Clutchy Hopkins is old-school hip-hop. Really old-school.
Clutchy Hopkins is old-school hip-hop. Really old-school.
Courtesy Ubiquity Records

Who the Hell Is Clutchy Hopkins? The mystery of a Mojave Desert beat savant

No one, not even his own label, really knows who Clutchy Hopkins is.

The myth of Clutchy Hopkins, outlined on his MySpace 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-garde musicians. He is thought to have returned to the Mojave Desert to finish out his life in an underground cave.

Last week, Costa Mesa's Ubiquity Records released Walking Backwards, the second album by this enigmatic hip-hop producer. Prominent music bloggers at Idolator, Gorilla Vs. Bear and Okayplayer conjecture Hopkins is either DJ Shadow, Madlib, Cut Chemist or the Beastie Boys. However, the only concrete evidence of Hopkins' existence is an expanding catalog of great music to be filed under "jazz, soul, funk, instrumental hip-hop" and what Ubiquity calls "raw busted bluesy beats."

In April, Idolator 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 website and label Okayplayer, Gorilla Vs. Bear, and influential LA 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.

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 or rampant digital manipulation from ProTools plug-ins or super-bright, punchy mastering on this record. The largely instrumental album sounds like B-sides from Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, cut with Portishead, David Axelrod and Italian spaghetti-western scores. The music is almost a sonic rebuttal of our digital era, says a member of Clutchy's circle.

My contacts in the desert set up an anonymous interview in January, wherein I received a phone call I traced to the 760 area code, which covers Bishop, Ridgecrest, Indio, Barstow, El Centro, Palm Springs and Southeastern California. I heard babies crying and music playing. A male voice declined identification but had inside knowledge that proved he helped to release Hopkins' music.

"Walking Backwards emphasizes what's been lost in music," says 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 .wav file that you can cut. You have all these nonlinear 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."

An anthem for the analog underground, Walking Backwards features luscious orchestrations, real strings, guitar, piano, organ, electric piano, synths, flutes and melodica. Dope beats evoke the work of the RZA or Madlib's Yesterdays New Quintet project, and the raw drums crackle with immediacy. The moody album conjures dark, smokey rooms humming with vintage grooves inspired by old records found in Inland Empire swap-meet dollar bins. Initially underwhelming, Hopkins' style gradually infects the brain. Long after the disc fades out, listeners will find themselves craving a particularly funky bass line 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 well, and that might be Clutchy's biggest problem.

Ubiquity PR head Andrew Meza says the nine-person, 17-year-old label has entered exciting yet frustrating times with the Clutchy album. Major magazines want exclusive articles, but the indie label's promoter has to turn down such dream opportunities. "You usually jump on interviews and get the person out there," he says. "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," the source says. He explains that Clutchy works like childhood totems similar to the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus, where believing creates the reward. "If you believe in something, it's real. If you believe in Clutchy, he'll bring you beats."

Meza adds that he has a message for Clutchy, since the hermit ain't sitting 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."

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