-clipping. tease towards an album, Vince Staples hopefully does the same, and Carly Rae Jepsen offers up some B sides.

-Carly Rae Jepsen: “E·MO·TION Side B”

The “Side A” of this album was amazing to all of us internet music people that heard it. But outside of our community, not that many people heard it, despite it being critically adored. Clearly though, this has not phased Carly, who is definitely not trying to score another “Call Me Maybe” here. These are just more songs from those sessions, featuring the same 80s dance pop inspired production with vintage sounding drum machines, hand claps, and warm synths, and of course Carly’s bright, smile inducing vocals. However, while it’s still all pleasant enough to listen to, these definitely felt like B sides to me. Save for a couple of tracks (8 tracks total) these are pop songs that aren’t that catchy. Nice production and vocals, but none of the infectious hooks that made last year’s record so great.

But there are three tracks worth writing about though, “Fever,” “Cry,” and “Store.” “Fever” admittedly isn’t that catchy, but with really evocative breakup lyrics and a cool late night vibe, it’s an engrossing listen. Another song with a similar vibe is “Cry,” which feels like a lonely midnight drive through empty city streets. Those fat, vintage synths are just a free ticket to that vibe. Add on a great melody and vocal performance from Carly (the way her voice dips when she says ‘boy’ in the bridge is fuckin fabulous) and you’ve got a great song. But by far the catchiest song here is “Store,” which would’ve been one of the better songs on the original LP. The hook feels ancient in a way, like some kind of universal melody like “London Bridges” or “Happy Birthday.” But somehow, it’s not annoying, it’s just catchy as fuck.

But unfortunately, most of the other songs here are not catchy as fuck, and no matter how great the production and vocals are, that’s just not how I like my pop music. It needs to be really catchy for me to get into it, and given that these songs are B sides, they’re just not as well written. So, this thing isn’t worthless and definitely worth a listen if you enjoyed the original LP, but I’m not gonna return to this outside of a couple tracks.

3 stars

Standout Tracks: “Fever” “Cry” “Store”

 

Vince Staples: “Prima Donna”

Vince Staples is one of my favorite rappers out right now, bar none. Honestly, he’s the rapper I get the most excited about when I see he’s featured on a song, because I’ve never heard a Vince verse, feature or otherwise, that I didn’t like. His stone cold, seen it all mic presence is always there, his voice, whether his signature high pitched whine or more reserved mid register, is always engaging, and his lyrics are always on point. Not because he’s a lyrical spiritual miracle, he’s just very blunt and to the point (and also wildly quoteable) regarding street violence, but there’s also an element of mystery to his stuff. In other words, he gives you enough detail to entertain and inform you, but he hides enough to keep you intrigued. In other other words, he’s dope as fuck, and I was very excited about this EP. Maybe this is leading towards a follow up to last year’s phenomenal “Summertime ’06?” Either way, this thing delivers, albeit with some setbacks.

First, Vince’s rapping is as good as it’s always been, so once again he’s cementing his place as one of this generation’s 10 best MCs in my book. All of the virtues I listed above are here in full force, along with his ability to conjure up imagery that is simultaneously unsettling and dark but also totally badass:

“Crack his jaw open / crack in my system / daddy loved smoking / like he loved smoking niggas no joking.”

“Thuggin’ since the flip phone don’t be who I flip on.”

“Time to show the bitches who the man / pimp hand strong, pimp hand strong.”

These songs are also catchy because of his Vince’s presence. He’s one of those rappers, like ScHoolboy Q, who doesn’t need an R&B singer to make a song catchy. He just has this ability to find the perfect flow and cadence to ride the beat and spits these lines that rattle around in your head that you repeat to yourself constantly, even if there’s no melody.

