Image via clipping.

By Branden Janese

clipping. consists of rapper Daveed Diggs and producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson who, together, have concocted a new hip-hop potion—raw, aggressive rapping with a side of dry humor lain over noisy, industrial beats. The trio inhabit a new space in hip-hop where it’s okay to like Del the Funky Homosapien, Young Thug, and Nicki Minaj at the same time.

Although clipping.’s music can be abrasive, it’s Daveed’s honest, relatable, and descriptive lyrics that pull fans in. He generously uses his writing skills to complement the sonically strange experiments of Snipes and Hutson. As old school as candy cigarettes yet as fresh as a California avocado, clipping. talk about breaking rules, loving pop music, and their place in hip-hop’s historical lineage.

You’ve got your own lane, but you’re becoming more and more a part of the hip-hop conversation. Why do you think this is?

Daveed Diggs: It’s just the music that we know how to make right now. The fact that we are in a moment right now where the breadth of hip-hop and the vastness of the artform is being more recognized and more widely appreciated than it has been in a little while has been really useful for us. I don’t think that there was strategy though.

The world is getting so much smaller because of the advances in technology, which makes room for new ideas. So it’s the perfect time for this genre-less or this non-traditional rap. So in that sense, do you think hip-hop has lost its roots?

Daveed: That’s interesting.

Jonathan Snipes: That’s such an interesting idea.

William Hutson: What’s the dude from Brand Nubians who’s freaking out all over the internet…

Daveed: Lord Jamar.

William: Lord Jamar. There’s this sense that the old timers are looking at Kanye and Young Thug and Le1f and saying, “Oh shit we’ve lost it, everything’s gone wrong.” We have been listening to hip-hop our whole lives and everything we do is so citational and referential, everything we do, even though you never hear it in the song, we talk about it. This is our old school L.A summer track, this is our Summertime in the LBC.

All of our references are hip-hop history and that’s how we go about crafting any of the stuff we do. It doesn’t necessarily turn out sounding like that but we feel that we are part of a historical lineage. We see ourselves as part of a trajectory and a history, not a severe break. We feel that we are coming out of a tradition organically, not some severe divide who’s broken every rule and started over.

We see ourselves as part of a trajectory and a history, not a severe break.

Daveed: We didn’t show up to change the game, we are fans and students of the game who want to keep making songs, but we listen to everything. I think that more and more people are listening to a wider range of music. People still feel betrayed when we do clubbier songs but we are listening to all of that, I don’t have any hate towards anyone on the radio, I listen to Power 106 all the time.

I was watching an interview where you said that you thought you were too old to be the frontrunners of a new genre of music. Jay Z’s over 40, Drake’s almost 30, Danny Brown is 33. Would you say that rap is no longer a young man’s sport?

Daveed: It’s one of the funny confusing things that’s going on. The clues that we are getting from marketing folks and industry people is that it’s the kids who are deciding what music is selling right now but at the same time hip-hop as a culture is growing up. So, we are going to get a lot of geriatric rap music and I’d like to get in on that.

William: Rap fans aren’t necessarily young anymore. There are a lot of 40- and 50-year-olds who grew up listening to rap and now they need their adult contemporary version of hip-hop records.

Jonathan: That’s where we come in.

That’s where you see your noise rap coming in?

William: That’s where Jay comes in. Jay is doing old ass man rap albums for old ass men, it’s not for kids anymore.

Daveed: Really since American Gangster. We talk about this all the time how that was the first adult contemporary rap album.

William: It’s dad rap.

Daveed: A bunch of soul samples and no real punchlines or bangers, we can sit down and listen to this.

So, Sub Pop doesn’t do a lot of rap but when they do they get it right. Is there going to be a collaboration between Shabazz Palaces and clipping.?

Daveed: We haven’t talked about it, that’d be cool.

Jonathan: We’ve only met Ish very briefly, we hung out with him only once, very very quickly.

William: No, we spent a couple hours talking to him. He’s a cool guy, kind of a personal hero. My first ever concert, in sixth grade I saw Digable Planets. That was the first concert I ever went to and he did not necessarily appreciate me telling him that. But it’s true and I love that band, those two albums they did were perfect. It’s pretty cool to be getting to hang around him a little bit.

CLPPNG features three female artists. Every rap show I go to there are usually about six to eight X chromosomes in the building…

Daveed: Damn, you get eight?!

Do you think that was a risky move? Putting the black sheep of rap, women, on your debut record?

Jonathan: Any of the success we’ve had, didn’t happen because we were making business decisions at all. This band, we got together because we love hanging out and talking about and working on music. We made that midcity album and heaved it blindly into the black hole of the internet and didn’t expect anything. So I think if we have one rule about how we work moving forward is that we make all of our decisions aesthetically. What is the thing that we would think is cool for a band to do. What we think a cool thing for a band to do is put Gangsta Boo on a track because she rules and people love her.

Daveed: They’re not political decisions. We didn’t sit around and say we really need a woman to rap on this. We finished that song and we said, you know who would sound great on this? Gangsta Boo.

Jonathan: She was our first choice. She just came out with a mixtape and played a show in LA, she’s around let’s write her on Twitter.

