Photo Via: Pitchfork

After four years in absence, Earl Sweatshirt released Some Rap Songs. This album name lives up to its intention, an underrepresented yet exclusive look to Earl’s situations in the past and current moments. This album focuses on lamenting his father’s death, ”hitting listeners with anxious mess all at once,” reinforcing prevalent mental health and dabbling casual vulnerabilities in his personal and fame life. Although Earl’s (MF Doom-inspired) flow stays stagnant for the most part, the production and lyricism are what complete the raw tracklist that emanates potent emotions.

Some Rap Songs is introspective, yet pays homage to mostly his parents. Rather than giving credit to his cult fan base, Earl raps about his absence and how he’s realized “he is a product of his parents,” rather than only being the product of his friends and fans. His cult fan-base is considerably demanding, to the point where Earl asks them to stop asking about his album because his father died.

Earl was one of the transversal influences on why people associate themselves supreme and Odd Future (the eleven member-ed rap group). Earl’s legacy begins in a culmination of the following:

“There were eleven members, and dozens more affiliated skateboarders and scenesters; the group had a homemade Web page where fans could download their homemade albums for free, as well as a photography blog, Golf Wang (it’s a spoonerism), and a constellation of Twitter accounts.”

From 2007 to 2015, Earl has released Doris in 2013 and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. These two albums didn’t place him into a certain category. They cut him his own lane. While 2016-2018 was the year of xans, codeine, mumble rap, Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton, and fashion integrated skateboarding, Earl’s retracted to his mysterious absence, releasing Some Rap Songs on November 30th, 2018. And in the span of 4 years in absence, Lil Peep and Mac Miller have died, XXXTentacion has started and ended his career, Tay K was charged with murder, and Kanye West turned into a ranting meme. In the chaos, Earl still stands out from the crowd: He’s real, and ironically tangible. He’s always “seemed to view success as both a cause for celebration and a burden.

Earl seemingly utilizes his stardom as an outlet for his suffering. It both influences other artists and heals his listeners.

The New Yorker defined the album in the following image:

“On this record, he has a more complex loss to sort through: the death of his father, the South African poet and activist Keorapetse Kgositsile, from whom he was estranged. Kgositsile died in January, shortly before Earl was meant to reunite with him in South Africa. The gravity of this unfinished business left Earl in a state of pronounced introspection. “Not getting to have that moment left me to figure out a lot with my damn self,” he wrote in a press release when announcing the new record”

Photo Via: Pitchfork

Throughout the album, an eclectic choice of songs is seamlessly sampled.

A dose of nostalgia is found in Nowhere2go, where Earl raps about redefining himself, his trust issues with drugs, and using drugs as an outlet for pain. The production is muffled and distorted like “imprecise words.” The song leaves an incomplete, unfinished feeling, reflecting on possibly how Earl wants to set up the feel of the album.

The Mint carries a similar theme, sampling “Rococo Rondo by The Ghostwriters. The wonky dark production parallels the period of intermission Earl experienced for four years. The Bends transitions next, “My niggas came a long way from the Dickies and dirty JanSports,” a nostalgic bar to the syncopated beat. Earl’s clique is present in his flow, accompanied by a sample from After Loving You by Linda Clifford.

Mental Illness is the next prevalent theme in Some Rap Songs, starting off with Red Water sampled with Solace by Earl Sweatshirt. The background crying vocal loops over and over, nodding to Earl’s feeling of imprisonment found in Solace.

Yeah, I know I’m a king, stock on my shoulder, I was sinkin’” alludes to Earl’s anxiety and depression coinciding together to formulate another underrepresented and lo-fi song. ”Gotta keep it brief” but Earl is the type to simplify things so he took 8 bars and looped it three times, the same way someone who suffers from OCD would overthink things over and over and over.

Cold Summers is the next track that rings in your head, a feeling of levity while drowning. Road Man (Mystic) by Mighty Flames is sampled here as Earl “discuss a variety of topics varying from substance abuse to home robberies.” Cold Summer juxtaposes a feeling of cold distance with hot wrath.

December 24 lines up after Nowhere2go, accompanied with an eerie, flat-toned piano melody. “Bad acid did damage to my mental” explains where Earl’s been mentally, and why he’s experienced hell and back. His reality is distorted to the next track Ontheway!, a fluffy track that samples Trust In Me Baby by Soul Superiors. The uplifting chords in the production contrast dark December 24. Genius mentions: ”Earl tackles the issues of losing hope, motivation, and his sense of safety. Mental health, specifically his personal struggles with anxiety and depression.” The song slows down towards the end at 1:20, after an interrupted “On the way with the-.”

Azucar, Spanish for sugar, produces a sweet-stringed production, with contrasting lyrics of suicide. Girl Blue by The Main Ingredient is sampled here. A sprinkle of positivity is still existent: ”To dodge Satan, say to kill him this time, oy vey.” Veins revolves around the same theme of mental illness that prevents Earl from finding peace. Yet he wants to persevere like blood flowing through a vein.  

Earl tackles personal issues in Some Rap Songs with Shattered Dreams. Earl sticks to the brash flow while leaving interpretation up to the listener.

He uses double entendres “Mask off, mask on, we trick-or-treatin’ / ”cease and desist to your thieves.” Earl is still confident he leads the rap game. Shattered Dreams is more of an introspective rant about the world from personal trust issues to vapid rappers while emphasizing how he keeps his clique small This song has a repetitive loop bass with a vocal sample from Shattered Dreams by The Endeavors. A darker version with a haunting piano riff exists in Loosie.

Eclipse is an introspective speech on what’s happened when he’s been gone. Earl in a dark place, but he wants to be a positive influence. His mental illness keeps him back, as he’s suffered from detachment from his father. “Playing Possum,” features a sample from his mother’s speech about him with his father intervening between phrases, reading his poem: “Anguish Longer Than Sorrow.” Eclipse is beautiful and axiomatic.

Peanut transitions next, and is arguably the most depressing song on the album. The instrumental is distorted and earl is fading away. He is depressed, broken, and vexed with the sudden death of his father. He can barely form his words as the next track Riot! says a lot with only the instrumental.

Photo Via: Pitchfork

In the saturated hip hop industry, Earl still accomplishes breaking the spotlight. He’s patiently relieved some parts of his suffering by creating a psychedelic kaleidoscope. It’s apparent “bad acid did damage to [his] mental” because the album seems brief, abstract, yet emotional. He manages to produce an objectively unpleasant sounding album, that seems to be put together on a whim. However, he leaves enough brevity for the listener to relate to him in some way.

Earl, with his Aphex Twin inspired album cover, continues to pave the way for a new wave of generational artists. Although not necessarily inspired by Earl, artists like Rico Nasty and JPEGMAFIA are able to shift rap’s “murky in-between” forward.

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Eric Lee
ericjhdlee@gmail.com

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