Rap song recorded by the experimental hip hop group clipping. in 2017.
So let's talk a little about clipping. (Their preferred spelling of the name is all lower-case with a period at the end.) They formed in 2009 when producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes got together mostly to amuse themselves making remixes of mainstream hip hop songs. They upped their game in 2010 when they brought Hutson's childhood friend, a guy named Daveed Diggs, into the group. Diggs was a very talented rapper and lyricist, and they put together some very cool, excellently-reviewed albums. And things got interesting for the group when Diggs won the twin roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the insanely popular Broadway musical "Hamilton" in 2015. They were getting a lot more attention now than they did when they were merely a very well-regarded experimental hip hop band. Their next album, 2016's "Splendor and Misery," got heard by a lot more people. It was a science fiction concept album, about a futuristic slave fleeing his masters aboard a spaceship, and the album was nominated in 2017 for a Hugo Award in the "Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)" category -- the first time a musical album had received a Hugo nomination since Paul Kantner's "Blows Against the Empire" album in 1971.
Now clipping. isn't really a sci-fi band. Their previous records followed characters in modern cities, all while using, subverting, and reversing a variety of common hip hop themes. The expectation would be that they'd probably leave science fiction behind to focus on more musical experimentation. However, in 2017, they released a new record, a single, called "The Deep," which takes the form of a sci-fi short story about an underwater civilization, the Drexciyans (the name is taken from the electronic music group Drexciya, which originally wrote songs about African slaves creating their own aquatic nation), who take revenge on destructive, greedy humanity. The song's introduction provides the basic story, as a woman's electronic voice tells us:
"Our mothers were pregnant African women, thrown overboard while crossing the Atlantic Ocean on slave ships.
We were born breathing water as we did in the womb.
We built our home on the sea floor, unaware of the two-legged surface dwellers until their world came to destroy ours.
With cannons, they searched for oil beneath our cities. Their greed and recklessness forced our uprising.
Tonight, we remember."
Against an aural background of low bubbling and chiming bells, Diggs starts slow, very slow, extolling the virtues of living in the deep (so deep, so so deep), where life is slow, pleasant, peaceful. But humanity, questing for oil, blindly fires cannons at the ocean floor (with a shuddering explosion and shockwave on the soundtrack), destroying the Drexciyans' cities and disrupting life in the deep. Plotting vengeance, they begin to rise toward the surface.
And with each verse that passes, as the Drexciyans rise higher, as the light and heat increases, the beat speeds up. And Diggs can rap pretty damn fast.
And when they finally reach the surface (No deep, no more deep. Sunshiiiine), humanity is shocked and terrified by the undersea monsters. But the Drexciyans realize they share kinship with the surface dwellers. Can they bring themselves to destroy family? Perhaps they can't, but a lesson must still be taught.
They were sisters and brothers, they were the babies born up out the water
Not connected to each other
Not in knowledge of the one dropped
But they had to learn today
Y'all had one shot, let the sun burn today
Let them feel the dark even deeper today
Make a two leg a believer today
And the song ends as a massive tidal wave rises and smashes through a city.
I think the Afrofuturist elements in this song are pretty strong, though they are largely, if you will, under the surface. We're only given a specific origin for the Drexciyans during the introduction, but it's clear they still retain their African heritage and their status as victims of the global slave trade. It's equally clear that their new society is peaceful and advanced -- moreso than the civilization of the (white) surface dwellers, who have no idea they have relatives living at the bottom of the ocean and who use primitive explosives to inefficiently search for oil. The eventual conflict is decisive -- the Drexciyans have technology capable to creating powerful tsunamis, but the aquatic species is still merciful enough not to utterly destroy the land-dwellers.
clipping. received their second "Best Dramatic Presentation" Hugo nomination for "The Deep" in 2018. Listen to it here.
"Don't Underestimate the the Genius of 'The Deep' on This Year's Hugo Ballot
"Daveed Diggs Raps a Human/A.I. Love Story in Hugo-Nominated Hip-Hop Space Opera"