clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned

Happy Halloween from the WPGU Web Writer staff. In honor of the season, I’ve done
some exploring in the haunted house of alt/fringe hip hop. It is said many don’t make it out alive,
and admittedly, I probably left a part of myself in that labyrinth. Fortunately I made it back largely
unharmed, with a king sized treat courtesy of clipping. Before I dissect the razor sharp lyrics an
sounds on this album, I should probably introduce the artists. clipping. is a trio comprised of two
electro/experimentalists, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes , and Daveed Diggs the main
lyricist. They’ve been releasing music since the early 2010s, slowly developing a unique
aesthetic that blends experimental sound design with complex rap flows. In 2019, they released
There Existed an Addiction to Blood, in which they applied their style to the “horrorcore” genre,
resulting in mixed reactions. They fell under some criticism that their approach was too
“cerebral,” hard to listen to, and was too far removed to be scary. Visions of Bodies Being
is the sequel to “There Existed.” Almost everything from the aesthetics, runtime, and
album art is identical. The album was meant for a release within months of its precursor, but due
to COVID-19, and the enticing relevancy of late October release dates, the album dropped about
a week ago. Will it continue, expand on, or disappoint its predecessor? I guess we’ll have to
listen to find out.

“Intro”: the first noises you hear on the album are far from human. A vague banging
sound, in an echoey ambience, mixed with some mechanical creaking and crackling occupy the
first 90 seconds before Daveed makes his entrance. In homage to the (ridiculously overused)
slasher trope of giving the victim creepy phone calls, we are told in no indiscreet terms over a
phone call what this album will do to us, and are warned to pay attention. The last we hear is
“cover your throat, cuz it’s clipping!” before a granulated screaming transitions us into the next

“Say the Name” is by far one of the best takes on the album. We are introduced to a
relatively scaled back, but infectious beat, mixing a sample from Geto Boys, “My Mind is playing
tricks on me” over a catchy bassline. Daveed begins rapping, giving a subversive take on the
horror movie Candyman, and tying in references to many plot points. The subversion stems
from the fact that the song is from the Candyman’s perspective, giving us a disillusioned and
nihilistic take on the enraptured movie protagonist. Every verse starts with “The hook gon’ be, ”
a clever reference not only to “Wat Da Hook Gon’ Be” by Murphy Lee, but also to the implement
used by the Candyman on his victims. The Candyman is summoned by saying his name 5 times
in a mirror, hence the name of the track, Say the name. Even beyond the references, the
delivery and bars are immaculate, giving us gems like “ After the smoke clears and the highs
come down/And the halogen hallucinations don’t make a sound/Just a bunch of scared junkies
not making the c al l/ And a “Guernica” in blood on the wall, say the name .” I could go on for
forever about the song, but I’ll hold off, only briefly mentioning that the music crescendos after
the last verse into a hard hitting psychedelic rock finale.

“Wytchboard (Interlude)” features the sounds of people using an Ouija Board, and sets up the
scene for another amazing track. “‘96 Neve Campbell”, named after the Canadian actress
starring in the Scream movie franchise, is a riff on the concept of the “final girl” horror trope. This
time however, the normally vulnerable and overly sexualized final girl turns out to be a no
nonsense killer in her own right. Daveed’s verses on the track set the scene and introduce Cam
& China, a female rap duo that proceed to lay down two braggadocios and cold blooded
verses over a metallic beat. The sonics on this track are not center stage, and seem fairly
middling for clipping.’s work, but the solid rapping makes up for it many times over. After Cam &
China finish, Daveed gives another through-the-phone scream-reference heavy verse before
the track transitions into…

“Something Underneath”: The sonics on this track feel like looming, ambient storm clouds
over the desert, punctured by sharp cracks and flashes. Daveed’s intensity rises with rapid fire
drums as he describes what sounds like the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. As the track
progresses however, we find that rather than zombies, it’s nothing less than a vengeful planet
wrecking vengeance on us. The singsongy nursery rhyme chorus falls flat in my opinion, but it
definitely continues the chaotic flows from elsewhere on the song. Near the tail end of the track,
the lyrics become much more abstract, reflecting the fading of the last memories of a violent end
of humanity. The sonics become more saturated, and the relentless pounding escalates into
one last run through the subpar chorus, and we’re on to the next track.

