Review Summary: Little songs in the dark
Earl Sweatshirt is the greatest rapper of his generation. You're likely thinking I led with that just to get your attention – with all due respect, the hyperbole is the point. Earl's music rejects the empirical, the hypebeast, the consensus favourite and the reviewer-approved. Earl's music glorifies the intensely personal, the warped-by-subjective-feeling, the memory which informs the flash-flood of emotion informed by my own history
that accompanies a line like, say, "I got my grandmamma's hands, I start to cry when I see 'em".
So when I talk about Earl Sweatshirt taking hip-hop and turning it inside out, understand I'm not just talking about the actual sounds he makes in his songs. That's important, of course, but it's been said before and more eloquently how I Don't Like Shit...
moulded itself around transmission-like beats in gently decaying loops, or how Some Rap Songs
rejected the maximalism and spectacle of the genre entirely for the small and shockingly intimate. But what I really mean is that Earl makes music for the furtive, glancing moment of self-examination in a whirlwind of anxiety. There are of course other rappers making minimalist, short, lo-fi rap music; Earl is the first one I found who could deliver a strange little song in the dark that sounded like it was made just for me.
Yeah, whatever, so I hear sheer brilliance in a minute-long loop where someone else hears mumbling over what YouTube would poetically dub a 'Spongebob-ass pirate beat'. Of course the presence of an interesting style does not, in and of itself, guarantee quality. The blunted-out "4N" or Alchemist-lite "MTOMB" feel like throwaways, not inherently interesting enough to justify the experiment. But for each of these is a moment like "OD", where Earl's ever-calm monotone threatens to spin out of control for the first time as he frankly reassesses his life since "Chum"; or "74", where the man spits bar after bar in that locked-in flow you wish could just go on forever, like Vince on "Norf Norf"; or "TISK TISK / COOKIES", where his ever-growing talent for flipping a sample pairs with a psychedelic edge a la Madlib. The only real thing separating this from Some Rap Songs
is the lack of duration and inter-song flow; Earl's last album deserved those slightly silly Abbey Road
nods as much as Jeff Rosenstock's WORRY.
did, whereas FEET OF CLAY
plays as self-contained little musings that seem to flutter in and out as a radio channel changes. It's hard to look up after these 15 minutes have passed and feel like you've been taken on any sort of journey or along any narrative. Then again, I don't know why that would be a surprise. We should know by now Earl favours little slices of life so cutting, or horrifying, or even funny that they leave a permanent scar – he doesn't believe in stories, lessons or morals any more than you or I do.