Last week marked the 10 year anniversary of the release of “Instrumentals”, the debut mixtape from New Jersey electronic producer Michael Volpe, A.K.A Clams Casino. The mixtape acted as a collection of previous beats and reworks of tracks he had produced for rappers such as Soulja Boy and notably Lil B. Clams Casino was famously instrumental to much of Lil B’s trademarked ethereal production and behind many iconic tracks like the Imogen Heap sampled “I’m God” or “Cold War” that appears on “Instrumentals”. Few names in hip hop or electronic music can come close to the level of influence and pioneering that Clams Casino brought with him on his debut. “Instrumentals” goes behind so much more than hip hop production, it remains a landmark in modern electronic music where we saw the hip hop producer take a more active role in diverse composition and expression. It may not be that bold to say that the early sounds of Clams’ Cloud Rap sounds inspired much of the progression of emotional influence we see in hip hop today.
In the early 2010’s Clams Casino was one of the most famous pioneers in the “Cloud Rap” genre, a style of hip hop production that incorporated haunting samples, icy reverb, and melodramatic moods mixed with trap instrumentals. The sounds that would later be adopted by the likes of Lil B, A$AP Rocky, SpaceGhostPurrp, and countless others were largely started by Clams’ sounds. On “Instrumentals” we saw a level of emotion and sincerity never seen before in a purely instrumental hip hop album. Songs like “All I Need” are tender and dynamic – combining soft vocal samples with deep, distorted lowend that creates a profoundly emotive song. On “Realist Alive”, Clams takes a sample from Adele’s song “Hometown Glory” and flips it to a film soundtrack worthy composition. Again we hear distorted bass like a blown out speaker combined with thick, massive walls of vocals and strings caked in reverb to create weightless bliss. Not just playing into ethereal hip hop beats, the mixtape also features notable inspiration from other electronic genres like the dub and garage sounds from “Brainwash by London”.
Since the release of his debut mixtape, Clams Casino has become a household name in the hip hop and electronic worlds and has collaborated with an incredibly diverse pool of artists. With recent credits from the likes of Joji, Vince Staples, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, and even Lana Del Rey, Michael Volpe has come a long way from his Cloud Rap origins. 10 years ago the blending of the electronic and hip hop genres had gone through many different phases, some would say truly blossoming from Kanye West’s magnum “808s & Heartbreak.” Although the Cloud Rap trend went and came fairly quickly, the impact it had on producers and artists alike was monumental. Today we see combinations of different genres in hip hop more frequently than ever, ones that are evermore pushing into the dark and emotional reaches that Clams showed in his beats 10 years ago.