Yesterday I talked a bit about how ScHoolboy Q is in some ways a "purist" rapper. You'll note that I said "purist" and not "mainstream": the hip hop landscape of today is very different than the gangsta's paradise that dominated the radio during his youth. The power of the internet has split what was once a river that, although winding in many directions, was primarily a single current into a fertile delta. It is impossible to quickly summarize the myriad rappers that have rose to fame in this era, and, in the time you took, entirely new names and genres would have emerged.
It's equally impossible to attribute this revolution to any one person, but there's maybe an argument for one duo. I speak, of course, of Lil B and Clams Casino. I don't think we'll ever fully understand the impact these two had on the landscape of modern hip hop. Following back the creeks and tributaries reveals a legacy of inspiration that's truly awe-inspiring. Was there ever a real internet rapper before Lil B? Could there have been a Lil Yachty, an iLoveMakonnen, a Riff Raff, an Odd Future? Would we ever have gotten Based without him? That wonderful irreverant attitude, with nothing to prove and everything to give, pretty bitches and tiny pants, crying in music videos and rapping how you feel, would we have ever achieved it if he didn't name it and claim it? When Lil B rocked the "Jumpman" beat, it fit so well because "Jumpman" is, in essence, already a Lil B song.
And with him, ever since "I'm God" blew past everyone's ironic distance in 2009, and well beyond, was Clams. Rocky's career exploded with the very first sound of "Palace", the definition of "trillwave" or "cloudrap" or whatever. With that sound he introduced the world to a sort of magical haze that now lurks under everything from trap bangers to every /mu/ microgenre to Lana Del Ray. And despite making this, maybe the single biggest contribution to the modern musical aesthetic (honestly not hyperbole imo), Clams still isn't content, evolving and innovating his sound to the challenge of each new track... the tension of Vince Staples' "Norf Norf", the complexity of FKA twigs' "Hours", the aggressiveness of A$AP Ferg's "Rebirth": every year, new frontiers. And so, on his first ever LP release, there really isn't anything I can expect except greatness.
Clams Casino - 32 Levels
1. Level 1
YESSSSSSSS, omg the lil b yes. that is the best way to start anything, any medium. even a book. and vocal samples layered and stuttered... omg... lil b speaking too. lil b, captain. leave it up to clams, he guide us. 32 levels AND THEN THE BEAT COMES ON hnnng, how did he know exactly what we wanted? oh man the way he flips it to the "submerged" version of the vocals just for a second, omg. 32 levels to my mind. this is the voice of our generation. **
2. Be Somebody
awww snap, rocky and lil b on the same track, clams's two sons. woah dang man, this beat is crazy, that super angelic essence. the sorta noisy parts and stuff... rocky really doing his thing, super smooth, his low voice effect interjecting in too are really good too. "go in one more time", yeeeee. rocky really having fun on this one and now IT'S YOUR BOY LIL B. just made history yeaaaah. oh man Lil B actually doing REHEARSED RAPS on this one, that's a power level we aren't really ready for. "How could I lose when I know the Based God?", "The Based God perfect, that's just the surface", a condo he designed :O "I don't need a gun, I just need the bullets", I want to write down everything Lil B ever says... with ink... on my body... it is that important. oh and the BEAT. i was too hypnotized to even process it but... the way he samples that "be somebody" line? this is like... key burial vibes. ***
3. All Nite
awwwwwwww yeah Vince Staples IMMEDIATELY going in, waking up in some other man's main bitch ahhaha. "I heard they really wanna gun me down, good luck with that" lol. woah the crazy like... vacuumous sounds on the beat, and the scraping and stuff, it's actually so avant garde but Vince is just going IN so solidly oh my god, he understands the sensibility of the beat way too well. oh damn and now these vocal effects too... like at first they really show how great the beat is by letting him ride it just hypnotically solidly, but now they bring out how crazy it is too by letting it "corrupt" him. that's brilliant. and we just riiiiide out on the outro, on sight! on sight! all nite! all nite! nice. ***
this was a single, I listened to it a bunch. this is so cinematic and suspenseful for a lil b track... well, usually when he does this level of drama it gets pretty silly, but here they maintain a sincere intensity. but also S-SWAG SWAG ad-libs. lil b has gucci tier lyrics let's be real. that same endless font of creativity. "My life's a movie but no I'm not an actor", "Cooking dance when I turn up" omg how did i not mention the cooking dance in my intro, that was another huge cultural achievement on so many levels. "Big boss, call me big boss, call me Rick Ross" lmao. "I might be in Texas, I might be in London, I might be in Sweden", "Shoutouts to Africa, shoutouts to Japan", no one else's mind works like this. It's so beautiful. 32 levels. Oh and the beat lmao. it is perfect of course. it is too good for me to even notice... if that makes sense... it just works too well. the way the bass "flares" up in a way that distorts it just a bit... so cool. and the super sinister piano. i love it. ***
woah this is some industrial stuff. van der graaf generator or psychic tv or other industrial bands i can think to namedrop quick and impress people. and then a pan flute sorta thing? o damn my son where did you find this one. i guess this was just TOO CRAZY for people to rap over? the NES jrpg synth is my favorite part. **
6. 32 Levels
yesssssssssssssssssss. Joe Newman is the guy in Alt-J? lmao okay. "Seen bullets in the rain, guns in the sky/Every day my birthday, I got a big surprise". This meditative beat, so tranquil yet full of life... and then these vocals? Is this Joe Newman with many many effects? Yeah i think so. it's a good match, i never listened to Alt-J much but this is the sort of thing they're good at. oh DANG that is a crunchy drum kit. as lil b laments the inherent tragedy of our infinite spirits bumping in this limited world ;___; "If you hate rap, then what you do it for? If you hate Lil B, you better check yourself, cause you could change the world, with nobody's help", damn. Report fake based. Only based energy can persevere. **
7. Thanks To You
