On his third studio album Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt once again shows us all how massive his sleeves are. He manages to wear his deepest, darkest emotional trauma, his most avant-garde influences and his full personality on them; creating a rap album that could well pioneer a new wave of conscious experimental hip-hop.
It wouldn’t be terribly out of place for me to suggest that Earl Sweatshirt is one of the most underrated rappers of the new generation, offering consistent flows and dark subject matter over moody beats with mysterious jazz samples. His previous release, 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside was a deeply personal listen which gave us a more mature insight into the struggle of Earl’s mindset; it gained rave reviews and a follow-up has been eagerly anticipated for quite some time.
After a disastrously heartbreaking past 12 months for Earl, which included the passing of his father, Earl is back with Some Rap Songs, an intriguingly titled project with utterly hilarious cover art. The singles released prior to the album (Nowhere2go and The Mint) suggested that this wouldn’t be an ordinary rap project, instead daring to venture elsewhere in the good name of experimentation.
An immediate point to notice is that the album contains 15 songs but manages to have a runtime of less than 25 minutes; the constant flow and switch-up of the album makes it a polarising listen and one which could’ve fallen flat. Well, guess what guys? It absolutely did not fall, it soared elegantly to victory. Short, snappy, important tracks with trippy production and understated vocal deliveries; this album isn’t afraid to boast about its influences.
It is clear to see that Earl is as inspired by jazz moguls as he is hip-hop icons on here; his palette varies from the slick, soothing melodies of Curtis Mayfield to the brash, punchy rap vibes of MF DOOM. Speaking of DOOM, listening to Some Rap Songs gave me one stunning revelation. Earl Sweatshirt may well have just created the millennial answer to Madvillainy, MF DOOM and Madlib’s incredible 2004 collaborative effort; the similarities are poignant, from the flow of the album to the atmosphere and the choppy sampling style.
The album’s haunting opener Shattered Dreams looks at the journey of Earl’s mind from his musical hiatus in 2016 to his resurgence this year, using introspection and imprecise wording to highlight the lowest of his lows. He then follows this with perhaps the strongest run of the album in the form of Red Water all the way through to The Bends, boasting some of the finest rap displays of his career while keeping the theme of the album fully in his thought process.
Despite being short in length and somewhat sparse in obvious bars, there are some of Earl’s strongest songs ever on this album. The dystopian battery of Peanut is some of the darkest but most enlightening lyricism of his career, while December 24 offers up some ice cold flows over a typically atmospheric beat; reminiscent of Meat Grinder from the aforementioned Madvillainy. As well as this is the absolutely stunning instrumental track Riot! to close the album out, sampling a South African jazz song of the same title; composed by a friend of Earl’s late father.
The standout, raw and open moment of emotion is on Playing Possum, a song which credits Earl’s mother and father as features. Earl’s mother Cheryl Harris thanks her family for their strength and guidance over the years, praising her son for his “growth and insights” while his late father Keorapetse Kgositsile reciting his poem Anguish Longer Than Sorrow. This was initially going to be released as a surprise to his parents but what makes this so powerful and special now is that Keorapetse never got to hear the album; his passing meant he would never witness the gesture of his son.
What becomes most impressive to me when taking a step back and reviewing it is the consistency throughout. It is neither too compact nor too diverse, it is the correct amount of experimental sounds without becoming off-putting, he is lyrically as personal as it gets with each point he makes growing more and more in depth. This is undoubtedly his strongest effort to date and puts him well amongst the most influential and important rap artists of the modern era. Welcome back Thebe, you have no idea how much we have missed you.