And there is little to no melody here. These beats, produced by DJ Dahi, James Blake, and No I.D., are even more minimal than the ones of “Summertime ’06.” They sound almost alien and futuristic with their use of empty space and brittle hi-hats and unconventional drum patterns. But like Vince’s rapping, though they’re dark and not out to traditionally please, they’re still memorable and wildly listenable. “Pimp Hand” fuckin bangs. “War Ready” is really blood pumping. The title track is head bobbing and chill, while still maintaining that unsettling vibe this EP goes for.

However, there’s a couple things holding this project back. First, “Smile” is just a weak song with a kind of lazily sung hook by Vince. (Ironically the most melodic track here is the least catchy.) His verses are good, speaking on survivor’s guilt for leaving behind the streets he came from, but ultimately they’re not enough to save one of the weaker beats and the weakest hook. What’s worse though, is that about a minute and a half of this song is taken up by slurred, mumbled spoken poetry from Vince. Most of the other songs here feature that as well, although not quite at that length. And it’s not the words themselves that are bad, it’s just the delivery. I just can’t get past it. Vince is half heartedly mumbling into the mic, slurring his words, repeating lines ad nauseum, and it just doesn’t work. It’s an interesting idea, but the execution, which clearly went for chilling and dark, is very shoddy if you ask me.

Aside from those things though, “Prima Donna” is another addition to Vince’s growing discography that once again proves why he’s one of the best rappers out right now.

3.5 stars

Standout Tracks: “Loco” “Prima Donna” “Pimp Hand”

 

clipping.: “Wriggle”

When clipping. MC Daveed Diggs blew up in the mainstream for playing Thomas Jefferson on Broadway in “Hamilton,” I was very happy for him. As a pretty big fan of these guys (these guys being producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes and of course Daveed on vocals) it was nice to see the rapper for such an experimental group winning Tony Awards and being interviewed on The Tonight Show. But there was a part of me that thought this could be the end for clipping., since I doubt minimal harsh noise rap was making him much money, especially compared to those Broadway checks. But no, they have a new album on the way and are sampling fucking Whitehouse on the title track. clipping. is in full swing, and here, it’s as glorious as ever.

To begin, the production here is incredible. On every release the production and songwriting and overall chemistry of the project just gets better. On their 2013 debut, “midcity,” the style was a bit gimmicky, as much I enjoy it. What happens when you take swag rap and put it over harsh noise? Though they were making music together, it sounded like the vocal stems from a completely different project put over vaguely rhythmic harsh noise. And it was good for what it was. Fast forward a couple projects later, and William and Jonathan are crafting beats that are as indebted to hip-hop as they are to noise and ambient. Still minimal and with piercing shots of noise, but some of these beats bang or are at least compelling rhythmically. “Shooter” sounds like a Bay Area beat without the drums and with a way more angular synth melody, the title track may sample Whitehouse but the beat goes hard as fuck, and the closer features that vintage 808 rimshot that has appeared on countless hip-hop songs. (Though this may be the first time it’s paired with feedback.) Here, clipping. does something the best experimental artists do: make something that has traditional appeal (whatever that may be: melody, rhythm, lyrical content, viscera, etc.) while also not sacrificing the wild experimentation. And clipping. manages that perfectly over these six tracks, thanks to the production and the typically great rapping from Daveed Diggs.

His flow is still speedy as all hell (the title track is a thing to behold) and his wordplay is still sharp. (“Shooter” is basically all punchlines.) But it’s the images he conjures up, the catchy flows, and the energy he brings that is really captivating, not just the technical wizardry. The signature intro and “Shooter” paint a bleak image of the streets, shrouded by darkness, guns are firing, people are dying, it’s kill or be killed. He delivers a really great hook on “Back Up,” a track most rappers wouldn’t know touch, let alone write a great hook for. On “Wriggle” he gets really intense, seemingly gaining speed and momentum and energy with each repetition of the refrain. Like I said above, the title track is a thing to be behold. It’s magical.

If this EP is any indication as to the level of focus and chemistry that will be featured on the forthcoming LP, then we could be in for a serious treat.

4 stars

Standout Tracks: “Shooter” “Back Up” “Wriggle”

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