There’s a term often applied to certain kinds of music, “challenging,” that never really made sense to me. I’ve heard it used to describe free-form jazz, the trash-sound wranglings of Merzbow, the carefully plotted chaos of The Chariot, and so on and so forth. In the end, though, I’ve slotted it all into my two primary mental crates, “like it” and “don’t like it,” in statistically equal proportions. There were tracks along the way that required some patience to dissect, and some songs for which I transitioned from “this is great because it’s weird” to “wow, this is really just noise,” but I never felt “challenged” by any of it.
Then Spotify Discover threw a Clipping track at me.
The Wriggle EP, taken as a whole, is pretty indicative of their whole catalogue, in that overall I think it’s evidence of bona fide genius, but there are elements in nearly every one of their songs that I find sheerly annoying, as if it was specifically intended to piss me off. I want to love it, but if I ever dare get comfortable with it for a moment, it leers at me, eyes wide, saying “Fuck you. This isn’t for you. Don’t like it.” That’s a challenge.
The introductory track matches the format of their previous two releases, a rapid-fire a capella story that plays with its own flow and ends in a blast of static noise cutting off (or, heh, “clipping”) the occasionally recurring Britney-esque phrase it’s clipping, bitch. Within this first song is a perfect example of that challenge – if I take the time to decipher the lyrics, often delivered almost too fast to even read along to, deeply detailed stories of city and street life emerge under the masterful direction of lyricist Daveed Diggs. But this discovery happens under duress, with pressure coming from random, tension-inducing sirens, and deafenings blast of noise.
The music, sparse, echoing Trent Reznor’s Ghosts era NIN, flips from obnoxious to intriguing just as erratically. The gunshot beats of Shooter are well-designed, a seemingly cliché idea pulled off well with the use of a large variety of samples behind a metaphor and simile-laden tale of a professional gunman.
Featuring the wonderfully weird Signor Benedick The Moor, but an utterly eye-glazing performance by Antwon, Back Up gives us our first taste of my other issue with Clipping: The guest stars. Eminem doesn’t do a ton of collaborations. We probably won’t get a Descending ft. Les Claypool on the next Tool album when it comes out next election cycle. Most Aphex Twin remixes are made by Richard James himself. These artists work with other musicians, sure, but they’re highly talented visionaries with an immediately recognizable sound and a chemistry that can get diluted by outside forces. Clipping, and Diggs in particular, are so good at drawing you in to the unique flow and lyrics that I almost feel cheated every time someone else comes in and takes up valuable minutes in the middle of the song rapping about something entirely unrelated to the tale at hand. It’s like they say, hey, here’s the beat, here’s the hook, rap something. Then they bookend that guy’s boring verse full of modern rap cliches with a compelling story about real life.
Barely an exception, Hot Fuck No Love has a pretty competently delivered verse by Cakes Da Killa in the middle, and then is well carried along by Maxi Wild’s sexy beckoning throughout the song… only to have her end it with atonal shrieking.
Wriggle shows off the trio’s raw talent, with a phenomenal beat, the jaw-dropping delivery speed of Diggs, and manipulative control over a core sample. It’s also the first video off the album, a suitably seizure-inducing barrage of short animations, most of them immediately recognizable as the memes of years past.
Though that damn hook gets repetitive after a few listens… And I can just hear that voice again. “We’re amazing. We might be some of the best musicians you’ve stumbled across in a decade of searching, Mike. But fuck you, we don’t need your love, so here’s a track with fucking Gangsta Boo.” That’s just an example; Boo was brought into fuck up Last Song on their 2015 Sub Pop debut CLPPNG; she is mercifully absent from Wriggle. Instead we get Nailah Middleton, whose lovely contributions to Our Time aid in closing out the album on a tensely sad note, another Clipping trademark: Leaving you feeling a bit flustered, emotionally exhausted, worried about tomorrow, worried about today, but oddly hopeful, confident that there’s either a way out, something beautiful to find in the shit, or both.
Most of the Wriggle EP is phenomenal, another stage in the progression of one of the best, weirdest Hip Hop acts I’ve heard in recent years. The rest of it seems designed to reject perfection, which I can respect, artistically. Life isn’t perfect. You don’t just get the good stuff handed to you effortlessly. You gotta work for it a little. Why not express that in your craft?
I guess that’s what you call “challenging.” In this case, I like it.
Definitely give it a shot for yourself on Spotify or Bandcamp, or Youtube, and in the process, do yourself a favor and check out their already large collection of official music videos, which range from pretty cool to fucking awesome.
Taken as a whole, Wriggle is pretty indicative of Clipping's whole catalogue: Overall, it's evidence of bona fide genius, but there are elements in nearly every one of their songs designed to defy, from the foundation upwards, any and every institution of the dogmas of good taste.