Review Summary: "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 [...] been a minute since I heard applause", returning always to his mature and measured perspective. You're not sure at first that the album will cohere - "Red Water" is just a short verse repeated four times after all, like I know the album's called Some Rap Songs
but where are the goddamn songs
– but that's when you hit "Nowhere2go". Every loop reveals another layer to the undulating beat, but for the first time thus far it's Earl taking the spotlight, rising above the track with a tired yet hopeful rap that's so melodic he's nearly singing. And in case you were worried the boy wouldn't spit, it's followed quickly by "December 24", a song dating back years under the name "Bad Acid" which provides the strongest link to the more aggressive and conventional early 2010s Earl. Just as you're beginning to suspect there's a bigger purpose to the sequencing, one which refuses to ease the listener in with the more accessible tracks in favour of dropping you right in the deep end, "The Mint" enters as a confident and effortless bop which changes the game entirely. Highlight after highlight jostles for attention in Some Rap Songs
' breathtaking second half, each song entirely unique and rarely needing more than a minute to end. "The Bends"' manic Atrocity Exhibition
-style sample warp might be the best example of the half-short-twice-strong mentality, while "Loosie" is a spiritual sequel to the freestyle "Off Top" which replaces the Liquid Swords
-quoting beat with a contorted keyboard jam. Detractors might call Some Rap Songs
unfinished-sounding or simplistic, pointing to the 15 tracks that barely eclipse the length of Kanye's 7-track Wyoming albums earlier this year. But Earl is a formalist who knows exactly when he's done making his point, a skill that puts him above most contemporaries just as firmly as his lyrical talents.
Those who've been paying attention know well by now that Earl Sweatshirt is technically gifted, a poet's son in every sense, and he's far from concerned with proving that once again this time around - the album even opens warning you of imprecise words
to come. That's because as an imagistic rapper, Sweatshirt is easily one of the best alive, but the pictures he paints aren't the vivid blood-soaked crime tales of inspirations like GZA nor the joke-heavy punchline vehicles of Tyler or Rocky. For example "early morning wash my swollen hands" is already an iconic Earl line; it calls to mind a static, one-shot idea that can haunt your thoughts all day, in the vein of truly wrenching shit like "I got my grandmamma's hands, I start to cry when I see 'em". Lines that aren't written so much as carved onto interior walls that can't fade.
Even though the first 13 songs were recorded before the event, Keorapetse Kgositsile's death hangs heavily over the album – this is music intended to reconcile with a father who would never hear a note of it, a fact that inevitably colours every second of its runtime. Like on "Playing Possum", where the easy choice would have been to bookend the song with the speech by Earl's mother and the poetry of his father, consigning them to polar opposite ends. Instead the two overlap, cutting across distance and time with an editing trick as simple as changing a radio station, one which magnificently conjures up a childhood of watching two human beings at cross purposes, "distracted and inconsistent in [their] attention", unable to properly communicate. It even sounds like the song cuts back and forth between the different sets of crowds clapping, a minute touch that's, to me, more heartbreaking than anything Earl says across the album. All this in little over a minute without the man needing to rap a word. That's a weapon that's deployed a lot here, especially given that the album scrapes under 25 minutes long and most of the last 5 are instrumental. Even then, "Peanut" is horrifying not because of the lyrics, but a viscerally uncomfortable beat like traumatic memories scraping together in the dark. "Riot!" couldn't be more of an opposite, a peaceful, sunny, near-jaunty
credits roll that recalls what "Enjoy Right Now, Today!" might sound like through Earl's hyper-focused musical framework. That's until you realise the calming guitar lick is a sample of Earl's uncle Hugh Masekela, who departed the world just a few weeks after Earl's own father - a nightmarish one-two punch that colours Some Rap Songs
' most hopeful moment with the taste of ashes.
In the Vulture interview Earl talked about completion, noting the challenge he set himself with the beats: "to write something complete to a loop, I feel like it takes a lot." But I think it took more than he had this time around. This is not a satisfying, gratifying or complete piece of music – hell, if the concerts are any indication, Some Rap Songs
is less than half of the new music Earl Sweatshirt has sitting in his vaults. But it wouldn't be complete even at double the length, or replete with "Hive" and "Grief"-style bangers, because there's a void at the centre of this album by design, one that a more contented and measured surface cannot disguise. And if that sounds like a massive bummer, good grief, where did you think you were?