Some Rap Songs
Tan Cressida / Columbia Records · November 30, 2018
The brevity of the album does not diminish its quality, but instead heightens the emotional intensity and punches the listener with such curtness.
Earl Sweatshirt stands apart from others in the rap game with his unique flow, fuzzy production elements, and most interestingly, his deliberate retreat from any kind of spotlight. Most recently, Earl dropped Some Rap Songs, a very unassuming name for an album so intensely personal. It acts as a follow-up to his 2015 critically acclaimed I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. The album dropped in a hushed breath, without much hype. With only 24 minutes and 15 tracks, I didn’t expect much. However, Some Rap Songs reaches a nuanced level of hip-hop, infusing fuzzy, avant-garde production with cathartic lyrics that speak to Earl Sweatshirt’s mental illness and isolation.
An abrupt start; “Imprecise words,” said from a sample by author James Baldwin, followed by Earl’s smooth flow and a looping beat with bubbly effects weaved throughout the first song ‘Shattered Dreams’. It’s both disorienting and calming at the same time. ‘Shattered Dreams’ sets the stage for the lo-fi hip-hop sound that Earl is so famous for crafting. The rest of the album flows in and out of songs like this one, songs so short you barely know when one ends and one begins. However, each one of them holds their own in weight. ‘Loosie’, the shortest on the album at just under a minute features a distorted and looping piano, giving the song a disturbing feeling of sinking. The brevity of the album does not diminish its quality, but instead heightens the emotional intensity and punches the listener with such curtness. There’s no waiting around, no wondering when a song will end. He draws you into his space and keeps you captivated for the entire 24 minutes.
Earl draws inspiration from lo-fi hip-hop artists like MIKE and Medhane, shouting them out on the song ‘Nowehere2go,’ one of the more blatantly confessional songs on the album. Lyrics like “I think I spent most of my life depressed/ Only thing on my mind was death” are less of a poetic rap bar and more of a cathartic expression of where his mind’s been while writing this. The rest of the songs also speak to the emotional turbulence he’s struggled through over the past few years, including ‘Red Water,’ centered around the rocky relationship with his father who died earlier this year. Even further, his mother and his father were both sampled on ‘Playing Possum,’ where it featured his mother giving a ceremonial speech and his father reading his own poem “Anguish Longer Than Sorrow.” His father died before Earl got the chance to send him the album with the song in it, making the song feel more like a tragedy than a tribute.
Some Rap Songs experiments with lo-fi production, which can often sound unfinished or clunky. But Earl manages to make it an avant-garde beauty. The song ‘Peanut’ offers minimal instrumentation, with only in-and-out piano notes, but adds the element of fuzzy record player sound effects that scratch and pop to make a simplistic song feel rich with age. The album is full of lush beats and eccentric samplings, giving every song a new depth with each added sound. ‘The Bends,’ where Earl raps about his isolation in his rap group Odd Future, somehow finds a beat purely on the repetition of a sampling of a woman singing. It’s fascinating and poetic how so much understatement can elevate the album to a contemporary style unique to Earl.
Earl Sweatshirt basically tossed Some Rap Songs out to the world with barely more than a Twitter promotion. Neither the name nor the length speaks to the artistry hiding within each track. It’s a new form of hip-hop that Earl cleaned up and mastered, making him one to be respected and admired for.