New Jersey producer Clams Casino has been in the rap game for a minute now. One of the pinoeers of the cloud rap subgenre, he’s had a hand in many of the best work the gnere has to offer, producing songs for the likes of Lil B, A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller. However, he’s also a solo musician, releasing his first beat mixtape and EP in 2011. Now, 5 years later, the 29-year-old is back with his first proper album 32 Levels, an otherworldy-yet-pop-tinged record that showcases Casino’s skill behind the boards.
The album starts off with “Level 1,” which highlights Casino’s cloud rap prodigiousness. With distant female chanting, spacey, sputtering drums, and vocals from Based God Lil B, the track really sets the mood for what’s to come, which is exactly what Casino intended. The cloud rap doesn’t end there, as the very next track has Casino linking up with A$AP Rocky and the aforementioned Lil B with “Be Somebody.” The bombastic, ominous song has the two rappers spitting their usual braggadocious bars, but Casino never gets outshined; his haunting beat will be stuck in your head long after the rappers stop rapping. “Skull” and “Blast” are two instrumentals that will definitely have you wanting to light up and drift off into another world. This is Casino’s biggest strength; his aptitude for putting the listener into an atmospheric high; it’s not called cloud rap for nothing.
While Casino can certainly produce some dreamy hip hop, he can also make pop-flavored tracks as well, which he showcases in the middle of the album. “Into the Fire” Mikky Ekko still contains elements of Casino’s signature style; however, coupled with Ekko’s fantastic vocal performance, the track burns (pun intended) with relatable passion about the dedication of love. “Back To You” starts off upbeat and has alternative band Wet singer Kelly Zutrau crooning over the man she can’t forget, before ending in a familiar distorted haze. On single “A Breath Away,” Casino recruits electronic singer Kelela for an irresistable, ambitious pop song describing how close a couple is to perfect bliss. “We are a breath away from heaven/If we just face this together,” Kelela softly sings before the chorus erupts into a euphoric climax.
“All Nite” is the only straight up rap song but it doesn’t disappoint. Recorded around the same time Casino was working on guest MC Vince Staple’s Summertime ’06, the latter goes in over a bouncy beat filled with his signature gang-fueled bars. “Heard they really wanna gun me down/Good luck with that/Stil gon’ slide in the same ride ’round my town/Still got that MAC,” Staples cackles.
The iTunes edition of the record not only includes the 12 songs, but also each songs instrumentals, staying true to Casino’s producing background. However, some songs that received vocals probably should’ve stayed instrumentals, most notably the title track, where guest Lil B delivers a lackluster performance. Nonetheless, 32 Levels is a fine, albeit inconsistent, debut that highlights everything we’ve come to know Clams Casino for. Unlike the darkish music he makes, the future looks bright for this producing pioneer.