Daveed Diggs’s experimental rap group, clipping., just dropped its second studio album. Splendor & Misery only holds true to the second half of its name. Sure, one can find enjoyment in Diggs’s erratic, skipping flow, but the production makes the album sink. For the most part, it sounds like someone recorded a maintenance crew on a spaceship, and then said, “This sounds awful, but whatever. We’re doing it.”
clipping. began in Los Angeles in 2009. The group consists of the aforementioned Diggs as its vocalist, with William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes providing production. Their first album, Midcity, was released in 2013 on the group’s website. Shortly after that, they were signed to the record label Sub Pop and proceeded to release CLPPNG in 2014.
Their latest album, the first since Diggs found fame through his role in the musical “Hamilton,” feels out of reach. Perhaps it’s because of the outlandish and extraterrestrial production. Maybe it’s because the album’s plot, which “follows the sole survivor of a slave uprising on an interstellar cargo ship, and the onboard computer that falls in love with him.” Maybe it’s because of lines like “flesh is hanging in sun” on the track “True Believer.” Maybe it’s because of Diggs himself, who dances and glides over the beat at such a breakneck pace that the listener has little time to absorb his message. At certain points in the album, Diggs switches his flow up, choosing to go on robotic diatribes instead. This change in pace is evident on the album’s final track, “A Better Place,” which is also the album’s most optimistic piece.
Daveed Diggs can say a whole bunch of words in a very small amount of time and still sound cool. At the risk of gross oversimplification, this is his skill. He captivated audiences throughout his dual performances as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in “Hamilton.” His rhymes seem to barely touch the air, like bubbles in a fresh glass of champagne. The charisma of his persona has also pushed Diggs into the spotlight. His muscular build, wild hair and garish fashion choices all contribute to the growing fame of the actor/rapper. Since he is primarily known for his Tony-winning performance in “Hamilton,” those who listen to Splendor & Misery are in for a rude awakening.
Throughout Splendor & Misery, the essence of Diggs’s lyrical style remains, but the abrasive instrumentals make the listening experience a strenuous one. The struggle is apparent from the first track of the album, “Long Way Away (Intro).” One is greeted to the sound of overwhelming vibration, the same vibration that comes from your roommate’s subwoofer at 2 a.m. as you try to sleep or from a rocket ship. It’s tough to tell at 2 a.m.
It’s an annoying song, but it’s not intolerable as a short opening track. The second track, “The Breach,” begins with Diggs rapping as a computer aboard a spaceship, describing a human that has been found in one of the cabins. It’s an undoubtedly interesting introduction, which shows off the rapper’s tremendous lyrical versatility. It’s also an undoubtedly unpleasant beginning that ends with the reverberations of broken glass, gunfire and radio static. These harsh vibrations provide a strong foreshadowing for the rest of the album.
There are some albums out there that aren’t exactly fun, but they’re important and thus require listening: for instance, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The album’s cocktail of jazz-fusion and hip hop contributes to a incredibly celebrated and sophisticated work, but it isn’t fun. Neither is Splendor & Misery, but it also lacks the cultural value to be considered important.