Hip-hop's most exciting producer laid bare
Right now, Clams Casino is the shit-hottest producer in the world, the single point at which a clutch of America’s most cutting-edge trends converge. Basically, Michael Volpe is co-ordinating a rap renaissance on three fronts: LA’s Lil B-fronted ‘Based’ revolution; Orlando, Florida’s ‘cloud-rap’, spearheaded by Main Attrakionz; and New York’s so-called ‘hipster-hop’, whose figurehead A$AP Rocky has Clams to thank for the epic ‘Palace’. Considering, as well, Volpe’s influence on Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye – himself leading an R&B revolution – Clams is a man who’s gonna have a big say in how 2013 will sound. Until then, he’ll have to settle for being the sound of 2012, and the sound in question is a mix of heavenly and hallucinatory, translucent, but stodgified with elephantine bass and cavernous beats.
It’s the menacing echo of screwed hip-hop and mutated pop quivering in a vortex of urban ambience. Imagine Cocteau Twins made entirely of codeine fumes or choral music crushed by power electronics. Or even an angelic Salem. With the original tracks stripped of the MCing, ‘Instrumental Mixtape 2’ provides some explanation as to why an outsider auteur is working with the most progressive rappers in America, a unique voice in a homogenised mainstream. Partly accounting for Clams’ omnipresence is his sound’s versatility as a fit-all atmospheric counterpoint to any rapper who has ever hijacked his instrumentals. It’s almost illogical that screw-faced old hip-hop should be commandeering Volpe’s tranquil beauty. But it works, adding formerly sectioned-off new dimensions to various genres.
Bling-hungry rappers such as Soulja Boy gain the opulence chintzy synths can’t convey (as on ‘All I Need’, from Clams’ ‘Instrumental Mixtape 1’) and The Weeknd gets the air of drugged loneliness Tesfaye can only moan about (‘The Fall’). And the best part is, it’s accessible as hell. The aforementioned ‘The Fall’ makes use of the infinite fizz of Emeralds, while ‘Angels’ splits the difference between DJ Shadow and Enigma’s ‘Return To Innocence’. Then there’s the Lil B tracks such as ‘Unchain Me’, featuring a crack-rap sample-twist on The Lost Boys’ ‘Cry Little Sister’, and the Imogen Heap-sampling ‘I’m God’: conceivably the most gorgeous backing track of the decade.
From the A$AP tracks, Main Attrakionz collab ‘Leaf’ displays a haunting, pitch-shifted mastery over cutting vocals into rhythm and texture, while the simply massive ‘Palace’ evokes rap dynasties, fallen kings and warring families. It’s hip-hop’s fetish for The Godfather re-imagined as a gangster Greek tragedy. But then everything seems mythical in the care of Clams Casino. Keepin’ it real just isn’t on the menu.