Over the past few years there has been a real surge of beatmakers and emcees who have taken the DIY approach like so many before them, but in a bid to be different they have contributed to some of the most interesting hip-hop we’ve heard for a long time. We owe a lot to the use of the internet and social media sites, which allow the artists to promote and create a platform for their music where other mediums fail to do so. One artist that typifies this phenomenon probably more than anyone else is Lil B, whose use of Twitter and YouTube has created a seemingly unstoppable force, yet without the talent it would not have been maintained from both his side and that of his selected producers. On some of the most important Lil B records there has been one name sat next to the production credits continually: the name of Mike Volpe, who is better known under his moniker Clams Casino. The young producer from New Jersey confirmed what many had suspected with the release of his “Instrumentals” mixtape back in March of this year, as it firmly planted Volpe as one of the best producers in contemporary hip-hop. The release inadvertently alerted everyone who previously had been oblivious to his biggest productions, such as Lil B’s “I’m God”, Soulja Boy’s “All I Need” and Main Attrakionz’ “Illest Alive”, to the talents of Volpe and allowed them to experience the incredibly moving and deep productions it possessed, or as Clams describes his productions; emotional, relaxing, uplifting, atmospheric and phat – five adjectives that all hit the mark more than any other.
Stream: Clams Casino – I’m God
“I’m good, I was having some major technical difficulties in my studio so the beats were on hold for a few weeks. I’m finally back in business now,” says Volpe when we ask how he’s doing as he has a few busy months ahead of him – a few months that will probably spent without collaborators in the studio. Interestingly, when it comes to his production process he prefers to work alone without the emcee in the studio, but even though the collaborative connection seems to be closed the beats sound undeniably tailored to the suitor but without a doubt they still remain recognisable as Clams Casino beat. “I’m used to working alone. It’s what I’ve always done, and I guess being alone with the music for so long and focusing on only that, instead of another artist, contributes to the sound as well. I’m quite happy with what I make so it’s probably the best way for me to work, but I would love to try to get in the studio with artists eventually to see what would happen.” Pinnacle of that wish list of collaborators is none other than the mercurial “Killa Cam” Cam’ron, a man of many expertises but first and foremost founder of Dipset groundwork The Diplomats. “He was always my favourite, or one of my top favorite rappers growing up, and I feel like he would just go so hard on some of my beats. ”
The end of June sees the release of Clams’ debut EP “Rainforest” out on the Tri Angle imprint. The record hosts a collection of tracks that chart landscapes within Volpe’s mind, all evoking the imagery of the new and unexplored. “The project I wanted to put out seemed to be such a perfect match with everything else they’ve been putting out previously, which is why I chose Tri Angle over the other labels that wanted to put out my debut. I was really surprised by how well I felt my music fit in with the other Tri Angle artists,” Mike says. “I haven’t heard everything from their back catalogue yet. I’m still going through all of it, but I got turned on to so much amazing music that I had no idea about already. I love Balam Acab, How To Dress Well, Holy Other, and that new track by Water Borders is crazy too.”
Stream: Clams Casino – Gorilla
Although the EP takes a step forward in terms of solo work, we wondered is this setting a precedent for future releases. “I’m working on beats for emcees still and I’m concentrating on my personal material at the moment. I want to be able to stay in both lanes, behind the scenes producing for other artists but also be able to put my own projects out as an ‘artist’ myself.” But whatever happens there will always be one emcee that will always be tied back to Clams and that’s Lil’ B, which is funny considering the ease with which their working relationship continues. “I always randomly send out some beats his way, there’s really no structure to it. Sometimes I won’t send him anything for a few weeks, on other times I’ll send him 14 within a day, haha.”
Considering that Mike samples mostly from the “indie” scene and transforms them into legitimate elements of his music, it’s interesting to know how similar it relates to how his influences operate. “Before I started producing I was really into Swizz Beatz. He had such a unique and distinct style and loved and respected how he could use such cheesy sounds and make awesome beats. When I was growing up I listened to hip-hop mostly. I love The Diplomats, The Pack, G-unit, Lil Wayne. Some other examples of records I never get tired of: Motorcycle ‘As The Rush Comes’ (Sweeping Strings Remix) and Sebadoh’s ‘Spoiled’.”
One of the most interesting of Clams’ collaborators and one that comes together time and time again is that of Squadda B, “1/2 Of Best Duo Ever” Main Attrakionz, Oakland natives. With an album planned for the near future we asked how the whole process started. “I sent a beat to Deezy D who I was working with a lot at the time, and Squadda hopped on it. The track is called “New York Swag”. I heard Squadda’s verse and I was wondered who he was so I traced him down on MySpace, hit him up and we’ve been working together ever since.” Clams has got a couple of commendable months lined up release-wise, but at the moment he hasn’t revealed much yet as the main focus is on his aforementioned first solo EP. “I’m excited for that! I’ll eventually do a full length feature down the line, but who knows what’s next? Everything is happening so fast at the moment. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I want to do music as a full-time thing right now, it’s more of a hobby at the moment, although it eventually could turn into a full-time thing. We’ll see.” When asked if he would be taking his craft to the live arena he explained,“I’ll be DJing and doing some shows soon, too. I’ve been getting a lot of requests since my mixtape came out.” It’s apparent that Volpe is taking each adventure as it comes, with no strict plan of action. It’s that haphazard approach that endears him to us. The spontaneity of releases, whether thrown out to his fans on twitter or well orchestrated releases, all build on the excitement that already surrounds him. Whatever comes after the EP, we really cannot wait.