In late 2016, clipping. — the Bay Area’s most beloved experimental hip-hop group fronted by a former Broadway star — released their dense, heady space hip-hopera Splendor & Misery, which took their brilliant knack for grimy storytelling and focused it into a singular narrative about interstellar travel, mankind’s obsession with enslaving the marginalized and what it means to fall in love with a robot. Y’know, classic hip-hop themes.

The album was immediately embraced by fans new and old — as a result, though, their other release from that year ended up pushed to the side. Wriggle, a six-song, 20-minute EP, lacks the punch that Splendor & Misery had, but that shouldn’t be held against it. In fact, any other year would likely have seen Wriggle met with an outburst of joy, with the group falling silent while frontperson Daveed Diggs was making waves with his double role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. The fine folks at Sub Pop must have realized this long after the fact, and now five years later, the EP is seeing a physical release with a spattering of ”bonus tracks” (read: remixes) to add an extra 20 minutes of padding to the collection.

In terms of songwriting, Wriggle is the sound of a group of creators getting their sea legs again. “Shooter” is practically a songwriting exercise turned into just about the tightest track you’ve ever heard, with Diggs dropping simple-but-charming lines like “He got drums for that ass, get fucked/ Get your face rearranged, Nip/Tuck/ Do heavy in the streets, big truck” and “No donation on computers, move on/ Clerk’s shittin’ in his drawers, skid row/ Thought shit was just a hood game, skip rope/ Shooter read the face real quick, CliffsNotes/ Kissed the shoe with the .45, mistletoe.” Just a few years on, the juxtaposition between how funny and grisly the rhymes are still hits like a brick, with Diggs slowing his speed-demon style down so that each line lands hard.

“Shooter” is the best track of the bunch, but the others are equally dynamite, like the Whitehouse-sampling title track, its adrenaline rush sample and beat coiled like a snake around its stark prostitution themes. Then there’s the absurdly filthy, Death Grips-aping “Hot Fuck No Love,” a song that’s good enough that you’ll wish it were twice as long, giving Diggs and Cakes da Killa more time to toss out imagery that is too vivid, like “Hundred years into makin’ nice, how he ain’t gon’ lick that ass?/ Oh shit, he is, take that finger out and drop it to the damn floor/ Damn, oh, damage to the dental dam/ Dentata fine, he like a lot of bite when he grind” or “Fresh palate if you really tryin’ to eat that/ Glory hole, ha, Killa really peep that/ Ribbed, feelin’ like the scene from the snapback.” One very notable change to the EP is with “Back Up,” now called “Back Up 2021,” which replaces Bay Area rapper Antwon — who was accused of sexual assault in 2018 — with fellow Deathbomb Arc player Debby Friday. This is a thoughtful act, not only because it gives time in the spotlight to someone that hasn’t been accused of sexual assault, but Friday fits into clipping.’s aesthetic better than Antwon (whose verse sounded phoned-in anyway) much in the same way that Cocc Pistol Cree did on the CLPPNG classic cut “Work Work.”

The remixes with this collection are, as with many remixes used to “expand” a work, hit-and-miss. Half of the pack are pretty good, namely the duo of remixes of “Wriggle,” each of which amp the song up into something that sounds like it could have been on The Fat of the Land without anyone blinking an eye. Then, though, there’s “Back Up (Dave Quam Remix),” which seems to miss the power of the song by about a mile. Even further down the spiral there’s “Shooter (Jana Rush’s Rearranged Face Remix),” which comes packed to the gills with disruptive samples of (I’m guessing porn actresses moaning, which is unpleasant enough that sticking with it for every other, actually good aspect of the song feels like a hassle. Is the added layer of discomfort part of the point? It’s hard to say, but you might not want to stick around long enough to examine the question.

Even five years on and released back into a vastly different world than the one it was initially birthed into, Wriggle still sounds like it did back then: it’s not really a stopgap, and it isn’t as though the gap between CLPPNG and Splendor & Misery was that long, but even its best moments lack the punch of everything on either side of it. It feels more like three friends shaking off the little bit of rust that had accumulated since they’d been gone, as well as giving themselves a chance to create a handful of small-scale stories unlinked to the high drama that would come after it. It’s not amazing, but it’s still pretty damn good — and when viewed in the larger context of the band’s career, that’s completely fine.

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