The most captivating album of his career.
“I’m at your house like/ ‘Why you got your couch on my Chucks?’/ Motherfucker!” were the last words most of us heard from Earl Sweatshirt. After the abyssal hip-hop of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, it was whiplash to hear Earl bury Danny Brown, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar with the type of swaggering, dangerous bravado he hadn’t tapped into since his early Odd Future days.
That left Thebe Kgositsile in a strange space. His full-length debut, Doris, was the darkest major label rap record of the decade, and I Don’t Like Shit was Orpheus without the harp, following the music deeper and deeper down into termination. So where the hell was he going to go? Turns out his stunning, out of nowhere EP Solace was the best reference point. Some Rap Songs has continued the path promised by Doris and I Don’t Like Shit, but with weirder results, murkier than Earl’s ever been, and possibly better than ever too.
Some Rap Songs is nearly a misnomer. Clocking in at a trim 25 minutes, the album’s longest song doesn’t break three minutes. Most tracks come and go in about 60 seconds, making for an off-kilter feel. Mixed with the sequencing that seems paced to create wooziness, the album feels like one long song, a stream-of-consciousness jumping between beats and topics, but always returning to Earl’s dark center.
For the first few songs, it’s hard to even focus on his voice. His musty bass has only lowered over the years, hacking up tar and nightmares. Opener “Shattered Dreams” begins with a sample whispering “imprecise words,” and Earl takes it as a command, his relaxed flow more of an instrument than a lyrical device. “Please, nobody pinch me out this dream” he slurs, sounding half-awake. It takes until he’s three tracks deep for his voice to thump to the front on the surreal “Cold Summers,” bounding over an acid-washed piano sample and Earl promising to “keep a noose hanging off of my neck.”
If Doris was paranoia and I Don’t Like Shit was hate, Some Rap Songs has finally found Earl so jaded that he’s fallen into ambivalence. “Mama said she used to see my father in me/ Said I was not offended,” might have been a revelation elsewhere, but here it’s delivered with a shrug. Earl’s family has always been foundational to his work, but in an amorphous, background sense. Doris was named after his Grandmother, and Some Rap Songs had a meeting with Earl’s long absent father, famed South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, looming during production. Earl’s dad passed before they could talk, and now his ghost floats through at will, giving the beats the willies and disturbing Earl’s dreams.
The senior Kgositsile shows up in the flesh on “Playing Possum” along with Earl’s mother Cheryl Harris. Kgositsile reads his poetry with unnerving passion, while Harris presents a long list of folks she’s thankful for in a steady but near-tired tone. It’s like Earl feels the need to show off the DNA that lead him to his dead-eyed delivery. It’s a powerful moment, with Earl not saying a word as Harris and Kgositsile weave in and out of each other.
The only other time Earl is silent is on closer “Riot!.” There, summery guitars and a joyous, faded-out horn sample rush in like sunrise, an absolute shock of light out of the gloom. But even then, there’s sadness injected. The horns come from Earl’s uncle, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. He passed away early this year, another haunting for Earl to add to the swirl of grief. It’s impossible to say where Earl is mentally after Some Rap Songs. This was obviously a document of catharsis and exploration, diving into his own artistic and troubled genetics. But musically, he’s created the most captivating album of his career. Not angry, not sad, not asking why your couch on his Chucks, just living in the ambivalence and excelling in the limbo.