Published Sep 23, 2016For Los Angeles experimental rap trio Clipping., making a concept record like Splendor & Misery was always in the cards.
"Even while we were making the first Clipping. release, [2013's Midcity] we were already talking like 'Okay, down the line, we'd like to do a science fiction release," producer William Hutson says. "We had been talking about this since 2011 without anything concrete."
Some of their more recent musical accomplishments outside of the group practically beg to be applied to the format: Hutson finished his Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies with a dissertation on experimental music, while fellow producer Jonathan Snipes took to scoring feature films. MC Daveed Diggs, of course, is best known for originating the role of both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the popular Broadway musical Hamilton.
As coincidental as those achievements might be now, the majority of Splendor & Misery was recorded in the fall of 2014.
"We certainly didn't know [Daveed] would go to Broadway, this was him doing a show at the Public Theatre that nobody had predicted would be as successful as it was," Hutson explained. "We didn't put Clipping. aside — this record was the thing we put aside."
Splendor & Misery's dystopian, Afrofuturist narrative follows the sole survivor of a slave uprising onboard a spaceship. Diggs' verbose narrative is riddled with sci-fi and pop culture references, while the whirring and humming mechanical beats of Hutson and Snipes bring the sounds of the ship to life. Fully aware that releasing a concept album in 2016 could be viewed as "a really goddamn nerdy thing to do," the two aren't seeking a renaissance of the sprawling, overblown prog epics they grew up with, though there have been more recent, innovative examples.
"I like it when artists clearly have more forethought of what makes up an album as opposed to 'Well, these are the songs I've made the last few years,'" Snipes says. "The physical form is no longer the sole distribution record anymore. Why collect all the songs together like that unless there's some reason for them to all be together?"
"My absolute favourite album of the last ten years is Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City," Hutson offers. "No one would ever call that a concept album because it's cool, not dorky, and because it doesn't take place in space. But it is a true narrative of a single day. That kind of thing was important to us, and it started to feel like that was happening less and less."
And though Splendor & Misery is perfectly built for accompanying visual elements, don't expect Clipping. to cave in to music's trend of putting something together for stage or screen.
"Visual culture is dominant to the point that if we made a video, that would fix the story — it would be what the story of the album is," Hutson explains. "We like the unfixed nature this record has, and kind of want that to be more up in the air by not adding visuals to it."