Review: Clipping’s ‘Visions of Bodies Being Burned’ offers terrifying narrative of America’s societal problems
For the better part of the decade, experimental hip-hop group Clipping — stylized as clipping. — has played a pivotal role in the revitalization of horrorcore. Consisting of rapper Daveed Diggs — known for his role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the 2015 Broadway hit “Hamilton” — and producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, Clipping prides themselves on taking elements of horror films and transforming them into musical form. The trio’s name perfectly encapsulates their production style, as harsh, industrial noises overlay unnerving, spine-tingling screams and discord.
The chaos, however, is not without order: Hutson completed a Ph.D. in experimental electronic music, and Snipes teaches sound design at the University of California, Los Angeles. Paired with the lyrical prowess of Diggs, Clipping confronts audiences with visceral songs in order to create dialogue around the realities of street violence and America’s political and societal shortcomings. With Clipping’s “Visions of Bodies Being Burned,” not only are their themes more pertinent and provocative than the group’s previous albums, but the trio impeccably packages 16 songs into a movie-like experience that makes audiences think their topics are too terrifying to be true.
The group’s most recent effort, “Visions of Bodies Being Burned,” is the direct sequel to their 2019 studio album “There Existed an Addiction to Blood.” While the album comes off as sonically and lyrically tamer than its predecessor, “Visions” is more purposeful, pertinent and cohesive, making for an uglier and more fearsome beast. Nods to horror classics like “Candyman,” “The Grudge” and “Rosemary’s Baby” are packaged with politically charged themes of racism, religion and revenge. The production is as discordant and unnerving as ever, but each song feels more purposeful both in production and delivery, as if the trio intended for each verse and statement to be clearly heard. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, “Visions” was slated for an early 2020 release. Oddly enough, the delay may have been to its benefit, as the album only feels more relevant following a summer of Black Lives Matter protests and confrontations with police brutality.
Track one, “Intro,” acts as a slow-burn primer for the listener, just as one might expect in the cold open of a horror movie. A booming, menacing percussion beats through nervous scratching and rattling. Floorboards begin creaking, wind starts howling and the drum gradually grows louder, when Diggs — like a prowling killer — finally appears and takes the mic. What ensues is a salvo of gory stories and songs that perfectly encapsulate a horror anthology. The interludes are methodically dispersed through the album, often used to transition between topics and themes. “Intro” perfectly sets up the structure of the album to make “Visions” feel like a surreal cinematic horror experience, and in doing so, Clipping further elevates their ability to strike fear into the audience with direct and disturbing social commentary.
After the first track, Diggs dives straight into uncomfortable political and cultural discourse. With track two, “Say the Name,” Diggs confronts the recklessness of American culture. Depicting America as a naive college girl impregnated by the devil, Diggs reflects on America’s failure to act responsibly until the consequences have already manifested. Such a narrative seems highly relevant after a tense 2020 election, and this track almost feels like a reprimanding of the American people.
By far the most politically charged song is track six, “Make Them Dead,” in which the trio explores the irony of America’s gun culture. Diggs questions how people could conceivably claim to be devout Christians while simultaneously worshipping instruments of death. He then compares gun-rights activists and the National Rifle Association to that of a cult — people who are so blinded they would follow others off a cliff. The song is strewn with cynical takes on religion, and Diggs laments the danger people can pose both to themselves and to others.
Track 14 is likely the most controversial of the songs, as Diggs graphically describes the deaths of three police officers in “Body for the Pile.” Diggs strips down the notion that police officers hold any supremacy to the average person and flips the concept of authority into situations where the police are the ones brutalized. By placing his police characters in powerless positions, Diggs shows that even our authority figures are susceptible to accidents and danger. The only thing that seems to separate a cop from a citizen, Diggs seems to say, is a metal badge and a blue uniform. Digg’s disdain for police is evident, and he almost takes glee in his excessive painting of their gruesome deaths. Such an attitude is consistent with Digg’s call to arms against systemic racism throughout the album.
In the majority of their songs, Clipping makes overt references to America’s bloody, racist history. The anger harbored from past and present prejudices culminates in tracks five, “Something Underneath,” and nine, “Pain Everyday.” “Something Underneath” is a full display of Diggs’ rapping abilities, as he keeps pace with a rapid, relentless beat. In the chorus, Diggs demands that America “Bring it down, bring it down,” referring to the “thin veil” between modern American society and its deep-seated racism. The chorus may also stand in direct opposition to President Donald Trump’s infamous campaign slogan, “Build the Wall.” Diggs would rather the listener confront racial prejudice head on than sit and wait until someone gets hurt. Such an exclamation feels highly relevant amid the Black Lives Matter protests following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In “Pain Everyday,” Diggs calls upon the dead spirits of lynching victims to seek revenge on their killers. While lynchings are often thought of as a thing of the past, Diggs dispels such a notion and points out that modern lynchings still occur — they’re just defined differently. Diggs’ delivery fluctuates back and forth from a restrained, hushed tone to outbursts of rage at society’s blindness to ongoing prejudice.
While horror sequels often disappoint, Clipping returns sharper and with a greater range of terrors in “Visions of Bodies Being Burned.” Whereas its predecessor, “There Existed an Addiction to Blood,” gave a bloodier, and perhaps more clamorous, perspective of street violence, “Visions” hits closer to home by turning attention to the lurking social inequities of the American past and present. Lyrical gore and industrial noises are toned down to make way for disturbing discourse. Broaching topics such as systemic racism, gun-rights and police brutality, Clipping once again confronts America’s sinister societal flaws, and with this latest entry, they exceed all expectations set by their previous experiments.