Not that long ago, Daveed Diggs was a named known by only fans of experimental hip-hop thanks to his work with clipping. After releasing a couple great projects, Diggs went to Broadway where he would win a Grammy and Tony for his incredible work in Hamilton. Now that he has left the show he is back with his old group and has created a hip-hop space opera.
Considering my love of Diggs, who I discovered thanks to Hamilton, and just concept albums in general, I was excited to see if his time on Broadway would come across on this most recent project.
The most noteworthy part of Splendor & Misery was the narrative of the album. The ambitious story follows a slave, Cargo number 2331, who is the sole survivor of a slave revolt on this ship going through deep space. And to add a unique twist to this, the story is told mostly through the perspective of the ship’s computer.
The story is a clever one and one that is best enjoyed with little information going in. All I will say is all the little Easter eggs that are thrown in, with a Star Trek reference for safe measure, add to the replayability that this record already demands. I will be honest and say despite several listens I have still not come close to feeling like I fully understand everything this record was trying to say.
The production was also interesting, sacrificing traditional beats for the sounds of the spaceship the album takes place, helping to create a strong atmosphere. The record does a good job of making this futuristic setting seem real with the sounds of the computer operating, air pressurization, and machinery playing strategically to fit with Diggs’ delivery.
And while on the subject of Diggs, what he brings forward here is absolutely terrific work. While he does not have the kind of voice that would catch on in the mainstream, which is fine by me, it works well with the experimental ideas and production that is found on Splender & Misery. Outside of rapping, Diggs shows off his natural singing ability on the a cappella track “Song 5,” a tragic song that deviates from the main story to sing about a seemingly perfect woman whose life is cut short by a brutal car accident.
This mixture of production that sounds to be hundreds of years in the future and hundreds of years in the past blends together well, especially on tracks like “True Beliver” and “Long Way Away” that reminded me a little of what Algiers made on their self-titled debut last year. This ambition is just part of the reason I found this record so enjoyable from front to back.
While the story is fun, my only problem with it is that I feel the story could have been fleshed out more, to clarify some of the story elements, let the character of 2331 grow more, and just let the story breath a bit. At only 37 minutes, this album moves at very fast pace, that most will be thrown off by, and requires several listens to just grab a basic idea of what is going on.
Regardless of this, if you put the time in and you like this kind of experimental and conceptual music, clipping. has definitely created something for you. Is this as good as Hamilton? No, but it is not trying to be Hamilton it is its own thing and I am quite pleased with that. I think clipping. is proving to be one of the best groups in underground hip-hop and they are only getting more ambitious which has me incredibly excited for whatever comes next.
Best Tracks: All Black, Wake Up, Long Way Away, True Believer, Air ‘Em Out, Story 5, A Better Place
Worst Track: Interlude 2 (Numbers)