Loved by many yet hated by just as much, it is hard to deny the innovative nature of Hip Hop music. Be it the much controversial reliance on samples (small parts of other songs, usually attributed to other artists), explicit lyrical content, or the quite questionable ties to the criminal world, the reasons for which this genre could be criticized seem to have no end. Yet its influence on modern mainstream music cannot be denied, and some studies suggest that this influence outweighs that of even The Beatles. So what exactly happens when we take such a creative genre and make it even more inventive, even more avant-garde? Well, as it turns out, we get something that the industry is in desperate need of: music that transcends its own origins and gains followers from other, seemingly unrelated genres.
Shabazz Palaces, Clipping., and Death Grips are the Big 3 of Experimental Hip Hop. Mixing elements of Hip Hop, Rock, and Electronic music, these artists are sporting some of the most unique musical palettes today. Many of their fans claim to be loyal listeners of one of the aforementioned genres, not showing much interest in the other two; yet, when it comes to these groups, their tastes and interests intertwine. Stylistically, the groups are quite different from each other. Nonetheless, the fans seem to find much similarities in their sounds and place them on the same pedestal; and as was the case with the Big 4 of Thrash Metal -- Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax -- they often pair the groups against each other. But this merging of genres is not limited to the fans only: Clipping. and Shabazz Palaces have prominent ties to the Alternative Rock record label Sub Pop, which popularized Grunge music during the 1990s and housed numerous renowned musical acts such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney.
So what do these artists actually sound like? Which elements of their music help attract listeners from other genres? To answer these questions, let's delve deeper and say a few words about each group's sound.
Using elements of Glitch music, Ishmael Butler's smooth vocals and a steady flow will take you on a voyage through the multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire's distorted landscapes. Out of the three, this group is the easiest to digest and is the best introduction to Experimental Hip Hop, in my opinion. Their songs can be found on Sub Pop's YouTube channel where their entire debut album, "Black Up," can also be streamed for free. I recommend leaning back in a comfortable chair and streaming the entire album as an introduction.
This is where things get a bit more interesting. Clipping. is unique: Instead of using normal instrumentals, MC Daveed Diggs raps over Noise music, composed by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. As the name suggests, Noise music is an acquired taste. Out of their two albums, I find the second one, "CLPPNG," to be the superior one. Its instrumentals are also more interesting and musical. This group should be approached with a very open mind, and though your first listen might leave you with conflicting feelings, you will most likely be back for more.
Though an easier listen than Clipping., the highly controversial nature of this group might come as a bit of a shock. Musically, they are influenced by Rock, and this shows in their behavior, both on and off stage. Stefan Burnett's vocal delivery is very aggressive and, combined with drummer and producer Zach Hill's instrumentals, a truly unheard-of energy is created. I would even go so far as to say that Death Grips sounds more Rock than a lot of modern Rock bands. Out of their albums, the best place to start is "No Love Deep Web" as it offers a more mainstream sound compared to their other albums. It was released as a free digital download. And by the way, in case you are curious as to why I called them more Rock than a lot of modern Rock bands, I recommend you listen to their song "On GP," one of my personal favorites.
As an afterword, the future seems bright for these artists and the genre in general. With many mainstream artists steering away from traditional instrumentals, Experimental Hip Hop's fan base is expanding at a rapid pace. Kanye West's last album, "Yeezus," was heavily influenced by Electronic music and Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly" introduced many people to the Jazz-influenced instrumentals. All in all, if you are interested in this genre, you are in the right place at the right time. If not, it is never too late to expand your musical horizons and I still do not see traditional Trap-influenced Hip Hop going away; at least, not in the near future.