Daveed: With Cocc Pistol Cree on “Work Work,” we made that beat for her.

Oh, yeah. “Work Work” doesn’t work without her. That’s her song.

William: I heard the mixtape by DJ Mustard and I brought it over here and said, “She is going to be so famous we have to hit her up now before anyone else knows who she is!”

Jonathan: Yes, women are terribly under represented in popular rap music and in the genre in general but those were the artists that we wanted on the songs, not because they are women but because those were exactly the voices we needed on those songs and we feel extremely lucky.

Yeah, that Cocc Pistol Cree verse, that is the female summer verse.

Jonathan: We hope so.

Daveed: She’s so dope.

William: Her new mixtape is gonna be good, I’m really excited for it.

Daveed: I was just talking to her yesterday about getting on some tracks with her which makes me so happy. She’s gonna be way too famous.

William: When we thought about Boo, it wasn’t like we wanted a female emcee, we put emcees who we had been listening to on the album. People we thought of as personal heros. So Boo and King Tee and Guce are people who we grew up listening to to some degree. We get a lot of kids coming up to us at shows that only like us and Death Grips and hate rap. They want to engage us by talking shit about Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj and we have to say, “Nah, actually we really like them.”

We get a lot of kids coming up to us at shows that only like us and Death Grips and hate rap. They want to engage us by talking shit about Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj and we have to say, ‘Nah, actually we really like them.’

So part of who we were putting on as features was a message to say look, we like rap we like these rappers we grew up listening to, these rappers these are our influences these are our heroes. These are the people we want on the record because this is our history. It was less about putting female voices on there and more about putting rappity rap rap voices on there. Not that Guce has a national visibility but if you are from San Francisco, that’s amazing cred to have him on your record.

What are some of the pros and cons of taking the road less traveled in hip-hop?

William: The reason that the road less traveled has ended us up on Sub Pop is this. If you are the only band that sounds the way you sound, even though you are not going to get a lot of fans where you are, in any one city, there will be enough people scattered around the planet to have a fanbase. That’s the internet.

If you are doing something that you can hear anywhere, maybe you can get a strong local following but really, every city has a group that sounds like that so who cares?

Jonathan: A lot of it is the consequence of being in the right place at the right time. Whatever you say about the sound, whether you say we are pushing forward or looking back. Whatever we are doing, I think that the sound of clipping. and the name and the graphic design is all very easily brandable, it has a very coherent feeling. That wasn’t intentional, it really is just our taste. So I think you can look at the clipping. logo, listen to part of a clipping. song see part of a clipping. video and know what you are in for. We had a good friend who volunteered, because he liked the brand, to do a grassroots PR campaign for midcity.

It was a product of enough people paying attention to him and him doing a really good job and the music being that easy to latch on to that quickly—whether or not you liked it you certainly knew what it was immediately. We’ve all made a lot of music in our lives and we’ve put it all on the internet and no one has given a shit before. I think that’d it be arrogant to say, “Oh, we’ve made something great finally.” That’s not really true anyway. I felt that I was making music that I liked for a long time and I didn’t think that clipping. was any different. I knew it was different aesthetically, but I thought that it would be another thing that I worked hard on, that I liked, that I had made with my good friends, and that no one would care about.

I knew it was different aesthetically, but I thought that clipping. would be another thing that I worked hard on, that I liked, that I had made with my good friends, and that no one would care about.

William: The thing about taking the road less traveled, the three of us could not have made any other decision. There is nothing we could do, we couldn’t be Rich Homie Quan, we couldn’t do it, it’s not in us and we don’t look right. We couldn’t have done anything but some sort of road less traveled.

Jonathan: So much pop music is about personality. You are not just buying the music, you are buying the personality and you are interested in the person. We shouldn’t try to fake that we have some larger than life personalities. We work, we are quiet. I stay home and work in the studio, that’s why clipping. sounds so anal the way it does, cause we work really hard on it. I’m not trying to be a big personality and I’m not trying to fake it, I suppose that’s more Daveed’s responsibility.

Daveed: I guess, but I am not particularly good at that either! So we made this music with no real first person to latch on to. You can’t point to the character of clipping. you have to listen to the music. What you are going to get is all in there and then you can talk to us and we are like this, three nerds surrounded by keyboards. I don’t think that there was a more traveled option for the three of us to be in a band together. We say this all the time but this is the music we know how to make given our skill-set and our interests, this is what it sounds like. It’s cool that people like it and totally unexpected.

Is it really unexpected?

Daveed: Oh yeah. The first round of songs that we played for friend, the response was a dry, “Oh, ok.”

Jonathan: We sent a five song demo out to labels, really small labels, and everyone turned it down, they said, “We really don’t know who this is for.”

William: Anyone that listens to us, anyone who likes us, it’s all totally unexpected and a miracle to us because we did not think that it was going to happen.

Daveed: There is certainly not one reason. I think that it’s the way we work the way we do, the reason we sit in here and meticulously obsess over parts of these sounds that don’t matter to anybody except us, because we’ve always made music just for us. If we are not totally happy with the product then there is no reason to do this. We are not doing this for anyone else.

