“Imprecise words,” are the first four syllables uttered by Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, better known as Earl Sweatshirt, on his new album Some Rap Songs, and just like the record’s title, it seems like an attempt to downplay the hype surrounding the LP. The rapper’s talent remains undeniable and he is as comfortable as ever in his artistic medium, but he is still uneasy with everything else that comes with it – mainly fame and all its trappings. But Earl has always been a master of layered sentiments, and the album’s first statement is one that comments directly on his relationships with others and the world at this time.
Earl lost his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile on January 3, 2018, before the two were able to reconnect. “Me and my dad had a relationship that’s not uncommon for people to have with their fathers, which is a non-perfect one, talking to him is symbolic and non-symbolic, but it’s literally closure for my childhood. Not getting to have that moment left me to figure out a lot with my damn self,” said the rapper in a statement. By all indications, the majority of Some Rap Songs was written before his father’s passing, but, nonetheless, his father’s death still looms over the record.
Earl’s father’s death followed the rapper’s earlier choice to align himself with a new set of musicians. Once the youngest shining member of Los Angeles’ Odd Future collective, Earl has found himself rubbing shoulders and collaborating with a set of new New York talents, including MIKE, Sage Elsesser (who appears as Navy Blue on ‘The Mint’), Mach-Hommy – who Earl previously produced beats for – and the frontman of Standing on the Corner Gio Escobar (who appears on ‘Ontheway!’).
Back in 2010, Earl released his eponymous first mixtape, which was produced almost exclusively by Tyler, the Creator. Then came his first proper album Doris, which found the young rapper returning from a mother-enforced hiatus to Samoa and commenting on the game and crew he left and found again once home. Next I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside found Earl digging into his own dark complexities and establishing himself outside of Odd Future. On Some Rap Songs, he is a fully fledged star – no matter how uncomfortable he is with it – and has stepped out of the term ‘prodigy.’
Coming in at just under 25 minutes in length and boasting 15 songs – with the vast majority under two minutes Some Rap Songs is anything but ‘imprecise.’ He is calculating and analytical, while still emotional, and makes that clear on track two, ‘Red Water’: “Yeah, I know I’m a king, stork on my shoulder, I was sinkin’/I ain’t know that I could leave/Papa called me chief/Gotta keep it brief/Locked and load, I can see you lyin’ through your teeth/Fingers on my soul, this is 23/Blood in the water, I was walkin’ in my sleep/Blood on my father, I forgot another dream/I was playin’ with the magic, hide blessings in my sleeve,” he repeats throughout the track’s entirety. In nine lines, Earl is able to posture, open up about his father’s death, discuss his sadness, and still deliver lines with incredible interior rhymes.
At 24, Earl has found a new level of confidence on Some Rap Songs, and is now dictating rap’s future direction. Unsurprisingly and thankfully, his moves towards the avant-garde. The record’s sound seems a step ahead and to the side of everything else happening right now. There is the return of that gospel tinge seen in Chance the Rapper and the rough edges of Kanye’s more recent efforts, but there is also a jittery-chopped essence of less mainstream producers like Knxwledge. There is a vintage hip-hop feel to the sounds that seems like it is looking back at polaroids from a trip to Rockaway, but that also calls to Earl’s Southern California roots.
The record’s overexposed sonic template seems to be a comment on both the overproduced mainstream records of the last two decades and the current generation of Soundcloud rappers. Some Rap Songs’ production isn’t cheap, but it is grainy by choice and that allows pastels to burst through at desired moments. There is beauty in the rapper/producer’s deteriorating memories.
Short songs have become a way for less-talented rappers to game the streaming count system and up their album listening numbers. That’s not what Earl is doing on his new record. Instead, he turns towards Hemingway, knowing the best lines only need a few words, or what the rapper once said himself, “Flexing is being able to say the most with the least amount of words.” Some Rap Songs is “Less, but butter.” – credit Dieter Rams.
Even while stepping in a new direction and moving the rest of the rap world with him, Earl is able to grieve. “Picking out his grave, couldn’t help but feel out of place/Bless my pops, we sent him off and not an hour late/Still in shock, it knocked my heart out somewhere on the range,” raps Earl on the penultimate track ‘Peanuts’.
Earl’s roots are important to him. Both of his parents appear on “Playing Possum” and his mother’s supportive nature is mentioned on ‘Azucar’, “I only get better with time, that’s what my mom say.”
By calling his words imprecise, Earl is commenting on his uncertainty. It’s a feeling the whole world is grappling with right now. And Earl, who is still coming to terms with the death of his father and is only just stepping into his mid-20s, is dealing with it by creating art. It’s a brave step and clearly the right one, and for that we all benefit.
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