Last year, the rapper Logic released his album “The Incredible True Story,” which happened to be a concept album telling the story of intrepid space travelers searching for a new Earth-like planet. This album, “Splendor & Misery,” is also a concept album centering around a science-fiction adventure in space, but its concept is leagues ahead of “The Incredible True Story,” both in terms of concept and in terms of music.
Clipping (stylized as “clipping.”) is the experimental hip-hop group made up of three people: Jonathan Snipes (of the late electro-pop duo Captain Ahab), Daveed Diggs (of Broadway show “Hamilton” fame) and William Hutson (who, according to Wikipedia, makes music under the name Rale).
In terms of experimentality, “Splendor & Misery” is pretty tame compared to clipping.’s other works. The album simply tells a story and while the production is more “out there” compared to contemporaries, it doesn’t rival their most boundary-pushing beats like the one made almost entirely out of gunshots on their last E.P. “Wriggle.”
All that being said, “Splendor & Misery” isn’t clipping. trading in their experimentality for stagnation, but it is instead focusing on the theme of this concept album, which follows the story of a slave being transported on an interstellar cargo ship, and how he breaks free. I’m not going to go any further into the story because I feel like interpretation is one of the album’s best aspects, but know that I think the story is one of the absolute best parts of this album and is definitely worth delving into.
You will have to dive into this album to find the story, too. Definitely be prepared to listen multiple times to fully grasp the story. “Splendor & Misery” comes in at only 37 minutes, which is nothing short of astounding, especially in a genre as bloated with self-indulgent throwaway tracks as hip-hop.
This is an album where if you aren’t watching the song titles, you probably won’t notice the tracks change. This keeps up for the whole album too, so instead of a collection of songs that tell a story, it plays like a story that is told through music. This works to great effect with an album as short as “Splendor & Misery.” It’s the musical equivalent of watching a great episode of a 30-minute TV show like “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” It tells its story in a way that doesn’t have room for anything unnecessary, and it’s out in less than an hour.
Another aspect of this album worthy of praise is that it doesn’t sacrifice musicality for storytelling. So many concept albums have suffered from this, and most concept albums choose to completely separate their music from their theme, leaving the story bits to play as interludes or skits and only dropping vague hints to the narrative in the actual song. But on “Splendor & Misery,” every part of the album is used to develop the story
And let’s talk about the lyrics while I’m at it. Daveed Diggs has a great ability to tell a story through rhymes without sacrificing on his actual bars. The track “All Black” is basically six minutes of exposition rapped to you by Diggs, and it’s absolutely stellar. Each verse has a great use of assonance to push the story along over all six minutes. The other standout track from Diggs is the track “Air ‘em Out,” which has the beat of a hard-hitting trap song but is stripped down to only the most essential components of percussion. Coming in at three minutes and 50 seconds, the track deceptively sounds like one of those braggadocious, self-indulgent tracks with which hip-hop is oversaturated.
All things considered, this album is truly in a category of its own. Sure, there have been other concept albums that execute stories well, and even some in the genre of hip-hop, but none have been quite like “Splendor & Misery.” None have mixed rapping and singing to tell a story as effectively as this album, which does all this and is still somehow, crazily, under 40 minutes. clipping. delivered a short, dense and poignant album that doesn’t sacrifice any of its musicality to tell its story.