Undefined Collective

Album Review

Earl Sweatshirt

Some Rap Songs

3.5

Brian Pope

December 19, 2018

Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Since its formation, Earl Sweatshirt has always been Odd Future’s most brooding member. From his nihilistic rabblerousing jeers on his eponymous EARL record to his recent trudging slice of isolation I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside, it’s been evident throughout Earl’s career that his art is an embodiment of the ties that bind him. And with his new album Some Rap Songs, he seems to be taking the farthest dive yet, trading in moody, dark instrumentals to paint a picture of immersive warped loops that plunge the listeners straight down the rabbit hole of Earl Sweatshirt’s depression.
The beats on this album are instantly notable for their warbled and dusty sound, often incorporating vintage Afrocentric soul and disco samples to achieve a dreary, nostalgic effect. The 1970 Endeavors sample on “Shattered Dreams” pairs uplifting vocals with a downtrodden guitar lick, bearing the same bipolar sentiment as Earl’s lyrics of being depressed but simultaneously comfortable with deluding himself into thinking things are fine. “Veins” finds a clip of Billy Jones serenading the listener as Earl flows with deadpan delivery underneath. Even film referencing the era of soul can be gleaned, as producer Black Noi$e cleverly samples the absurdist blaxploitation romp Black Dynamite on the syrupy cut “The Mint” with rapper Navy Blue. And the way these samples coalesce not only evokes that antique vinyl sound but does a nice job of matching the themes and emotions of loneliness, sadness and insecurity that Earl addresses in the music.

“And the way these samples coalesce not only evokes that antique vinyl sound but does a nice job of matching the themes and emotions of loneliness, sadness and insecurity that Earl addresses in the music.”

Unfortunately, where the production excels at offering that feeling of vestige, Earl’s presence isn’t always a capitalization on that ideal. The kaleidoscopic warped-vinyl instrumental of “Nowhere2go” clashes annoyingly with Earl’s leaned out and steadily timed delivery, while the lyrics seem to bounce from addressing his paranoia to his addictions without a discernible pattern of thought. The Linda Clifford sample overpowers Earl’s despondent vocal on “The Bends” in a really unfashionable way despite smartly worded lyrics about enduring trying times with his friends at his back (Keep faith, brother man/They stable full of sheep, we on the lam). With all the fractured marriages on the album, the instrumental closer “Riot!” is actually one of the best moments, with this groovy bass line and swinging drum rhythm backing a cushy guitar slide and wilting horn section. The song proceeds with a lot of grace, and even a hint of triumph that ends the project on a high note after the dark themes the album presents.
But it isn’t all bad, in fact for the most part the amalgam of the simplistic loops, defeated raps, and fleeting song lengths work to the artist’s benefit. “Ontheway!” has this irresistible playful instrumental that finds Earl and art rap compadre Standing On The Corner bouncing back and forth with some fun call and response. One also has to marvel at the vibrancy of the beat on “Azucar” that seems to cut in and out like a distant memory as Earl reminisces over his depression and coping mechanisms over the last year (Hands on like a goalie with the puck, don’t need any luck/See the ghost of where I was, lonesome as I was). The west coast rapper’s delivery runs parallel to the lilting instrumental and vivid lyrics; it’s dismal, yet hopeful. “Veins” takes a similar approach, diving into some of the darkest and most gripping lyricism seen across the whole album (When it’s time to put my burnt body in a case/Tell my mama I said thank you). It’s one of several moments of clarity on the album where Earl gets the chance to look back at his tangled past not in anger, but with a feeling of gratitude towards the hard work his mother put in to not only help him survive but also get him to where he is today.
But where the melding of these buoyant instrumentals and flat raps excels, some of the biggest pitfalls on the record come from the unfocused approaches to a lot of these seemingly thematic songs. “Cold Summers” is built upon this idea that Earl has been sleepwalking through life because of his addictions, and yet we’re met across the track length with bigged up vocals and brags about toting and selling drugs with his friends. Earl’s bouts with drug addiction and isolation are a running theme across the album, but when meshed with his miscreant activities with his friends and delivered with such conviction, some of that relatability and empathy is lost. The listener is also left scratching their heads from “The Bends,” a track built on the analysis of Earl’s success, but one that doesn’t present the inherent negatives that come along with it that he refers to. Lyrics like “For real, I feel like the landlord/my n***** came a long way from the Dickies and dirty JanSports” clash with a lot of the ideals on the album of lacking self-esteem and feeling detached. This bipolarity runs rampant across the album, and along with the disheveled track sequencing presents the album as indecisive and meandering without a true beginning and end.
Perhaps that is the point, though, because in presenting an album that is as profound as it is half-baked, this album finds itself lonely and wandering almost to the point of depicting Earl himself. Depression isn’t a top-down force that one is always conscious of, but rather a lens through which the victim experiences all things, a color-blindness of its own. When Earl raps about hanging with his boys or feeling like he’s made it, each line drips with a sense of vulnerability that is complemented by the destitute production. In that respect, this is a venerable release for its ability to evoke Earl’s bipolarity in feeling the need to feel himself to avoid plummeting further into his depression. While it makes for an intriguing listen and a convincing character study, the lack of variation specifically combined with the concise songs and monotonous vocals still prevent the album from being a truly amazing listen from front to back. This isn’t an album most will find themselves returning to for years to come.
Some Rap Songs is certainly a formidable attempt at aurally recreating a lot of the demons that Earl has been fighting with for the better part of his life. The evanescent song structures and psychedelic lo-fi instrumentals, undoubtedly in debt to the likes of New York peers MIKE and Standing on The Corner, for the most part do an exceptional job of portraying the mental instability and depressive state that much of the album wallows in. It would be addressing the elephant in the room to mention the consistent MF DOOM, and specifically on this album Madvillain, influence with the monotone, buttery flows and distorted beats. However, this album along with its clear homages remains directionless and unclear in its intent past a portrayal of Earl’s mental state, and as opposed to Madvillainy this compilation of songs sacrifices listenability and memorability by being so linearly structured and instrumentally identic. It’s a strong foundational effort, but hopes are high for the next installment to see if the LA rapper can figure out a smoother algorithm to work these moving parts into something that becomes much more than just some rap songs.

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