Clipping (sometimes stylized as clipping.) produces some of the greatest music videos of the last decade, and most of them are terrifying. With Halloween almost upon us, let’s take a ride through the disturbed and wonderful work of the group.
I first got into Clipping when I stumbled across “Get Up” directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and Cristina Bercovitz. In many ways it sets the tone for the group’s future work, including the regular visual themes they tend to embody like gunshot wounds and black bodies in helpless positions.
The video is simple, but incredible. Daveed Diggs lays on a bare floor that moves in color from red to white. Rapping while motionless (which he does in several videos), the camera zooms back and worth as we watch a bullet hole slowly form on his white shirt and spread a pool of blood under him. The implication is that Diggs is rapidly narrating his final thoughts as he bleeds out from a murder. As far as short fiction goes, it is a hell of a tight story that hits like a punch to the gut.
Following “Get Up,” Clipping videos were rarely as literal. The group entered something of a Darren Aronofsky school of video presentation and never looked back. This made their horror videos more esoteric, but still managed to ground them in the dirty trappings of everyday life.
“Work Work” is a good example. Done at the same time and also directed by Estrada, Diggs is once again incapacitated. This time he has his hands taped behind his back as he is held with his teeth on a parking barrier. Cocc Pistol Cree stands above him with her boot pressed against his neck, presumably waiting to curb stomp him.
This time, Diggs raps through his immobile mouth. The words come through perfectly clear, of course, but it creates this bizarre, unsettling effect where the brain registers we should be hearing him distorted and incomprehensible. He’s clearly begging for mercy in the video, but we the audience get his unfiltered thoughts rather than the slurred ramblings his captor probably hears.
Then things get weird and set the tone for all future Clipping joints. When the stomp comes, it doesn’t result in broken teeth and blood, but an outpouring of rats from a shattered porcelain skull. It’s delightfully WTF, particularly when Diggs gets up afterward to drunkenly stumble headless into the garbage. A surrealist work of tight dread, it also established Clipping’s weird obsession with inhuman heads seen best in the non-horror video for “Inside Out.”
But nothing from their early work compares to “Body & Blood.” It’s a video right out of a nightmare and I am in awe that it exists. There are two versions, a censored and an uncensored. I am choosing to embed the former below, but the uncensored can be found on Vimeo where they put all the best crazy music videos.
Directed by Patrick Kennelly, it feels like something right out of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell. To the extent it has a plot, a photographer takes pictures of various nude subjects, including a lot of body builders. However, it’s implied that she is fantasizing about dissecting them or otherwise reducing them to veins and innards. There’s this really uncomfortable imagery of a drill that is sometimes equated to a penis, all with Diggs rapping about how she “don't need you for shit but your dick and your veins and your guts.” It has a very grindhouse serial killer vibe, like a modern version of Blood Feast or something.
Every second of it is a weird mixture of sex and blood. I haven’t seen such a terrifying jumble of images since Tobacco’s “Streaker,” which I assumed would always be the king of twisted collage music video.
For the cuts off their second album, Splendor & Misery, Clipping went in a less horror-filled direction, and the Wriggle EP was somewhat less focused visually. There are some good disturbing videos from this era. “Back Up” is a strange nightmare where the children in what is assumed to be a ruined tenement have their faces superimposed on adult bodies. It’s unsettling, but not really scary. “Shooter” is another Estrada-directed piece. It’s an engaging work that revisits themes seen in “Get Up” and “Inside Out,” but is more interested in social commentary and quirky effects than a well-paced horror story. The experimental nature of the group’s videos remains inarguable, but horror they aren't.
That’s all changed with the release of the latest album, There Exists an Addiction to Blood. Two videos have dropped so far, and both of them are incredible evolutions of the group’s horror expressions.
“Blood of the Fang” (director Lars Jan) can be seen as a spiritual sequel to “Get Up,” but boy does it amp things up. Diggs is once again on bleeding on his back, though this time he's chained to an operating table. Instead of seeing him from above, we often get his point of view as he hallucinates while looking at an overhead light.
Meanwhile, a trio of doctors, one of whom is Diggs, perform an operation on a gun. The metal parts like flesh and organs are removed from the bleeding stock as gore splatters up on the surgeons. The image of the rifle as a living thing to be cut is disturbing and powerful, especially at the end when Diggs begins to eat the rifle. Straight out of a Warhol film, it is a dark inversion of the way guns tend to prey on black people. “Blood of the Fang” seems to say, ‘Oh you’ll shoot me? I will EAT you after vivisecting you.” To the extend revenge can be perpetuated on the inanimate tools of the establishment, Clipping does it here.
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But my favorite is by far the newest release, “All in Your Head" directed by C Prinz. There’s nothing inherently scary about it, but every second of it feels like an American Horror Story teaser that chewed through its chains to come and get you. Far more female-centric than Clipping’s usual work, it is a parade of strange women of sinister purpose and appearance who haunt a dingy, abandoned office building.
The video feels like you’ve stumbled into a ritual where witnessing it is a capital crime. Robyn Hood raps in an endless series of mirrors while Counterfeit Madison sings gospel through a peephole. Meanwhile, Jantae Spinks and Jazz Washington perform interpretive dance, sometimes with a hooded hawk. It’s as incomprehensible and beautiful and chilling as Grinderman’s “Heathen Child." Something as simple as a passing smile becomes a harbinger of a doom in the video, and at the end you feel as exhausted as if you have just been running from a maniac with a chainsaw.
Over the course of five years, Clipping has established itself as one of if not the best music video band working today. You can point to other artists like Billie Eilish who also have consistent thematic elements and a penchant for the grotesque, but no one turns it all the way up the way Clipping has consistently done since they burst on the scene. If you need to have something to frighten your guests playing on the screen at your Halloween party, you could hardly do better.