Illustration by Nico Orgain
Earl Sweatshirt’s music has always revolved around depression, anxiety, frustration, and death, through the tone of the lyrics and many of the instrumentals. This was epitomized by his last release I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside (IDLSIDGO). It has been more than three years since we last heard an album from rapper/producer Earl Sweatshirt, which is not altogether surprising considering that he often points to his career and earnings as exacerbating his social issues. On IDLSIDGO he addresses this by saying, “My family problems shrunk and widen with the bumps in my personal finance.” It would appear that letting up the pedal on his career wouldn’t hurt. The pedal was put to the floor when Earl broke onto the scene as part of Odd Future in the early 2010s, when he was only 16 years old. He stood out on his first mixtape, Earl, for his super tight rhyme schemes and vivid lyricism. His content was often scummy, seedy and full of harsh sarcasm, which was heightened by his ability to be so graphic. His style expressed an influence from the rapper and producer MF DOOM through his tendency to rhyme every word in a bar with every word in the next, crafting bizarre punchlines built on obscure references. He had a dark sense of humor, comparable to early Eminem, mostly focusing on gore, violence and sexual frustration.
That was eight years ago though, and since then Earl’s style and sound has been under constant construction. It’s apparent in each new showcase how little he seems attached to any one style. He’s gradually grown apart from his MF DOOM sound as rhymes have become less central and his Eminem influence has faded as his music shifted focus. This has been replaced by less rhyme density but often harder hitting lines more closely tied to Earl’s personal struggles and those of the people around him. He seems to be moving away from dramatic and inflammatory lyrics and towards more honest and personal ones.
In IDLSIDGO, many of the lyrical bells and whistles heard on his early work have disappeared, the production is darker, heavier, and more low-fi, and Earl seems to be rapping closer to home, opening up his personal wounds to the world.
After a three year hiatus, Earl released Some Rap Songs. The 15 song album only spans 25 minutes with just two songs breaking two minutes. It seems to appeal to no audience in particular. The atmosphere of the album is cluttered, disorienting and murky. This is caused by both the glitchy, sample-based production and the recording of Earl’s voice which fades, stutters, and crackles intermittently.Much of the teenage angst has faded from his lyrics, and he is more often found in a reflective and resigned mood. The instrumentals often threaten to drown out and swallow Earl’s voice completely. This is well matched with the lyrics. In “The Mint,” Earl raps: “Bumping shoulders with the devil in disguise / Shoulder-level water on the rise” and the sound matches with it’s suffocating air. This is a general theme throughout the album, with only a few songs standing out with clearer vocals and more upbeat tones. The clever wordplay has not disappeared from Earl’s songs, but he ensures that each double entendre still serves a purpose beyond being impressive. With lyrics like “Momma say don’t play with them scabs / It’s safe to say I see the reason I’m bleeding out / I need you now / Closed lips make the mouth breathers frown,” the album shows cleverly flipped phrases and highlights Earl’s hesitance towards fairweather friends. The same themes of frustration and depression are apparent on Some Rap Songs, but Earl’s approach has changed from being confrontational to being more abstract. He talks about no longer being able to run from his problems, and taking responsibility for his own issues with substance abuse.
By the end of the album, on “Peanut,” after a dedication to his mother and recently dead estranged father, he seems to be failing against addiction, losing his father, and still seeking his family’s approval. Earl’s voice is drowned out more than ever by the melancholy piano and heavy static. The final track, “Riot,” seems to be the brightest spot on the album, and it’s jubilance leaves contrasting messages surrounding Earl’s happiness. Some Rap Songs may seem low on song structure or monotone at times, but being so unconventional benefits it as a whole, and it proves to be Earl’s most mature significant album yet.