Mojave Desert Mystery Deepens with Clutchy Hopkins' New Ubiquity Release 'Walking Backwards'
By David Downs
Easter arrives early for hip-hop heads across the world this week, only this bunny has a beard and he's bringing coveted vinyl records to true believers.
On Tuesday, February 5, Costa Mesa, CA. music label Ubiquity Records released less than 10,000 CDs and vinyl records of Walking Backwards, the second, album-length recording by Southern California mystery artist Clutchy Hopkins. Prominent music bloggers at Idolator, Gorilla Vs. Bear and Okayplayer conjecture Hopkins is either DJ Shadow, Madlib, Cut Chemist, or the Beastie Boys, but no one, not even his own label, really knows who Clutchy is. The only concrete evidence of his existence is an expanding music discography to be filed under: jazz, soul, funk, instrumental hip hop, and what Ubiquity calls “raw busted bluesy beats.”
The myth of Clutchy Hopkins, outlined on his Mypace page (of all places) begins decades ago when the multi-instrumental musical Gypsy traveled the world investigating consciousness and its relation to music. Hopkins' unverified biography states he studied with Zen monks, yoga masters, and Nigerian freedom fighters as well as 20th-century jazz, funk, and avant musicians. He is thought to have returned to the Mojave Desert outside Los Angeles to finish out his life living in an underground cave.
Last April, popular music blog Idolator.com posted a story headlined “Bearded Man Emerges From Cave, Releases Album” featuring positive reviews of the 2007 independent release The Life of Clutchy Hopkins. More positive reviews soon poured in from the Roots' drummer ?uestlove's web site and label Okayplayer, popular music blog Gorilla Vs. Bear, and influential Los Angeles vinyl store Turntable Labs. Relatives of Hopkins had allegedly released the work, as well as Hopkins sister projects People's Market in 2005 and MF Doom Meets Clutchy Hopkins in 2006.
2008's Walking Backwards picks up where 2007's The Life ... left off -- evoking a bygone era of authenticity through a gritty, analog sensibility. You don't hear industrial drum machines, Pro Tools plug ins, or super-bright, punchy mastering on this record.
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The largely instrumental album sounds like b-sides from Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, cut with Portishead, David Axelrod, and Italian spaghetti westerns. Hopkins represents an analog rebuttal to our digital era, says a member of Clutchy's circle.
(FYI: My contacts in the desert set up an anonymous interview, Sunday, January 20, wherein I received a phone call I traced to the 760 area code. I heard babies crying and music playing. A male voice declined identification, but had inside knowledge that proved he helped release Hopkins' music.)
"Walking Backwards emphasizes what's been lost in music," said the source. "Music has become sterile. People are making music with their eyes, instead of their ears and their feelings. A lot of music software uses such visual programming, it turns your music into something visual. It's a wave file that you can cut. You have all these non-linear editing options at your fingertips. Why walk over to the drums and hit the snare when you can click a drum roll and EQ [digitally manipulate] the shit out of it and make it sound like a tight snare? You can hit one little high hat and make it sound like an upright bass. It's just ridiculous.”
Instead, Walking Backwards lusciously orchestrates real strings, guitar, piano, organ, electric piano, synths, flutes, and melodica. Dope beats evoke the work of the RZA, or Madlib's "Yesterday's New Quintet", and the raw drums crackle with immediacy. The moody album evokes dark, smokey rooms humming with vintage grooves inspired by old records from swap meet dollar bins. Initially underwhelming, Hopkins' style infects the brain. Long after dismissal, a subtle craving emerges for a particularly funky bassline, or a stripped-down, hypnotic melodica progression. The style complements weed-smoking, dinner parties, study sessions, intimate moments, or just lounging around. The album should do really well, and that might be Clutchy's biggest problem.
Ubiquity PR head Andrew says the nine-person, 17 year-old label has entered exciting, yet frustrating times. Major magazines want exclusive articles, but the little label's promoter has to turn down such dream opportunities. “You usually jump on interviews and get the person out there,” he said. “I can't offer them that. There are no Clutchy Hopkins shows. I have to allow the music to speak for itself.”
Clutchy's camp emphasizes that reality. “Just listen and maybe the truth behind it won't be as important once you're shaking your ass to the breaks," he says. He equates Clutchy to childhood totems like the Easter Bunny or the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. Believing helps creates the reward.
“If you believe in something, it's real. And if you believe in Clutchy, he'll bring you dope beats.”
Jervis adds that he has a message for Clutchy, since the hermit doesn't join in on any marketing conference calls.
“Clutchy, if you're out there, if you're reading this, 'Thanks, man.' We're honored to be able to put this out.”