Many years ago, in the days of A Tribe Called Quest and N.W.A., producers held a powerful hold over the hip-hop community. It was the producers who changed the pace of the genre, who put forth the beats that popularized a movement. Over the years, as rap grew as a sub-genre in the community, producers slipped out of the limelight, eventually coming to face a reality where their names are often unknown.
Taking a route that was paved by the likes of Flume, Kaytranada and Jamie xx, Clams Casino has released his debut studio album, 32 Levels, in hopes to reverse that reality, fighting to place himself in the same ranks as the vocalists he features. His latest album is a smorgasbord of style that is set to satisfy any music taste.
Don’t believe me? Well, are you a fan of The Weeknd’s “King of The Fall”? How about Pia Mia and Chance the Rapper’s “Fight For You”? FKA Twigs’ “Hours”? Despite the differences their genres pose, they all have one thing in common: the incredible production of Clams Casino, who has now shot his way to the top of the hip-hop scene with 32 Levels.
Clams Casino, born Michael Volpe of Nutley, New Jersey, premiered his first EP, Rainforest in 2011. For the most part, it flew under the radar of many listeners. He followed it up with three mixtapes over the span of three years, all of which featured instrumentals, a few of which charted successfully.
Three years later, he dropped the first single of his studio album, “Blast,” a haunting instrumental that would inevitably set the pace for the entire new project. A few months later, the entire album arrived, one half instrumental tracks and one half vocal-featuring songs.
The intro track opens with an angelic instrumental and closes out with Lil B declaring, “Leave it up to Clams/ He got us.” The honesty of his statement speaks for itself as the first vocal-featuring song, “Be Somebody” featuring A$AP Rocky and Lil B, comes in. It is a bass-heavy, buzzing song with an open ambience very similar to A$AP’s At. Long. Last. A$AP, ironically the only A$AP album that Clams does not have production credits on.
Indie band Wet’s front woman, Kelly Zutrau, makes a surprising feature. “Back to You” opens with a gentle instrumental that drops out and clears way for Zutrau vocals to shine through. Like A$AP’s piece, this song sounds precisely like what got Wet popular in the first place.
Another triumph of the album is Kelela’s “A Breath Away,” a track that is likely to actually take your breath away. Kelela has a vocal tone that feels raw and honest no matter what her lyrics are, and her chorus is euphoric at the very least.
Every song sticks loyally to the style of music that the feature artist is known for, which makes Clams’s style seem incohesive, when in fact he is simply honoring what works best with his vocalists.
While his style is arguably indefinable, Clams Casino has a very distinct mood for this album. It has a quality to it that makes it ideal for any type of chill setting. Even “All Nite” — which features the rhymes of Vince Staples, a Cali rapper whose Summertime ’06 mixtape is gaining a lot of heat – has a quicker pace to it that somehow does not interrupt the flow of the album as a whole.
The second half of the album is entirely instrumental versions of the first half of 32 Levels, which are great for those who really want to hear the mastery that Clams put together before layering on his vocalists. 32 Levels is undoubtedly a victory for Clams Casino as both a producer and an artist.