Expectations have hounded Earl Sweatshirt since the start of his career when, as the lyrical prodigy of the Odd Future crew, he was exiled to a Samoan boarding school by his mother, with fans creating the “Free Earl” movement before he’d even released his debut album. Since 2015, fans have called for the new record to drop, even as Earl was mourning the death of his estranged father earlier this year.
All of this context makes the reasoning behind his latest album title, Some Rap Songs, clear. It’s not some grand fanfare-filled return; Earl’s never been that kind of artist. Made on his own terms, it’s a stunningly disheveled, gorgeous, unforgettable masterpiece all the same.
Spanning a sparse 25 minutes, the 15 songs on Some Rap Songs are fragmented, abstract and claustrophobically mixed by producers like Denmark Vessey and Standing On The Corner. Earl’s voice often becomes one with the noisy sputters, whirls and choppy samples. Many have classified it as jazz rap, evoking the cosmic outer boundaries of the genre’s avant-garde.
“Shattered Dreams” is built on a whimsical vocal sample, which loops into infinity as Earl pleads to not be pinched out of his dream. Built on a somber piano sample, “December 24” is a powerful meditation on life and death. On tracks like “Ontheway!” and “Azucar” a bright, uplifting samples are juxtaposed with his Earl’s personal lamentations on depression and lost hope.
On the closing stretch, the record reaches its emotional peak as, on “Playing Possum,” Earl lets samples of his mother and his father do the talking, before segueing into “Peanut,” where he details his hurt over his pop’s death. It’s devastating as Earl exposes his deepest inner thoughts with drunkenly raw rhyming.
He also mentions his “uncle Hugh” (South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela), from whom he samples a joyful instrumental, granting an uplifting end to an otherwise heart-wrenching record.
Some Rap Songs is a profound, honest marvel of emotionally bare rap, and a new high point in Earl Sweatshirt’s brilliant young career.