Clams Casino – ’32 Levels’ Review

Clams Casino cements his status in hip-hop’s hall of fame on a frequently dazzling debut featuring A$AP Rocky, Kelela and Vince Staples

Few producers have had as big an impact on hip-hop as Clams Casino. His early 2010 productions for Lil B and A$AP Rocky earned him instant fame as the figurehead of a sound that came to be dubbed ‘cloud rap’ – a woozy, hefty, synth-soaked re-imagining of classic hip-hop. A triptych of acclaimed instrumental mixtapes proved that his beats had enough depth to work without vocals, while production work for the likes of [a]The Weeknd[/a], [a]FKA Twigs[/a], Danny Brown and [a]Lana Del Rey[/a] sent his stock rising ever higher.

Inevitably, Clams’ success has led to copycatting, and he hasn’t regarded the imitation as flattering: “It sucks,” he stated recently. ‘32 Levels’, then, his first “proper” album, is a chance to rise above his legion of clones and cement his place in hip-hop’s hall of fame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qqna-NUal9Y

Opening on the instrumental ‘Level 1’ – little more than a chopped-up vocal loop, but a gorgeous and hypnotic one at that – the album next reunites Clams Casino with Lil B and A$AP Rocky for the chilly and distorted ‘Be Somebody’. From there the so-hot-right-now guest vocalists just keep coming: Warp-signed R&B chanteuse Kelela, Kelly Zutrau of NY alt-poppers Wet and Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring all swing by, but it’s buzzed-over Long Beach rapper Vince Staples who steals the show on album highlight ‘All Nite’ – his urgent technical rhyming is utterly refreshing amid the current trend for slurred, semi-sung raps.

Clams Casino’s productions are strong and downright weird enough to not have the spotlight stolen from them by the nine guests on ‘32 Levels’. He’s dug deep to produce some of the most darkly beautiful tracks of his career: from the otherworldly electro of ‘Back To You’ to the lush heaviness of album closer ‘Blast’, there’s a lot to get lost in on here. Granted, not every gamble pays off – ‘Thanks To You’ and ‘Ghost In A Kiss’ both whoosh past eccentric and into exhausting – but this is a frequently dazzling piece of work from one of hip-hop’s most ambitious and imaginative stylists.

Details

Record label: Columbia Records
Release date: 15 Jul, 2016