At over six feet tall, with a shock of flyaway red hair and a septum piercing, Nicholas Mills stands out from the crowd—and that’s the idea. For the past five years, Mills has been the MC and guitar player for an experimental hip-hop group under his stage name, Redfield Clipper. Now, a seven-piece ensemble also goes by the name Redfield Clipper, with a new direction and a new album.
“It’s my middle name,” said Mills. “My name is Nicholas Redfield Clipper Mills—It’s on my license.”
The group plays a genre-bending fusion of technical modern jazz and grungy hip-hop. Mills met most of the band members through the jazz department at the University of Nevada, Reno, including bassist and co-MC Mac Esposito, drummer Greg Lewis, and Chris Sexton on keys and synth. Zac Haley supervises the band’s accompanying visuals and live digital production, Eric Johnson plays tenor sax, and a revolving door of trumpet players has most recently featured Brandon Sherman. That’s a lot of sound on one stage.
“It’s never going to be unanimous—there’s a lot of ideas that can conflict sometimes,” Mills said of the band’s decision-making process. “I’m super grateful because every single person is incredibly devoted. I couldn’t ask for people more excited about the project that they’re in.”
Redfield Clipper released an album last year, No Labels, which features eight tracks highlighting the band’s forays into free-form instrumentals and Mills’ own complex staccato rhymes. But the finished product lacked “unity,” according to Mills. This year’s Beach Master comes from a bigger budget and follows a single narrative, one about the pitfalls of hypermasculinity.
“Beach Master is an analogy to elephant seals and the way that elephant seals behave—and mate, specifically,” Mills said. “The largest male elephant seal is the only one that has sex with the other female elephant seals. I just saw that as such a simple, animalistic behavior to compare this to.”
Listening to rappers like Snoop Dogg and, specifically, his 1993 album Doggystyle, Mills saw that the hallmarks of a gangster rap persona—guns, money, power and a particular disrespect for women—can be rewarded in hip-hop culture, and that indications of tenderness or emotional strife can be masked by aggression.
“That’s like the Beach Master mentality,” Mills said. “The whole album revolves around me in the third-person kind of, as a child dealing with these influences and struggles—and sometime succumbing to them—or overcoming them and saying, ’My masculinity is different from all these social identifiers that get constructed and stuff.’”
Beach Master was recorded over 10 days by Colin Christian at Sound Saloon Studios and features guest performances by Nico Lacala of Nico’s Mystery, Chance Utter of the Batamba Collective, and local R&B singer Grace Hayes. Instead of a single release date, however, the band has something a little more ambitious in mind.
“We have three videos coming out in the next two months by Chris Reed,” Mills said. “The plan is to release a music video for every track, so we’re going to release seven videos until they’re all out, and then, after that, we’ll decide on the full album release date.”
So far they’ve recorded videos for the tracks, “2 Close,” which comments on the hesitant nature of modern dating, and “2 Tha Ladiez,” a satirical take on a traditional club banger. Stay tuned for the rest of Beach Master some time in 2017.