Fresh off winning a Tony Award for his roles as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, rapper Daveed Diggs is interested in using his time off the stage to work on projects as far away from the musical as possible.
“[That’s] not any shade to Hamilton,” he explains. “The fact that we’ve done over 400 shows with Hamilton, and I still love doing it? That’s crazy.”
Two days after his big win, his experimental hip-hop trio Clipping released their thrilling EP Wriggle, a collection of previously unfinished “really good ideas,” as described by bandmate William Hutson. Including a song built around a sample of noise provocateur Whitehouse and album art reminiscent of the S&M-soaked Eighties noise tape underground, Wriggle consists of six tunes Hutson says were recorded anywhere between two years and three months ago. As much as it’s a return to the work of their 2014 debut Clpping, Wriggle also serves as an appetizer for their upcoming fall full-length and reminder that Diggs has always put his acclaimed skills to use through other artistic endeavors.
“It’s funny because as a rapper, there is — and this is something that Clipping challenges all the time — there is this idea about authenticity as a rapper, in the fact that you rap things that are yours,” Diggs continues. “That’s not what doing a play is. You’re interpreting somebody else’s words. I get to do this play where I rap a whole bunch, but I didn’t write those words, so something about that doesn’t feel the same to me. I get excited to create things that don’t exist in the same world as Hamilton because that world is really well done and doesn’t need me to inform it anymore.”
Clipping have long been creating their own provocative, noisy world. As both talented musicians and completely nerdy and voracious students of hip-hop and noise history (their Sub Pop debut had a John Cage cover), the trio of MC Diggs and producers Hutson and Jonathan Snipes tackle each song with painstaking precision, exploring all the innovative ways they can “tweak pre-existing rap tropes,” per Hutson.
“We are not that sort of intuitive channeling, ‘I just feel that this is what’s inside of me and it’s coming out,'” Hutson explains. “I’ve never been able to do that, and honestly, I don’t understand people who do that, and I think it’s a lie.”
“There’s not like a Clipping jam session,” Diggs adds. “That process of referencing things is pretty academic, and it’s always gonna be sort of how we do things.”
A good example of the deeply layered process of creating can be seen in “Shooter,” a hashtag rap song where the band recorded the sound of them firing off 15 different guns for the drum beat. “We were trying to do a young California, bounce-y, post-jerk, post-hyphy style beat,” Hutson explains of the HBK-inspired song.
“We also decided at a certain point that if we were gonna do a hashtag-rap song where it’s just words strung together as similes, then it’s gonna be all that and no filler,” Diggs says of his verses on “Shooter,” which tells the story of three different gun-driven situations. “A part of what we do all the time is just push an idea all the way to its limits, to what we see as its outer limits.”
“We ended up going out to a friend whose dad has a bunch of guns,” recalls Snipes. “We went and shot guns and did a bunch of research on recording guns, which are really hard [to record].”
As many levels and years Clipping puts into their process, they still create songs that are still rap and enjoyable at the core. “One of the most exciting parts with his project is that I can listen to a song and forget all of those things that we did,” Diggs say. “[The songs] make me happy the way that those HBK songs that we were referencing make me happy. I still get that same energetic feeling, despite how heady this process is. It really is just the way that the three of us know how to make music together.”