Entry updated 12 June 2017. Tagged: Music.
US experimental hip-hop performance group, initially founded in 2009 as a remix project in which Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson paired a capella rap tracks with new beats. Joined in 2010 by the actor and rapper Daveed Diggs, most famous internationally for playing the role of Lafayette/Jefferson in the musical Hamilton (2015), the now-trio began to explore more experimental areas of performance with their albums Midcity (2013) and CLPPNG (2014), this latter named in imitation of Oulipo practises, as a work that refused to feature "I", the most common word in hip-hop culture. As demonstrated further in their EP Wriggle (2016), the group favored a profoundly experimental and minimalist concentration on a bricolage of "found" sounds, not unlike the more avant-garde exercises of Steve Reich – the track "Shooter", for example, derives its percussion from sampled sounds from fifteen different gunshots.
The group's genre influences became manifest in the Hugo-nominated SF Music concept album Splendor & Misery (2016). Released from stasis by a Computer malfunction, the slave known only as Cargo #2331 plots a new course, and struggles with loneliness in the "all black everything." The corpses of his fellow slaves lie all around him, euthanized by an emergency injection which he alone managed to avoid. Evading capture at least partly through the collusion of the shipboard AI, which has fallen for him, he searches in vain for a place to call home. Although there are some songs on the soundtrack, Splendor & Misery might be better classed as Poetry, with much of its narrative drawn from the inner thought processes of its lead, as he comes to hear a strange music in the clanks and whirrs of his vessel, and spits out a constant monologue in apparent hommage to the works of the Last Poets, the antecedents of hip-hop, who flourished in the late-1960s and early-1970s ahead of the overt Afrofuturism of Funkadelic. Those songs that do arise sometimes take the form of negro spirituals or sea shanties, as in "Long Way Away", which warns a notional audience of slaves to "pray that your children do not sing this song". Clipping's interest in other works of sf are alluded to in several mid-song references, particularly in "Air 'Em Out" and "Baby Don't Sleep", which drop names from the works of Octavia Butler; the former is also presumably the first rap song to mention an Ansible. A reference to "a pocket full of stars" is surely an oblique acknowledgement of Samuel R Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984).
Although Cargo #2331 is not the first slave to rebel in sf (see Slavery), his plight is possibly the most hopeless. In true allegiance to the issues of Race in SF and History in SF to which the soundscape alludes, Cargo #2331 is not a member of the dominant elite like the fugitive hero of Silent Running (1971) nor a forgotten aristocrat like Robert A Heinlein's titular Citizen of the Galaxy (September-December 1957 Astounding; 1957). The revelation that the universe is entirely uncaring of his existence is not the ego-shattering challenge it would be to, say, the white privilege of H P Lovecraft, but a simple fact he accepts with equanimity and relief. As he directs his ship outwards towards oblivion in the Slingshot Ending, he has literally nothing to lose. [JonC]
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