Our new track “Knees On The Ground” might benefit from an explanation. This is the most unguarded I ever intend to be when writing about Clipping.
What had happened was this: our very brief UK/Europe trip got called-off the day before we were supposed to get on a plane to London. Since we didn’t have any other plans, we met up in the studio with an idea to crank out a new track. On our list of songs to finish was one particular piece aimed directly at the club (or, at least, our twisted idea of what clubs should play). But none of us were in the mood for it. Each of us had spent the previous several days following the news of protests in Ferguson, MO. It was the only thing on our minds. We couldn’t bring ourselves to think about anything else, so we decided to direct our fear, our revulsion, our heartbreak into a new track.
The problem was that we’d defined our band — in interviews and to each other — as decidedly-not-an-activist-project. Diggs’s lyrics have been criticized for seeming apolitical, at least in comparison to what many listeners (perhaps rightly) expect to hear from an ‘experimental’ rap group. I have many times said (perhaps naïvely) that our politics lie in our structures, in our formal engagement with the rap genre. We love its conventions, its clichés, and we’re not above them. We see our participation in rap as something resembling an old punk flyer — an out-of-context collage of charged images with an fractured, contradictory, multiple point-of-view. I hope that our more dedicated listeners hear this and understand that we’re not interested in spoon-feeding them a position. At the same time, I’ve always assumed that they pretty much agree with us on most issues anyway. (We have yet to meet the misogynist, homophobic, white supremacist Clipping fan with an MBA and an NRA membership).
So what do we do when all we can think about, all we can feel, is a profound injustice — yet another young unarmed person of color is murdered by a police officer? How does a band, which overtly rejects affect and the emotions, address something that is, for its authors, a deeply felt, deeply affecting topic? Well, we don’t entirely know. But the fact is: there’s more truth in Diggs’s lyrics than we generally let on. “Inside Out” describes a drive-by shooting in Oakland, “Chain” is about three stick-ups. They are presented with a lot of detail and specificity (perhaps the result of personal experience). But at the same time, they represent archetypal scenarios within rap music. One trope we had yet to explore as Clipping was the anti-police rap — the lineage of Public Enemy, NWA and Paris, straight through The Coup, and all the way into the ‘stop snitching’ panic of the early 2000s. “Knees On The Ground” is a paradigmatic white-cop-kills-an-unarmed-black-kid-and-gets-away-with-it tale — a story that happens all the fucking time in the US. What we have learned — from our first hand experience in Oakland in 2009, and from the media coverage of Ferguson in 2014 — is that the second part of this story involves a police response better suited to a war zone than to an American city. Cops think they’re playing Call Of Duty when they’re supposed to be part of a community. If Ferguson were in Iraq, Obama would have sent in an airstrike already.
This is the least obtuse Diggs’s lyrics will ever get. We’re embarrassed by the timeliness of this track. We do not intend to capitalize on what is, undoubtedly, a terrible tragedy. But journalists make think-pieces and we make songs. Writers write what they know, and this is what we know right fucking now.
A silent protest in Love Park, downtown Philadelphia orchestrated by performance artists protesting the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The onslaught of passerby’s wanting to take photos with the statue exemplifies the disconnect in American society. Simply frame out the dead body, and it doesn’t exist.
Here are some observations by one of the artists involved in the event:
I don’t know who any of these folks are.
They were tourists I presume.
But I heard most of what everything they said. A few lines in particular stood out. There’s one guy not featured in the photos. His friends were trying to get him to join the picture but he couldn’t take his eyes off the body.
"Something about this doesn’t feel right. I’m going to sit this one out, guys." "Com’on man… he’s already dead."
There were a billion little quips I heard today. Some broke my heart. Some restored my faith in humanity. There was an older white couple who wanted to take a picture under the statue.
The older gentleman: “Why do they have to always have to shove their politics down our throats.” Older woman: “They’re black kids, honey. They don’t have anything better to do.”
One woman even stepped over the body to get her picture. But as luck would have it the wind blew the caution tape and it got tangle around her foot. She had to stop and take the tape off. She still took her photo.
There was a guy who yelled at us… “We need more dead like them. Yay for the white man!”
"One young guy just cried and then gave me a hug and said ‘thank you. It’s nice to know SOMEBODY sees me.’
"I do utterly despise dailiness as it stands. I can’t abide what the world has become, the frozen-ness of our product this evil thing that we kiss the ass of every hour. I want a dailiness that is free and beautiful."