Written By: Andrew Sedo
Good science fiction is less about creating a fictional world than using an unfamiliar context to freely explore common human themes. By this definition, experimental hip-hop trio clipping. has created a sci-fi classic, which was nominated for the Hugo Awards in the category of “Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.” Using the emptiness of outer space as a metaphor for the hostile vacuity of modern America, vocalist Daveed Diggs is exploring a world of nothingness, pain, and most importantly, the complex nature of endlessness. When examined literally, Diggs paints a bleak picture of an interstellar survivor of a slave uprising that can’t cope with the distance from home and the loneliness that accompanies the depravity of his situation.
This ironic boredom and sense of survivalist drive is a trap Diggs can’t seem to escape. On “All Black” Diggs’ rapid recantation of a person driven to insanity by the endless emptiness of his mission challenges the nature of escape and purpose. He says as the track reaches near fever pitch, “No matter how much time or space has passed since his escape / He is still a runaway slave and so lonely / If only he realized this ship is more than metal / There’s friendship in the wiring, and so lonely.” Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes craft a meticulously macabre computer back-beat that grounds this uncertainty with a certain mathematical precision. Diggs is examining the will and desire that comes with feeling abandoned by the system he didn’t choose to be a part of.
On the follow up “Interlude 01 (Freestyle)” Diggs is rapping into the ether, with a little inspiration from Makaveli’s iconic “Hail Mary”, as Snipes and Hutson cover the fervent lyrics with debilitating static. Further in, we see Diggs reacquire his operatic roots (his performance as the original Alexander Hamilton / Marquis De Lafayette in the broadway sensation Hamilton accrued nearly universal praise) on “Long Way Away”, a classic spiritual about the futility of feeling so far from home. On “True Believer”, Diggs and crew mix genres with a gospel styled chorus accompanied by church bells, and a computerize closing that reminds us we are still in uncharted territory. “Air Em’ Out” is a goosebump inducing classic rap exploration of the peaks of survival euphoria and the laser-like purpose that comes with revenge.
“Break the Glass” benefits from a blink and you miss it Al Green nod, and as the title suggests, seems to be about smashing barriers. However, in the context of space travel you can’t help but wonder if this is a suicidal plea for escape by any means. The following track “Story 5” takes us back into gospel roots as Diggs prays for the return of grace to this vacuous environment. The closing cuts bring us back to the difficulties of traversing unknown terrain, and the impossibility of coping with time and space that seem to be without logical bounds. “Baby Don’t Sleep” seems to be referencing the disorienting effects of dreamlike apathy that can drive you into debilitating lethargy.
The ultimate “A Better Place” is the album’s most upbeat entry, and seems to purport an optimistic future in the midst of unquestionably bad odds. Diggs recites, “Don’t bother with sweating the old shit / Maybe it’s this time-bound conscience / That keeps him out pushing through nothing / With only the hope brought on by this belief that / There must be a / Better place” in an uncharacteristically sure voice bolstered by cathedral quality organs and Snipes and Huston’s signature cacophonous touches.
In the end, the listener feels as if they have been on an anaerobic journey. This trying odyssey is as much about outer space as it is about the inner spaces of Diggs tangled mind. We are with him as he struggles to cope with the reality of a universe which, it seems, doesn’t want or need him to exist. It’s in this Sisyphean context Diggs reaches his ultimate purpose which is, namely, to keep trying. So what do you do when trapped in a situation you didn’t ask for, by a system that at first wants to destroy you, and later neglects you completely? Misery & Splendor’s answer to such a complex question is fitting of it’s otherworldly delivery. There is no answer. There’s only the will to keep trying and the uncompromising pleasure of shouting into the void.