Review: Clams Casino, ‘Instrumentals’ Mixtape

Download: Clams Casino, Instrumentals Mixtape

These are interesting times for fans of hip-hop and R&B.

With the buzz firestorm that accompanied ASAP Rocky’s LiveLoveASAP mixtape–prominently featuring the production of New Jersey-based Clams Casino–came a not-so-subtle instrumental statement: drugged-up, slowed down, dreamy beats are becoming ever more prominent in hip-hop and the need to identify with traditional regional stylings is perhaps dead. The Harlem product Rocky asks “How trill is this?” over the Clams-produced intro track on LiveLoveASAP. Oakland duo Main Attrakionz is spitting what Danny Brown describes as absolute trap-hop, but they’re doing it almost clandestinely, over cloudy, artsy beats. Even more mainstream acts like Drake are flocking towards the sounds of Houston and Memphis.

Of course, behind these tracks are a lot of gifted producers. But right now Clams Casino stands out as a ready subject for investigation. He recently re-released his Instrumentals Mixtape, this time remastered at 320 kbps. Along with each track comes the artist who ended up using the beat–Lil B, Main Attrakionz, ASAP Rocky, and even Soulja Boy. But listening to the instrumentals without the rapping is, right now, a necessary experience for hip-hop heads.

Clams Casino, “Motivation”

Clams is a big fan of Imogean Heap. He frequently samples her and her contemporaries (Björk, Adele, etc.), chopping, reversing, and rearranging their powerful vocals; only confused, hookworthy emotion remains. In the case of the more experimental track “The World Needs Change”, it’s almost all that’s there: essentially, Heap’s “Headlock” after a syrup binge.

The aesthetic here is consistently lo-fi as Clams explores a space similar to the one How to Dress Well has frequented. Distant, droning, alien noises are paced by clear, booming bass and other percussion hits. And all of this is may be filtered through some scratching static. But the line between experimentation and utility is walked brilliantly (that, or he treaded it into a blur). There’s never any doubt that these tracks are foremost constructed with hip-hop sensibilities. It’s just that a certain strangeness arises from the general lack of allusion to the hip-hop’s illustrious past. Or perhaps it arises from the aversion to directness.

But that same strangeness is what makes the Instrumentals mixtape such a compelling listen. The beats are dynamic and are so artistically strong as to not sound incomplete without vocal accompaniment. While this may not be the sound of the “future of hip-hop” (especially commercially), it is a powerful example of the truly new music that is continuing to emerge as the idea of “genre” is replaced by the idea of blending genres. And after listening, it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of this sound–and similarly-fashioned (read: original) sounds–soon becoming even more prominent in the rap game.

______________

(Or, in the LDR game? Listen to his just released remix of Lana Del Ray’s “Born to Die” below)

Lana Del Ray, “Born to Die” (Clams Casino remix)