What inspired that way your sound changed from the more experimental midcity to the more accessible CLPPNG?

Jonathan: We love pop music and we love pop rap on the radio, so our push is always to find a way to make more accessible music using weirder and weirder sounds and techniques. We wanted to use the most obtuse and strange and experimental techniques that we can think to make catchier music. That was the driving force to me on CLPPNG.

Daveed: Yeah, and they are different records. Jonathan always says that if you listened to midcity in the order that it was recorded in, then the next record would make a lot more sense. We figured a lot of things out as we were going through that, and midcity is really a collection of everything that we had at the time. We obsessed over the order but we didn’t sit down thinking we were going to make a project, we just kept recording songs.

William: The last three songs we made for midcity were probably the least harsh, most musical ones. They’re not placed in order on the album but “Bout’ That” and “Story” were in the last handful of tracks that we made. Those wouldn’t have felt too out of place on the new record because they are a lot less harsh than the other stuff on midcity and that felt like the direction that we were going.

The way I think about it is that when clipping. was really a side project, when we were all still way more focused on other music, we could be limited in the pallet of clipping. because it felt like such a side project. But once it became our main focus, we wanted to expand it to keep ourselves interested and not feel confined.

Once we were focused primarily on clipping. we needed to expand it to have the room to do what we really wanted. CLPPNG still has weird, weird stuff in it. Even if “Work Work” is poppy, the kick drum is still breaking a cinder block, the hi-hats are crumbling a beer can, that main sound is dropping a ball bearing around in a thermostat. So it’s still these strange techniques borrowed from noise and experimental music squashed into making a more poppier hip-hop track. So we are still doing our own thing but we are expanding the pallet of it.

Daveed: And the rhymes are still collage and borrowed from a lot of different places.

Even though you are a signed act your music is still as experimental and crazy as an unsigned artist with nothing but freedom.

Daveed: Sub Pop did not put any constraints on us, in fact they bowed to ludicrous requests. We literally got to do everything that we wanted including going over budget. They were incredibly helpful.

JS: If you don’t like an album on Sub Pop I’ve learned that it’s one hundred percent the band’s fault, because you can do whatever you want. If you make a bad album on that record label it’s completely your fault. I haven’t made a record, then got to the end of it and said, “Oh it would have been cool if we would have had such and such.” We got our first choice of place to master it, mix it, and record the vocals.

William: We got a children’s choir on it. They got us nine professional children singers.

I was going to ask you where did those kids come from?

William: They hired them! They sing on T.V commercials and shit.

Jonathan: Yea, we are paying them royalties.

William: They had done a potato chip commercial together the weekend before. They had real Hollywood moms it was great. The contractor found children’s choirs on a bunch of movie scores and she had put together a group of kids for Linkin Park.

You said something before about us birthing a new genre, which would be great. We would never say that about ourselves but I wanted to add to that I can’t fucking wait for another band to come out that sounds like this. I can’t wait to see people following in the footsteps of whatever the hell it is that we are doing. I would love that. Whether or not it’s a new genre or subgenre or even an association, I want clipping. imitators! I want young kids out there in their bedrooms being clipping. imitators because that will blow my mind.

We would never say that about ourselves but I wanted to add to that I can’t fucking wait for another band to come out that sounds like this. I can’t wait to see people following in the footsteps of whatever the hell it is that we are doing. I would love that.

Jonathan: I hate the idea of grouping music into genres to begin with. Something that I think about a lot is how, looking back at classical music, time smears the definitions between composers and genres and styles. They all lived hundreds of years apart and have radically different styles if you analyze the music. But to the average person it’s all classical music.

So I got excited thinking about how in three hundred years, everything that we listen to now will just be classified as 20th century music. Nobody is going to be able to tell the differences between Philip Glass and Lil Wayne and Shania Twain. Everything that is now radically different will be clumped into 20th century music. I like of thinking about ways to speed that process up by pointing out what is similar in experimental music and noise music and rap music because that’s what we are really interested in.

You go back and listen to old Bomb Squad production and there’s not that much difference Bomb Squad productions and tape collages that were being made earlier and around the same time. What is really the difference between some of the skits on Public Enemy records that are just radio noise and Jon Paige’s radio pieces that are cut up tape beats? It’s not about taking things that are very different and mashing them together to see what happens, it’s about taking things that are on the surface very different and pointing out how they are the same.

What’s next for clipping.?

Jonathan: We are playing a lot of shows, we are writing new music. We’ve got other records to make and other remixes to do.

Daveed: We make a ton of music. When you make something for yourself, you finish it and put it on the internet. Now we have release dates and we have another album to make. We are making music, it’s been happening so part of the process is keeping this new album fresh in our minds so that we can perform it effectively and not have the older songs start feeling old.

In that sense do you feel like you are living in the future?

Daveed: Constantly.

Jonathan: Then all of a sudden you are living in the past. Definitely with midcity, I put the finishing touches on mastering it and hit upload. It was that quick.

William: I finished designing the cover five minutes before it went online. It went online at midnight, I took that picture of the unspoiled tape, that’s the cover, on my porch at 11:50pm.

Jonathan: It was very quick, which is how the world works.