woah oooh this pulsing organ... this is very interesting. hot sugar esque, very wonky. idk who Sam Dew is but I'm feeling on him here, these falsetto voices have always meshed really nicely with Clams stuff. "Now I think I forgot my name, thanks to you", and that little piano response... dang man, this is hella wonky, like, make strange arhythmic but satisfying movements in your chair wonky. i like how the vocals are double layered and super bold even as the beat lurches in such strange directions... how can this bizarre construction function so compellingly? the delicateness of the piano and such too, how does this all add up? **
8. Back To You
oooh, this is very interesting, this instrumentation and the FKA Twigs-esque pingponging vocals, oh and then a really nice bouncy driving beat comes on... with the old strings rattling in the background?? again, how the heck does this add up? Kelly Zutrau is in Wet, I've wanted to get into them. man the piano sound here is really nice, but the aesthetic range is dizzying... the authenticity and pureness of all these sounds feels like they should conflict but again and again it adds up to something amazing. ahhhh these cascading waterfall vocals too. "That memory of something you lost too soon", ohh snap and at 2:37, woahhahaha this breakdown, this is super ambitious, they're really going for it, "fade away to a happier time", legit matryoshka feelings for a second. ***
9. Into the Fire
Idk who Mikky Ekko is but his voice is nice and solid here. I mean... a lot of these lyrics are pretty basic and cliche, really not something you'd be surprised to hear on the radio, and even the beat is like... you wouldn't be surprised, but you'd be happy, you'd think "hey wait a minute, this song is actually sick as hell?" i love clams's "happy" sound... it has that sort of future nostalgia twinge of sadness to it too. LOL i swear the one synth sound he has is straight from The Gloaming, i can only hear it occassionally as that though. woah the way the vocals have exploded here, that's really cool... and that nice bass riff... still so much happening here, and yet it still has the smooth package of radio hits. how??? **
10. A Breath Away
okay now here's a pretty cool voice, i kinda remember her tape Cut 4 Me, i should check it out again. she's got both the crystalline falsetto and the gritty tenor, and Clams has got the woah hahahaha wow what the heck does he have here? mountaintop in a jungle party aesthetics i think. some baba yetu stuff almost. and the lyrical content, i can't figure out if it's happy or scary lol. a breath away from heaven. such is... human fragility? human opportunity? really nice drifting cloudspace stuff... breathtaking haha ahaha. man i LOVE these drums too, i love that first he used them in a pretty simple pattern but now at the end here he's transcending all human understanding of rhythm and just going IN. oh man, the sort of rawness on the "we are, we are, we are", really feels like an achievement. **
11. Ghost In A Kiss
oh this is the guy from future islands. i forgot about them. that had that one song everyone loved uhhh seasons. i forgot he sounded like this, tom waits feels. the stack of... trap hi hats, piano chords, and his singing, it really doesn't make sense that it sounds so good. oh man... this sound that's like... really windy and pan-flutey, but also somehow "8-bit", wat da heck? "And you were always a ghost in my hand", and then everything blooms out again, holy moly. and now... the aforementioned ghost? raw piano chords? what sort of dimensions are we travelling through? LOL that legit scared me at 3:20, that's a really good vocal effect, really... despairing/demonic. ***
Alright finale. I love these vocals already, seems like the ideal form of something, and the drums coming on... yeaaaaaaahhhh this is it, this is the pinnacle of the Clams sound. I feel like I could listen to this for... realistically maybe 6 or 7 hours straight and not feel exhausted of it. There's something inherently revitalizing about the way he chops vocal lines, it always feels like someone just arriving at a party, a party you are simultaneously attending and observing from 10 feet up. niiiice. **
Is this what you really want, you got me in the flesh now
Claaaaaaams, he did it. That was pretty sweet. I feel like it was sort of... the definitive, marketable Clams Casino experience? Like sort of an album version of his resume? It wasn't as bold as a lot of the work he's done on other people's projects, where he wants to differentiate himself from the other tracks. I don't think there was any "famous" samples on it, either, which sort of limits to him. Instead, we get the very core of his sound applied to a variety of relevant hip hop/pop scenarios: here's how it sounds with slow rap, here's how it sounds with fast rap, here's how it sounds with a hook-type singer, here's how it sounds with a male and a female pop singer, here's how it sounds with soulful singing, here's how it sounds with gravelly blues singing. It seems less about the performance of these guests (which are sometimes pretty basic) as it is about how the fusion of them is at once deeply compelling and yet unobtrusively pleasurable.
Cause when you get down to it, that is the core of Clams' sound: so ethereal and beautiful that you're lured into a trance, but strange and unique enough that you're always excited for the next cloud-dive. His instrumentation - from tight trappy drums, to alien synths, to creaky pianos, to dreamy bass lines - is always perfect, the very ideal of the sound, and yet not quite like anything you've ever heard or even heard attempted before. And really, experimentation itself is well within the core of his sound - what made the whole "cloud rap" movement compelling at the beginning was the feeling that each new track you heard was expanding the range the aesthetic covered, while diving ever deeper towards the purest form of the sound. That ambition is alive and well here.
But honestly, the best moment on the album for me wasn't about the adaptability or escalation of Clams' sound, but something that brought about the past... at the beginning of the album, when Lil B directly acknowledges the lyrics of "I'm God", carrying forward the miraculous success and influence of the last seven years, and Clams, by putting it on the record, returning the nod... it's so beautiful, when you really think about what it signifies, and for a second there I feel 18 again, blasting "I'm God" on repeat all night, feeling based. So my suggestion is that he should have put Lil B on every track.