Some records are considered "challenging." Others issue challenges. CLPPNG, the almost self-titled new album by L.A. noise-rap crew Clipping, begins by practically daring the listener to continue. For its first minute and six seconds, the only "music" is a piercingly high-pitched ringing sound—like amplified tinnitus, or a hearing test designed by Josef Mengele—over which rapper Daveed Diggs sprays rhymes like shrapnel from a nail bomb.
For fans of last year's Midcity mixtape, extreme rapping and noise delivered with alienating harshness is what they were hoping to get from the group's Sub Pop debut. But Clipping's got a challenge for them, too. Coming five songs after the ear-punishing "Intro," "Tonight"—with its Future-istic synth horns, nods to Ludacris and Auto-Tuned chorus about prowling for a hookup at last call—almost wouldn't seem out of place on mainstream radio. It's the trio's most polarizing song yet. And considering they also have a track constructed entirely from a beeping alarm clock, that's saying something.
"['Tonight' is] the song people have pointed to as like, 'Oh my God, they have betrayed us,'" says co-producer William Hutson. "We were really pushing Sub Pop to make that the single," adds Diggs. "For us, this was the biggest hit we've ever made. And so, when people started coming out so vehemently opposed to it, we were just like, 'Wow, we don't understand anything.'"
If fans feel "betrayed," though, it's not Clipping misunderstanding its audience. It's the audience misreading what the group is about. Despite its abrasiveness, Diggs, Hutson and fellow noisenik Jonathan Snipes are adamant that the project is not a "critique" or "deconstruction" of hip-hop. It is simply their way of doing it. Besides, back in the day, hip-hop was noise music: loud, cacophonous, often atonal. Hutson and Snipes might draw on power electronics and musique concrète, but at their core, the beats are descendents of the Bomb Squad's dense squall, with just a few extra layers of corrosion.
"I got sent to the office in fourth grade for wearing a Public Enemy shirt," Hutson says. "So this has been part of our lives and our upbringing for a long time."
Make no mistake, though: As hip-hop goes, CLPPNG is almost unprecedented in its viciousness. "Body & Blood" follows "Intro" and offers little reprieve, riding a persistent, industrial thud through a storm of static and whirring power tools. Tracks like "Or Die" and "Ends" don't bump as much as they glitch and scrape. "Get Up" is the most audacious experiment, pairing the sound of a buzzing alarm clock with an R&B hook straight off a Drake record.
In the context of the rest of the album, perhaps it's understandable that "Tonight" would seem like satire. But the group insists the song is a sincere attempt at the commercial rap it admires. It was even made with a utilitarian purpose in mind: for DJs to play at last call. With the strange noises gurgling underneath, its chances of becoming the next "Get Low" are slim. A band can dream, though.
"Part of Clipping's whole process is the bold-faced credulity that anyone would ever use our song for that—like this weird-ass shit would ever make it into the club," Hutson says. "Really, we should've written this song for Rihanna and made it really normal. But that's not our style."
SEE IT: Clipping plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Copy, Open Mike Eagle, and Signor Benedick the Moor, on Saturday, July 5. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.