ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
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, Migos’ Culture II and to an extent, Travis Scott’s Astroworld—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. It’s true, if you look at nearly every G.O.O.D music release this year, they each left a mark (some negative) with Kids See Ghosts and Daytona leaving listeners most impressed. This brings me to Earl Sweatshirt and his latest album Some Rap Songs. Yes, Earl’s latest enlists a heaping 15 tracks. However, all but two, clock in over two minutes in length, Unlike the broad expanses of I Don’t Like Shit, I don’t Go Outside or Doris, the California rap phenom challenges himself with the tall task of capitalizing on just 25 minutes of brief, claustrophobic confines. So does Earl manage the brevity? Well, yes. Though Some Rap Songs may come across as a collection of underdeveloped vignettes of previously covered subject matter, further and deeper listening showcases an economical poet at his most striking self. Earl’s bout with mental illness is well-documented at this point. Though I Don’t Like Shit… takes listeners to the dark depths of the rapper’s tortured psyche, brooding reflections are somehow intensified and made more haunting this time around. Brought on by the passing of his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Some Rap Songs sees a more profound and imminent Earl rendering depression as an opportunity—proving that sometimes, the most affecting art is birthed from tragedy and mourning. “Family saw you on that stage, left it not amazed,” raps Earl on “Peanut,” which was one of two tracks recorded after his father’s passing. He continues, “Flushin' through the pain, depression, this is not a phase, ayy/Picking out his grave, couldn't help but feel out of place.” Here, Earl’s words are most eerie and coy as he digs into his shattered mental state in light of his father’s death. With family in mind, Earl disillusion regarding the tragedy is palpable. With vague, but stirring mentions of him trying to reckon with his father post-death, listeners are struck by the haunting inclusion of “Playing Possum.” Sampling spoken word from his mother, Cheryl Harris and of course, his father, it’s worth noting that this interlude was written before Kgositsile’s passing. In fact, “Playing Possum” was intended as a surprise and homage to his parents despite their fractured history. Nevertheless, the track’s posthumous nature adds extra weight behind the album’s narrative.
Sure, call Some Rap Songs pretentious if you will—but what it lacks in trap-influenced hi-hats, triplets flows and braggadocious bros, makes up lost ground with the sophistication of words, subversive phrases, bars and the overall sentiment of pain left unkempt. Delivering quotable one-liners one after another, Earl’s voice is shrouded in brokenness, clouded with a drug-addled daze and oozing with a depressive haze. With his voice lacking the slight, venomous demeanor of before, Earl abandons his once-malignant delivery for a flow that is both slow, monotone and at times—grating. If it was not for the 25-minute duration, Earl’s invariant flow would have left Some Rap Songs feeling a bit too monotonous, bland and buried in the doldrums. Needless to say, the short run time allows listeners to yearn for more. While Earl’s words paint vivid pictures few rappers are capable of creating, the immersively depressive world Earl curates is—as masochistic this may sound—one that you want to sit with and within longer. But for what its worth, the young rapper wise beyond his years, leaves a more profound impression within half of an hour than most artists manage with an hour worth. One can literally write an essay on the level of dexterity, complexity and overall craftsmanship of Some Rap Songs, but in honor of an album that revels in succinctness, its time for this review to come to a close. Some Rap Songs is not a casual record—it isn’t one to bump in your car, neither is it one to “enjoy” per se. Depression, a shared yet unique experience—is a topic to empathize with—and for Earl, it’s a festering reality—one he has finally been able to channel into his art most intricate and affecting. Though Some Rap Songs, breathes hints of uncertainty and even futility, one thing is for certain, Earl Sweatshirt has stopped running from his pain, finally realizing the power of his struggle and the light he can shed as a result.
THE 405 RATING: 7.5/8