Clams Casino (a/k/a New Jersey’s Michael Volpe) dropped his first album, 32 Levels, earlier this year, featuring the likes of A$AP Rocky, Lil B, Kelela, Vice Staples, and Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring. It’s some of his best work yet, since he’s hardly a rookie — his production discography is full of gems. So ahead of his show with Lil B and the Keyboard Kid at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square on Thursday, we take a look back at his most memorable pre–32 Levels production credits.
10. Blood Orange – “No Right Thing” from Cupid Deluxe (2013)
The staccato guitar strums, loose acoustic percussion, and Dave Longstreth’s (Dirty Projectors) croon dance along a pulsing bassline in this track from Dev Hynes’s second Blood Orange album. It doesn’t really sound like anything else in the Clams Casino discography, which makes sense — Mr. Casino contributed production, but Hynes is the maestro here.
9. Havoc – “Always Have A Choice” from The H Is Back (2009)
Mobb Deep’s place in the hip-hop canon is secure, but Havoc and Prodigy have had mixed results on their own. This Hav solo joint from 2009 features an early-career Clams on production, with dramatic strings swirling over a basic 4/4 beat, and an alien baby vocal on the hook. It’s an aesthetic he would refine later on, but this track still fits well with the rest of the Mobb Deep oeuvre, which leans heavily on dramatic strings and piano to create their eerie Queens gangsta vibe.
8. Mac Miller – “Angels (When She Shuts Her Eyes)” from Macadelic (2012)
An early peak for Clammy Clams, this Mac Miller joint goes back to back with the next track on our list on his second Instrumental mixtape. It fits better there than on Macadelic, the Mac tape on which it first appeared — the rapid fake-hi-hat rhythms, syncopated bass beats, and a vocal sample stretched out over a few extra notes make it easily identifiable as a Clams Casino track.
7. A$AP Rocky – “Leaf” from Live.Love.A$AP (2011)
One of the producer’s early champions, Rocky had no qualms about getting as many Clams Casino tracks on his debut as possible — five of its sixteen tracks carry CC production credits. He’s a great fit for Rocky, who reps Harlem but has a sound free of any shared regional sonic tendencies or characteristics. Most Clams Casino tracks are heavy on the atmosphere, and this one is as dark as any of them.
6. The Weeknd – “The Fall” from Echoes of Silence (2011)
Another artist who shares that darkness is Abel Tesfaye, a/k/a the Weeknd. His Echoes of Silence mixtape is the last of three he put out in 2011 — by that point, he was no longer anonymous and had started branching out to work with new producers. This leaned-out track sounds quite different from the production on House of Balloons and Thursday, with pseudo-industrial samples and almost no negative space in the mix with Tesfaye’s Auto-Tune soul. The track is built in layers, slowly but surely; the beat doesn’t wholly come together until almost three minutes in, and when it does…damn.
5. Danny Brown – “Worth It” from Adult Swim Singles Program 2015 (2015)
This track opens up without much percussion, giving Brown ample room to set the pace with his unique nasal flow before the beat actually drops. Brown’s voice is heavy in the mix, but the funky bassline and synthetic bells ring loud and clear. One of our favorite things about Clams Casino productions are they way they give rappers an atypical platform atop which to rhyme; minus the standard song structures, rocking a Clammy Clams beat requires some creativity, and here, Brown is up to the task.
4. Big Pun – “Leatherface (Clams Casino Remix)” (2012)
Because of his death in 2000, early in a tragically short career, Big Pun gave us precious few verses. His second LP, the posthumous Yeeeah Baby, is often tough to listen to, with flashes of his brilliance and rare moments of honest hope. This Clams Casino remix of “Leatherface” dropped more than a decade after the original’s release but pays homage to both the rapper and period — it legitimately sounds like it could have been a B side on the single. He changes up the pace to match Pun’s flow a little more directly, and swaps out the original’s mean electric guitar with a choral sample and brighter tones. Impressively, it sounds more like a Big Pun track than one from Clams.
3. Vince Staples – “Norf Norf” from Summertime ’06 (2015)
You could probably put together a formidable all-star team from the MCs with whom Clams Casino collaborates most frequently, and if you did, Vince Staples would be in the starting five. This Summertime ’06 single remains one of Staples’s most popular songs; built on a basic boom-bap and what sounds like a tortured-whale conference call, it’s peppered with auxiliary percussion throughout. It’s one of the best examples of a Clams Casino solo production that masters negative space, giving Staples room to breathe and lay down some of his most memorable verses to date: Just ask this white lady.
2. FKA twigs – “Hours” from LP1 (2014)
One of the more stunning pieces of music with the Clams name attached to it, this track from FKA twigs’ debut LP is another group effort. He shares credit here with his boy Dev Hynes, as well as Buffalo, New York’s Emile Haynie and the Venezuelan producer Arca. It’s impossible to distinguish individual contributions here, but you can hear echoes of all of them; the punctuating synth sample that almost sounds like a vocal, the texture of the rumbling bassline, the airy atmosphere and reverb. We like to think of producers as auteurs, sitting alone in a dark room cooking up magic, but tracks like this are evidence that collaborations often surpass the sum of their parts.
1. Lil B – “I’m God” from 6 Kiss (2009)
If you were a little slow to catch onto Clams Casino because his star initially rose in tandem with Lil B’s, you’re forgiven — B is certainly an acquired taste. It’s a testament to the beauty of this Clams Casino production that it managed to pique the interest of people who don’t worship the Based God, but if you buy into the spiritual cult that is Lil B, this track is essentially its gospel. The vocal sample is at once choral and angelic, and if you can ignore Lil B talking about wet vaginas, it’s almost transportive. And if you can’t, there’s always the instrumental.