Review: Earl Sweatshirt – ‘Some Rap Songs’

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Earl is bitterly back with Some Rap Songs. On his last album, I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside, Earl flowed effortlessly poetic verses over sharp beat choices, laying out the darkness of life in a way that maybe only Faces could match. The combination resulted in one of the best records of the decade. In many ways Some Rap Songs is an extension of that; in other ways it’s an evolution.

After being off the stage for a bit and suffering the death of his father and friend Mac Miller, Earl is still here. Throughout the record he’s letting you know where he’s been in the interim: crouching in the shadows, holding it together. “Why ain’t nobody tell me I was bleedin’? / Please, nobody pinch me out this dream.” The album deals with the loss of his father, mental health, drug use, anxieties and death. Earl does not paint a sunny picture of life, (even his celebrity life), and it’s a feeling many can relate to in 2018 especially. “But I’m buggin, I’ve been spending more money than I’m making / Stuck in Trump Land, watching subtlety decayin.”

The album employs a large amount of bouncing samples blurred together in dark smokey textures. “Yeah, I think I spent most of my life depressed /Only thing on my mind was death.” The beats are less sharp than on the last record, things have melted a bit. We’re left never quite sure where one sample begins and the other ends, like drips of paint intersecting in a puddle of water.

Some Rap Songs is a challenging album in the same way that Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition is a challenging album (it’s no surprise to see Danny tweet that it’s his AOTY). Its lyrically dense, but structurally amorphous. This isn’t hype music, it’s thinking music. It stands as a new testament; building off the teachings of rap’s golden era and establishing itself as an alternative to the golden calf of pop hiphop. This is not a record that’ll get a FortNite dance move.

The record is an exploration into the outer reaches of the rap genre and what ‘rapping to the beat’ really means. Earl flows on and off, or sometimes in between 2 beats as the samples warp together. There aren’t singles, as is now typical for Earl, and there are barely refrains let alone hooks. Instead, we’re treated with flawless verses of poetry unfolding ever forward. The highest level of the artform. In his own way, Earl makes it known that his is the superior avenue, more Nas than Drake. “I heard you got your sauce at the Enterprise / Evidently, it was rented but it’s mine. Evidently, it was written like Nas”.

Every line on this album begs to be relistened and investigated. It rewards listeners who take the time to ponder every choice, meaning, and feeling. The treasure is worth the expedition. Within the verses, you’ll find empathetic understanding from someone’s who’s been through that shit. “It’s been a minute since I heard applause. / Sittin’ on a star, thinking how I’m not a star. / I can’t call it, dog. Sometimes I feel like I wanna call it off.

Toward its conclusion, the album includes a sample of his father’s poem about the suffering of refugee children including the haunting line “Consider the premature daily death of their dreams.” A thought provoking and touching tribute, but even this moment is not delivered directly, it is played intertwined with a clip of his mother thanking her family and friends in a way that neither is fully able to be understood on first listen. Again, Earl is beckoning listeners to investigate: to read the lyrics and google things, to ponder the meaning of the song, of life.

The album concludes with warm chords, horns, and the sunniest sample heard on the entire record, but then just as you’d expect Earl’s voice to hop in, the records distorts, and then there’s nothing. It ends.  “The wind get the ashes in the end, bro.” Glad Earl’s back and not holding back.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Henderson Cole // @HendoSlice

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