“Make them dead” is a stroke of genius. Daveed plays a very convincing cult leader in
this track, where the true gem is the saturated ringing noises, the rising and decay of which
really makes the track. After a church-prayer like verse indicating the ills of the world around,
and justifying the oncoming slaughter, Daveed then leads us into a shiver inducing chorus. His
pacing doesn’t change much but the phrasing does, and the ringing vocal lament “dead” paints
a very vivid picture of a cult making victims walk off the edge of cliffs in an isolated, gorgeous
landscape, mixing deathly terror with extremely twisted ecstasy. The next verses show Daveed
in a perfectly executed state of brainwashed justice, although with a slightly more interesting
flow. We are returned to another spine shivering chorus, a few more bible-delivery bars from
Daveed, and some absolutely tortured screeches before the track ends.

“She Bad” takes on the concept of witchcraft. Daveed turned folk tale teller bridges the
gap between haphazard chaotic flows and an intoxicating rhythmic delivery. Aside from some
booming low frequency objects, the sound design is minimal, masking the story of a group of
skeptical millennials being doomed the second they hear “200 years of dust on a gate.” clipping.
also takes this opportunity to explore the misogynistic rap trope of being “bad.” Normally this
would mean someone who flaunts their sexuality, but in this case it’s the total opposite. Instead
of inviting “invasion” the “She” in question quietly waits, and leaves no trace of those who dare
to explore her woods. It’s a fairly stripped back track, and while Daveed developing and
abandoning cadences left and right over some creaky sound effects is great, clipping.’s potential
extends far beyond.

The “Invocation Interlude” sees two tones sliding around each other, before Pain
everyday removes any sense of security. Over unsettling percussion strokes distorted beyond
understanding, Pain Everyday- most likely a reference to enslavement, is a violent nonstop rap
guide to haunting, but definitely is a sleeper pick for best track on the album. The bar “Death
wasn’t even the worst part/the time spent hanging above was” indicates in no uncertain terms
that this track is about victims of lynching. The next two verses describe exactly how the
agonized spirits should pursue and drive their torturers insane, resulting in their suicide. It’s a
very twisted song, but the distorted beat carries well under Daveed’s syncopated delivery. The
third verse is more drawn back and contemplative, delving into the hunger the spirits experience
in the afterlife, and concluding with “that was fun” upon “watching the mortals blow they brains
out.” The track ends with a maximalist sonic fever dream as the beating accelerates, and
ambient guitars sing over a rapidly developing chaos, presumably representing the lynch victims
finding peaceful rest at last.

“Check the Lock” is another great take on the album, subverting another rap trope in
which a macho gangsta begins to experience intense paranoia. The catchy beat on this album
combined with the nauseating sound effects and the amazing story telling, combined with
Daveeds impartial, almost gleeful tone, makes “Check the Lock” wild ride to listen to. We are
introduced to the predicament of the main character ironically from the very first lyrics “ Hood
used to check for him when he’d pull up flexing/Now he check under the hood ‘fore he start the
engine” The normal rap status symbols are vessels for his paranoia as he keeps a gun on him,
checks repeatedly around his car and stash houses, and abuses drugs and gin to keep his wits
about him. The agonizing part about the track is that compared to the rest of the protagonists,
the fate of this drug kingpin remains uncertain. “Since he found the metal shavings waiting by
the welcome mat/Every day stuck, keep the heater tucked/ They got him sleeping in his Chucks ”
This either means he’s sleeping with his shoes on, or he was caught. Unfortunately we’ll never

