Album Review: Clams Casino—“32 Levels”

By Adam Piotrowicz, Feature Photo Via Hypetrak

New Jersey producer Clams Casino, the de facto pioneer of “cloud rap” as we all know (and love) it, has one of the most distinguished and recognizable sounds in late-2000s hip-hop. Rising to glory through his collaboration with Lil B ‘The BasedGod,’ his production work on the latter’s classic album 6 Kiss—and most notably, the track “I’m God”—instantly launched both artists on a steady path to becoming the household names in popular music that they are today. The unlikely pairing of Lil B’s absurdist sensibilities with Clams’s dense yet toned-down approach to hip-hop production was indeed a tasteful contrast that turned heads, with Clams moving on to produce a myriad of independent and pop artists, including (but in no way limited to) A$AP Mob, Lana Del Rey, Main Attraktionz, The Weeknd and Mac Miller. The duo’s sound has clearly influenced the makeup of the current wave of emo’d up, Internet-influenced rap (iLoveMakonnen, The Weeknd, and Lil Uzi Vert, to name a few examples), and Clams’s “half-monk-half-hitman” take on producing hip-hop has noticeably rubbed off on emerging hip-hop production since.

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Album Art for 32 Levels

The Instrumental Mixtapes 1-3 showcased the range of Clams Casino’s production endeavors in his career to date, and were indicative of both his flexibility as a producer and his ability to seamlessly balance on the tightrope between genres. His major label studio debut 32 Levels, however, crafts the signature Clams Casino musical atmosphere into a cohesive album rather than another collection of songs. Opening track “Level 1” is a clear nod to the iconic Lil B tracks of old, beginning with an overemphasized “yessssss” from none other than the BasedGod himself that proceeds to explode into the familiar Clams melancholia, with sub-bass contrasted with lush ambient noise textures and piercing snare hits that don’t distract from the overall beauty and emotional strength of the track (for those familiar with Clams’ previous work, this track feels like a beam of light striking through the clouds…you know the feeling I’m talking about). The familiar vibe extends into followup track “Be Somebody,” which brings together former adversaries/frequent Clams collaborators Lil B & A$AP Rocky, who exchange sharp verses overtop a positively gladiatorial Clams beatone that stands out as an album highlight. “All Night,” which features OFWGKTA-alumni Vince Staples, is a straight-up vicious rap banger reminiscent of Staples’ single “Norf Norf.” Clams’ flavourful, lower-than-life bass-lines are in-sync with Vince’s equally-unforgiving and relentless word-flow. “Witness” is seismicthe beat is the closest to straight-up trap that Clams gets throughout the album, and the track sees Lil B undergo a transformation into something completely alien to 6 Kiss or the low-bitrate mixtape discography that he is loved and celebrated.

The second half of the album shows off Clams’ more subtle side, with “Thanks To You” and “A Breath Away” feeling sublimely gorgeous in light of the album’s more direct and forceful initial half and rap verses exchanged for vocal hooks that are just as finely crafted and integrated into the tracks’ overall vibe. “Blast” reigns in the various sound explorations throughout the album into a powerful culminating trackits Clams Casino flexing, showing off all of his combo moves before bidding farewelland it’s a perfect finish for a flawed yet strong and engaging album.

32 Levels is a big step for Clams Casino in solidifying his name in the modern production continuum, and is largely a summary of his music to date for newcomers. Those expecting a rap album may be let down by the restraint apparent in the second half of the album, but 32 Levels is about Clams Casino realizing his larger artistic vision and surveying a plethora of pop and rap contexts without wedging himself into any particular stream. Besides, if you wanna hear that bangin’  Clams, there’s always Live.Love.A$AP. and 808s & Dark Grapes II for you to throw on. (Columbia.)

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