If you’ve spent time cruising around the music blogosphere in the last year or so, you’ve probably become acquainted with the fact that Clams Casino no longer solely stands for a recipe that requires bacon and cheese. Ascendant 24-year-old Mike Volpe—better known by his culinarily inspired pseudonym, Clams Casino—has struck a chord with listeners through only a few dozen tracks, a series of immediately recognizable productions scattered across mixtapes, albums, YouTube pages, and tweets, forming both a succinct canon and a pillar of the cloud rap subgenre.
This list is a primer on 10 of Clams’ most defining, quality beats during his rise from YouTube mainstay to paid major label remixer and beyond—a point of entry for new listeners and a review of some highlights for those already familiar. Here is our list of 10 Best Clams Casinos Beats.
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A soaring, warm instrumental included on the Adult Swim Soundtrack 2011, “Wizard” blends the busyness and depth of sound typical of Clams’ beats with an array of synths ready made for dance pop or an old West Coast Hip Hop banger. In the hands of Clams Casino, all sounds become part of a highly emotive stew, poking their nose out of the mix every once in a while to evoke a new response in the listener. While “Wizard” is not as sonically stunning or experimental as some of Clams’ other works, it highlights some of the qualities that have set the young producer apart from his contemporaries.
9. “Always Have a Choice” (Havoc)
Producing for Mobb Deep’s Havoc, Clams provided a more straightforwardly cinematic vision with “Always Have a Choice,” marrying rich strings with a pitched up vocal sample. On “Choice,” Clams proves his skill set to be a versatile one, capable of creating evocative sound beds without melding sounds into unrecognizable configurations. Even though it doesn’t rank among Clams’ otherworldly predictions, “Choice” still manages to sound right at home along the rest of the producer’s works, an atmospheric arrangement anchored by insistent drums.
8. “Swervin'” Remix (XV)
Clams’ remix to XV’s “Swervin” form 2011 puts the producer’s powers on display in a more reserved setting, showing how well he can function when his sound is pared back. The beat is an unmistakable Clams Casino production, from the gauzy melody to the crack of the snares. Clams doesn’t clutter “Swervin” with too many elements and his restraint pays off in sections where the percussion drops out, leaving the lush and layered echoes of the melody, rife with musical sounds and otherworldy reverberations.
7. “Brainwash by London” (Jealous Guys)
Minimal Clams. On the menacing post-jerk sounds of “Brainwash by London,” Clams mines dark synth bass and buzzing synths for a driving backdrop fitting as a standalone or for rapping (as originally intended). But, simple low end goodness would be too easy for Clams; at 1:30 he brings in a heart-stopping shout sample, working it into the beat as a rhythmic element, showing his ability to take sounds both musical and non-musical and bend them to his will.
6. “Bass” (ASAP Rocky)
Ah, the cleverness of Clams. You’re unlikely to decipher it, but “Bass” reconfigures the same Imogen Heap sample that forms the foundation of “I’m God,” one of Clams most recognizable productions. On “Bass,” Heap’s ethereal vocals are contorted into a dark, airy sequence of swirling, wordless vocals and set against what else but booming, warm bass. While “Bass” stands on its own as a strong production, it
5. “Realist Alive” (Lil B)
Opening with the sound of birds before transitioning quickly into one of Clams’ casually explosive openings, “Realist Alive” sees all the elements of Clams’ formula on fine display: disjointed, distant vocal sample that is as hopeful as it is haunting, enveloping bass, and snapping snares. Most importantly, “Realist” strikes at amorphous emotional chords that evoke something, no matter what that thing may be for a given listener–an ambiguity magnified by the vocal sample that occasionally coheres long enough for the words “we must hold on” to become audible. Some of the highest praise that can be levied at Clams’ music is that it places feeling at a premium over everything else.
4. “I’m God” (Lil B)
The beat that introduced many YouTube listeners to Clams’ signature style and signature sample—the recognizable-but-just-worked-over-enough Imogen Heap sample that has formed the basis of, by his own admission, four beats. “I’m God,” certainly a spectacular and singular beat in its own right, as clear and definitive a statement of purpose and aesthetic as any other, receives high placement on the list largely for its significance in the emerging (and increasingly e-mythologized) Clams Casino canon.
3. “Palace” (ASAP Rocky)
If we want to talk about feelings: here’s what happens when Clams feels like Zeus. “Palace,” as its name implies, is a massive production that pushes the cloud rap aesthetic to unusually anthemic heights. With its abyssal bass and incessant choir, “Palace” feels simultaneously ascendant and rooted in the depths of the earth—a contradictory reading that seems perfectly at home in the Clams Casino universe, where distorted 808s and heavenly vocal samples share equal weight in transporting listeners to new worlds. And, of course, the drums snap.
“Gorilla” plums the darkest depths of Clams’ style, pushing listeners to a jungle unlikely to exist on this planet or any mankind will visit in this lifetime without the assistance of DMT. Though “Gorilla” does not stray far from Clams’ steady course, its combination of sounds–the guttural cries that burst the beat open, the fractured, low pitched vocal, accompanied by fragments of unearthly instruments, its warm, visceral bass–and hypnotic back and forth structure build to a massive climax, one of the most satisfying moments in the young producer’s catalog. Again, the trick of “Gorilla” is evocation, creating a landscape through dynamics and sounds, leading the listener to places either deep within the mind, beyond the galaxy, or both. Like #1 on this list, “Gorilla” provides a mystical listening experience.
1. “Motivation” (Lil B)
The be all end all, “Motivation” marries Clams’ murky vocal samples, bone-rattling bass, and sharp snares in a propulsive stew that encapsulates the intrigue of the young producer’s work: simultaneously familiar and utterly unknown, using tools we’ve heard to take us to far off, barely existent lands. “Motivation” is the shimmering light side of the coin to “Gorilla’s” haunted uncertainty, a lush, blissful journey. A lot of words can be wasted trying to capture the quality of Clams’ production; with a song like “Motivation,” the best directive is to simply listen. A strong argument for Clams Casino as instrumental artist (even though it originally appeared as a backdrop for Lil B).