“Looking like Meat” is a solid track. As you could probably guess from the title, the track
is about Cannibalism. Personally, especially as a vegetarian, the idea of cannibalism is more
disgusting than fear inspiring. Daveed’s lyrics and delivery are very solid, and he switches flows
with dexterity. The beat is loud, aggressive and violent in a really great way, but the track only
gains from the switch to calm and serene for the chorus. It’s very likely from many of the bars
that the song is a parallel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That being said, there are few
specifics, and it’s probably better to appreciate as a standalone track. After the chorus we hear
another very aggressive verse screamed by Ho99o9, another horrorcore rap band with slightly
less prevalence than clipping. The hyperviolent verses on the track, especially from Ho99o9
give way to becoming almost comically inarticulate near the second half of the track, quite
possibly a comment about the gluttony of rap consumers. Regardless it’s a well produced, well
written track that you feel more than a little guilty about enjoying.

The next interlude, “Droves” , is probably either a demonic herd of sheep or a demonic
horde of zombies. I’m not sure which, which is probably the point. After the interlude finishes,
we are entered into “Eaten Alive” , a chaotic soundscape with buzzing piano and harp string
effects. This strange instrumental continues over what I can only construe as a take on Shrek as
an outraged serial-killer. The verses consist of an angry “swamp resident” that’s incredibly
disappointed by the gentrification of his New Orleans Bayou trap house Vodou dreamland.
While not an incredibly dynamic piece, the “vibes are immaculate” and the instrumental and
vocals really do manage to paint a picture of brutal violence happening under the beating of the
sun in the festering deep south. A great 5 minute portrait, the song lacks a consistent story,
rather opting for world building. While generally this doesn’t work for songs, the way in which
clipping. uses it on an album of mostly storytelling is still arguably successful.

“Body for the Pile” begins by submerging us in intermittent distorted screams and
metallic rubbings. Then the lyrics begin, describing a desolate enclosure that has an eerie
mixture of normalcy and death, featuring an “arachnid in the corner serving up face” and a half
eaten sandwich with no crusts. We soon become aware that this is a police office, before a
parody 2000’s club rap hook begins, describing three dead police officers, and adding bodies to
the pile. The song continues to describe how each officer was killed (in absolutely depraved
fashion), while continuing to show the departure between these orderly police officers and their
depraved killer with details about the police office. Daveed’s speed and delivery increases and
becomes very complex before the next chorus, after which it becomes apparent that the listener
is infact the last police officer. The music escalates at the end, sampling police sirens into a
tortured soundscape before abrupt silence. Especially given the escalation over police brutality
our nation faces, the realization that we are another cop awaiting death is a genius move on
behalf of clipping., facing us with doubt about who we are, what our fate may be, and what
atrocities we have committed such that we will end up another body in the pile.

The second to last track, “Enlacing” is absolutely amazing. While a little bit less “out
there” structurally and conceptually, Daveed takes this opportunity to turn trip-hop club beat into
possibly the rawest form of terror that there is- existentialism. No, I’m not referring to the study
of existentialist philosophers, (although that’s a formidable terror in its own right), I’m referring to
the massive chasm that we seek to fill in the universe, and how far flat we almost always fall. In
this song, Daveed is in a psychedelic haze, a “bad trip” imagining his limits as a human being,
and it’s absolutely great to hear. We are first introduced to manipulated vocals that you can’t
quite decipher, before Daveed tells us to “get your ass down to the floor.” From there, deep
distorted demonic wrinkling accompanies Daveed’s contemplation. It seems that homage is paid
here to the movie Get Out and the “sunken place.” We think over tremulous beats about who
and why we are, how other people see us, or can’t see us, what the the other people that you
see think, and “Is their shattered mirror picture clearer than yours?” Regardless, the next chorus
is on, and with a divine mixture of sounds we get a very uplifting beatdown. Verse two covers
similar material, talks about drugs and joy and its meaninglessness: Riding ’round euphoria with
hammers out the window/Whistle Crip and crack a rainbow, make it rain dance for your
people/Put a pound of joy up in a pill then crush it down to powder/Let it sit under your tongue
and check back in about a hour/ It’s that lover love and lost, it’s that lost that lovin’ feelin ‘/ It’s that
base jump from the window while you dancing on the ceiling . The chorus takes your breath
away again, and I gotta wonder if it’s a comment about how easy it is to distract ourselves from
existential dread (turn on, tune in, drop out). Regardless, it’s still very compelling. The final verse
finishes with a denunciation of pretty much everything, and we are left with the final chorus
fading as we move on to the last track. I’m sure the reviewers who took marks off for being
“cerebral” and “too far removed” are livid to hear that the last major song is a dive into
philosophical terror, but I think it really lays a great contextual frame for the rest of the examples
of horror served up by clipping.

