Release Date: Nov 30, 2018
Record label: Columbia
S omewhere in our photo libraries is a snap unready for the moment of its internment. The image may be blurred, out of focus, or overexposed. Whatever the imprecision is, its presence, born of a rush, calls for memory’s counsel. We fill in what the camera couldn’t possibly know, and we toggle our understanding until at ease with the frame of things.
Always the standout lyricist from the hyper-stimulated teenage days of the Odd Future crew, Earl Sweatshirt also underwent the most interesting artistic evolution as he transitioned from outlandish MF Doom-modeled flows to darker, more inward-looking work. Fans expecting the intricate, rapid-fire flows and surrealistic wordplay that shone on early collective works and first album Doris were met with the comparatively subdued moodiness of 2015's I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, a largely self-produced affair that felt dark and restless. Third album Some Rap Songs takes yet another sharp turn, abandoning everything previously explored and starting over in an opaque, dreamlike world.
If the title of Earl Sweatshirt's long-awaited third studio album feels like he's underselling it, it's because he is. He's intentionally reducing the magnitude of an offering from one of the most lauded artists of the decade from a grand gesture to a gift with no wrapping. The rapper born Thebe Kgositsile's worst enemy is--and has always been--our collective expectations and the entitlement that comes along with them.
"make it brief son, half short and twice strong" The first thing you notice is the stuttering beats, tailormade to be etched on vinyl and looped to eternity. I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside was made to sound like it was falling apart, decaying beats barely keeping time with even Earl's most soporific flows, but Some Rap Songs is superbly summed up by the man himself as "kind of a hissing thing" - a companion album where the music blows the cobwebs from the corners and creakily starts pulling itself back together, kick by beat by snare. Accordingly, Earl takes steps to acknowledge the world outside of his room, tentative as they are - "stuck in Trumpland watching subtlety decaying [.
When Odd Future ascended to fame, Earl Sweatshirt was thousands of mile away in a therapeutic academy in Samoa -- doing the exact opposite of "kill people, burn shit, fuck school." Since returning to the public eye, he's embraced the persona of a recluse through a handful of releases. On Some Rap Songs, his follow up to 2015's I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, he's experimenting with more conceptual ways to express his sadness. With its esoteric lo-fi production and imperfect style, Some Rap Songs is easily one of the year's most intriguing projects.
Don't be fooled by the title - the rapper's third album is dense, experimental and deeply fascinating Where is Earl Sweatshirt? It's a question that fans and admirers of the supremely-gifted rapper have found themselves asking ever since he introduced himself at the age of 16 with 'EARL', his incendiary, shocking yet precocious mixtape. In a tale that now seems like a lifetime ago (2010, to be exact), Earl - AKA Thebe Kgositsile - was subsequently packed off to a reform school in Samoa after his mother became concerned by his behaviour, the rise of Odd Future and, most tellingly, his razor-tongued lyricism. Earl returned from Samoa to find Odd Future at their zenith and a baying mass of fans – who'd devoured his every rap and screamed "Free Earl!" until their lungs were sore – clamouring for his talents, having bought into the myth of Earl Sweatshirt that had been propagated by his Polynesian 'incarceration'.
In an age where streaming reigns as the superior mode for music listening, hip-hop albums have become much longer and lacking genuine emotion. In fact, 2018 alone saw the genre's most anticipated projects, like A$AP Rocky's TESTING, Drake's Scorpion, and Migos' Culture II--fall short of lofty expectations. With critics deeming the aforementioned records either bloated or even forgettable due to their grueling length, one thing remains clear--sometimes, less is actually more.
The Lowdown: Everyone knows Los Angeles-based rapper and producer Earl Sweatshirt doesn’t shy away from shedding light on personal issues in his music — especially those that center around family. His last studio album, 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, as its title suggests, featured the rapper born Thebe Kgositsile in both an introspective and depressing state. Since then, Sweatshirt has suffered additional personal losses, including the death of his father in 2018.
Even though Tyler, The Creator is the acknowledged creator and leader of the extended Odd Future family, Earl Sweatshirt has risen in stature and popularity over the last five years to the point he could stand with Tyler on equal footing. Articles about Earl gush with praise to an effusive degree. He routinely earns accolades like "critically acclaimed" and "hip-hop's future" alongside descriptors like "mind bending" and "introverted but innovative.