Before I sat to recount this chilling tale, before my virtual interview with rapper Daveed Diggs and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, before our conversation was severed at the 40-minute Zoom call limit — ending as I blurted one last question about the impending release of their forthcoming record — I scrolled through clipping.’s Twitter feed.
It was there that I chanced upon a retweet from musician Mike Shiflet: “I think my favorite part of experimental music is that everyone has their own list of reasons why they aren’t more popular and almost none of them are ‘I make borderline unlistenable sound and the world at large reacts accordingly.’”
Was it Diggs, Hutson, or Snipes, who retweeted this? Does the group truly feel this way about their music? The answer to both of these questions remains unclear, but possibly this is a cheeky response to Pitchfork’s 4.5 review of clipping.’s There Existed an Addiction to Blood. In his analysis of the 2019 LP, music critic Stephen Kearse called the album “their most bloodless project to date.”
Time will tell whether Kearse will find clipping.’s followup more sanguineous. As far as this critic is concerned, it seems that the trio saved the best songs for the sequel, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, due Oct. 23 on Sub Pop Records. The Candyman– and Rosemary’s Baby-referencing “Say the Name,” and the Cam & China-featuring “96 Neve Campbell” — an homage to Scream and the horror genre’s “final girl” trope — are two standouts that outshine much of the material on Addiction to Blood.
The Los Angeles-based clipping. knew they wanted to make a horror-inspired album since writing “Club Down” in 2014. “We’re all people who consume that genre of art pretty regularly,” Diggs says, “and people like to talk about how our music is scary anyway, so it makes sense.”
But when Diggs, Hutson, and Snipes finished recording their spooky songs, the saga was well over two hours long. So they whittled the set down to a single LP — Addiction to Blood — with the intent of surprising fans with Visions of Bodies Being Burned as soon as they went on tour. However, when a real life horror story unfolded in the form of a global pandemic, the second chapter’s release date was moved to just before Halloween.
During my virtual interview with the trio, the Oakland-born Diggs — known for his portrayal of a rapping Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway hit Hamilton, and for co-writing and co-starring in Blindspotting — spoke from halfway through his mandatory two-week quarantine in Canada, where he was preparing to finish filming a TV show.
When Hutson asked him about his accommodations, Diggs replied: “It’s as fine as anywhere can be when you’re literally not allowed to go outside.” While the situation is certainly different from the scenario Diggs paints in “Check the Lock,” the emcee may now relate more closely to the paranoid drug kingpin he profiles on the eerie and anxious track. While Diggs wasn’t necessarily worried that one of his dope-pushing rivals would catch him slipping, he was nonetheless relegated to picking up abandoned food at the doorstep after peering out the peephole to make sure the delivery driver was out of sight.
The track most suited for our steroid-injected, embryonic-tissue-ingester-in-chief might be “Make Them Dead,” a high-pitch trance-like chant of a number skewering the faux religious right (“Walk forward eyes closed don’t them say they believers / Ain’t they brought they bibles? Do they dare deceive / (Make them) Dead”).
“We’re proud of the record,” Snipes says. “Wish we could release it into a less nightmarish world.” However, in a twisted way, the music is in line with the times — especially tracks like the bass-heavy, ravenous cannibal fever dream, “Looking Like Meat,” which is complemented by a muddy feature from punk-rap darlings Ho99o9.
Beyond the mere frights it gives, the album speaks to the nature of scary movies as cultural timepieces. Clipping.’s Visions of Bodies Being Burned takes an “antiracist, antipatriarchal, anticolonial” stance against our contemporary backdrop of uncontrolled illness, political distrust, and a public outrage over our nation’s history of systemic racism. The group’s response to the murder of George Floyd was the tribute song “Chapter 319,” which raised over $20,000 for racial justice charities.
Their track “Pain Everyday” calls on the ghosts of lynching victims to haunt their killers’ white descendants. In “Body for the Pile,” the anger reaches a boiling point with scenes of dead cops (“Bust one shot if your blood still pumpin / Bust two shots if you really bout sumthin / Three little pigs and they can’t do nothin”).
For all the talk of violence, the blood, gore, and immolation, the group’s members were very polite on Zoom. Diggs sipped on some vanilla cold brew coffee and answered questions in his friendly, charismatic tone; Hutson chimed in casually from his sunlit living room; and Snipes answered questions with a contemplative air, sitting in front of loads of audio gear.
“We decided a long time ago that the only metric for a song being good in this band is if the three of us like it,” Diggs said. “That was the only way to decide, because initially none of our friends liked this music.”
Diggs spoke on reconnecting to the people in Los Angeles’ underground scene, where clipping. came up and his nostalgia for their early touring days: “My favorite way to listen to this music is squeezed into a very tiny, shitty place with a bunch of people. Like, with too many people to be in a very small place and where it feels . . . dangerous and really fun all at once. You know what I’m saying? Like it’s a loving environment that’s not up to code.”
Alas, venues like these will be the last to come back amid the shaky reopenings of a bungled pandemic response.
Since forming in 2009, the group has come to understand each other, to the point where even their answers were collaborative. At one point Diggs said, “Jonathan, you just described this really well a second ago, that there’s like piles of ideas that we each have and then points of intersection of them that become songs.” Here Hutson jumped in: “Jonathan was saying on a previous interview, it’s like one of us—we each have a stack of things we want to do—I have a song that does this, and then we discuss and sometimes when we’re talking about our ideas, one of us will be like ‘Oh I wanna do a song using, you know, EVP recordings’ and Jonathan’s like, ‘I wanna do a breakcore song,’ and we start linking up our ideas, figuring out which ones we can stick together, so that most of our songs are at least like three different concepts that we’ve figured out and sort of fit together.” Snipes finishes the thought with a reference to David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish and how sometimes the only thing two ideas have to do with each other is that you thought of them around the same time and that’s enough.
So, while Pitchfork described clipping.’s first half of their horrorcore anthology at times as mechanical, sock puppet-like and overly referential, the twist is that this was their intention all along. This second half, Visions of Bodies Being Burned reveals the records to be a kind of Frankenstein’s monster — assembled from many unlike parts and reanimated through three mad scientists’ passion.
The result is a long anthology of love letters to the genre: raps to match a modern Poe, beats to leave the blood curdled, and a pair of back-to-back albums bisected, but with a still-beating heart. Bloodless though it may be, it’s alive!
Visions of Bodies Being Burned will be released through Sub Pop Records on October 23.