The last track, “Secret Piece” , is another interlude-seeming track. While not “out of the
woods yet” It is clear that day has broken after the terrors of the night before, and everything is
largely safe. There are no lyrics, and the entire song seems to be a recording of animals going
about life as usual. There are dark specters hiding here, looming bass notes sometimes rise out
of the ambience, and while close to being “Secret peace,” the -ie hangs in the word perversely,
indicating that there’s no such thing as true safety. Additionally, according to some research,
most of the ambience in the track is actually recordings taken at the site of the Black Dahlia
murder, a notoriously violent unsolved crime. We finish the album with this sensation, the feeling
that everything is over, but we aren’t safe yet.

Daveed Smashing a window in the “Enlacing”/”Pain Everyday” Music Video

This album is not a masterpiece, but there was hardly a single track that didn’t hit the
bullseye, and at the very least, every track was insightful, subversive, spooky, well executed,
and incredibly creative. That’s the bare minimum for a really good album though. What takes an
album to the next level? While not really a “concept album” per se, everything was related.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned functions as an in-depth survey and retelling of the various
demons that gnaw at the edge of our societal consciousness. The songs didn’t hesitate to dive
deep into specificity, selecting sensations deeply ingrained in the American psyche. While not
“about” something deeper than just horror, each song when placed next to the others has the
versatility and depth to strike a chord with the very roots of what it means to be scared. I thought
the instrumentation and rap would make this album too hard to listen to, but it was curated
perfectly. Sure, Daveed has a propensity to fling mono, duo, trisyllabic stutters free associatively
all over the place, and the range of instrumentation on the album is nothing short of a horror
movie soundtrack petting zoo, but it’s clear copious amounts of effort went into making a well
curated album.

clipping. seems to thrive on two specific styles, bouncy rap beats over which consistently
metered bars seem to land nicely (“Check the Lock”, Say the Name, ‘96 Neve Campbell etc.) and
disorganized chaos over which Daveed is free to inductively make and ditch rhythm and rhyme
schemes (“Eaten Alive”, “She Bad”, “Something Underneath” etc.). This proclivity is uniquely
adapted to the horror genre; making a balance between dynamic chaos and monotonous
balance is key to developing tension in pretty much any horror movie. It makes a lot of sense
then why clipping.’s most recent releases have been there, and have been absolutely great
albums. Thankfully for the more squeamish among us, the artists seem to have finished their
magnum opus on the subject and are likely exploring new topic material as you read this.
Contrasting balance and chaos is not unique to the horror genre, and I can say candidly I
cannot wait to see what territory they explore next.

Happy Halloween!

clipping. website

Visions of Bodies Being Burned

About Abraham Holtermann

Abraham Holtermann is an Engineering Physics student from the ‘burbs who enjoys going for runs, solving problems, and scrolling through Google Maps Streetview. At any given time, you can probably find him listening to his latest obsession in avant-classical, rap, jazz, funk, etc. in search of profound enlightenment.

View all posts by Abraham Holtermann →