldn’t call the assumption racist. Like I think we would have gotten the opposite question if Bill & I were making boom-bappier beats and Daveed was an extended-technique Opera singer, or something.
WH: I think that question was pretty innocent. But we do see Daveed experience weird racist stuff on tour every once in awhile. Nothing scary. Some old dude in Paris threatened to break his harmonica on our jaws because we made rap music, which he used interchangeably with the term ‘black music’.
DD: Ha! I forgot about that. But yeah, I wouldn’t have considered that question any more casually racist than asking me about how my educational background effects the work and not asking Bill or Jonathan the same question. I think being Black means you experience so much casual racism every day that it’s not really worth thinking about. And I’m certainly not gonna get stressed out over some interview questions. There are too few hours in the day.
You can purchase CLPPNG here.
Words : Nick Boyd