"The mind is so complex when you're based. Thirty-two levels. Welcome to my world." When rapper Lil B uttered those words on his 2009 track "I'm God," he couldn't have known that the song; its producer Michael Volpe, a.k.a. Clams Casino; and the dreamy sound of the "cloud rap" subgenre it spawned would influence hip-hop, R&B and even pop music in the 2010s.
Nearly seven years after the release of that seminal song, Lil B has gone from internet phenomenon to cultural icon and curser of basketball players — a character who has transcended his own music. Clams Casino, on the other hand, has gone from bedroom producer to professional musician, lending the experimental production style he developed in a Nutley, N.J., basement to artists like A$AP Rocky, The Weeknd, Blood Orange, FKA Twigs and Vince Staples.
Clams' debut album is appropriately titled 32 Levels, a nod to the song that put him on the map. The track "A Breath Away," featuring Kelela, is a testament to his growth as a musician and his ability to make a great pop song without sacrificing any of the quirks that make him an interesting electronic and hip-hop producer.
Clams' specialty is creating dramatic, minimalist instrumentals that envelop the listener in pure mood. Meanwhile, Kelela brings R&B sensibilities to electronic music, her infusion of soul leaving no room for sterility. When it comes to subject matter, her realm is the relationship (see Cut 4 Me and the Hallucinogen EP): the emotions, the intimacy, the sexuality and, very importantly, the vulnerability of lovers. In the song's verses, over Clams' murky backdrop, Kelela describes a romance on the rocks: "Why are you complaining? / Keep making a fuss / Like I said, it's built on broken trust." But just as it seems that the couple is doomed, Clams delivers a soaring synth crescendo while a hopeful Kelela sings:
A breath away from heaven
If we just face this together
We could drift away in the same boat
Chase the light in the rainbow
Hit 'em like a tornado.
The song is beautiful, relatable, repeat-play material. Thank you, Clams and Kelela – and, of course, thank you, #BasedGod.
32 Levels comes out July 15 on Columbia.