Headphones: Earl Sweatshirt Showcases Growth On 'Some Rap Songs'
After four long years, 24-year-old Thebe Neruda Kgositile, better known by his stage name, Earl Sweatshirt (and lesser known by his producer alias, randomblackdude), has finally reemerged with his third studio album, Some Rap Songs. This marks Earl’s biggest release since his previously acclaimed, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and while the former took listeners on a voyage into the darkest recesses of the rapper’s depressed mind, Some Rap Songs reveals a more fluid and introspective side of Earl’s personality. The contrast in mood between the two albums is striking, spearheaded mainly by Earl’s newly focused lyricism—altering both what he says and how he says it—as well as his production decisions.
Earl originally gained recognition for his unique style of rapping when he was merely 16 years old, prompted by the release of his mixtape, aptly named, Earl. At the time, he had only just joined up with Odd Future, the collective of rappers headed by his soon-to-be close friend, Tyler, the Creator. This introduction to an elevated hip-hop scene broadcast Earl’s ability to weave intelligent wordplay and thought-provoking lyricism into a thick maelstrom of dark vocals. Eventually, he would refine this technique and showcase his progress through Doris, his debut album. At this point, Earl had made a name for himself as a raw presence in hip-hop spheres, one who wasn’t afraid to vigorously speak his mind through a guttural, yet polished flow.
Fast forward to Earl’s previously mentioned second album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, where this style of rapping meshed seamlessly with the heart of the album—depression. Earl would dive deep into his own mind, writing in a bout of isolation while bedridden for a month. He puts this fact on prominent display in the opening lines of his track, “Grief,” rapping, “Good grief, I been reaping what I sowed / N***a, I ain’t been outside in a minute / I been livin’ what I wrote.” Earl let his inner demons, which consumed his thoughts at the time, be the driving inspiration behind his art, both through his lyricism and his production on the album, resulting in an authentic and impactful trip into his darkened world.
With the release of Some Rap Songs, depression is still present and relevant, but it no longer defines Earl. On the album’s single, “Nowhere2go,” Earl looks back on his darker days from a more reflective frame of mind, stating, “I think I spent most of my life depressed / Only thing on my mind was death / Didn’t know if my time was next / Tryna refine this shit, I redefined myself.” Earl is no longer looking out from the heart of his personal abyss, but has climbed up far enough to be able to peer back into it, and in doing so has allowed himself to focus on growth and maturation both as an artist and as a man.
Lyrics like these are scattered throughout the album, and Earl shifts his style of production to better align with these newly introduced themes. In contrast to the brooding and rough atmosphere he so expertly encapsulated on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl paints a more hopeful backdrop through shortly looped and minimalistic beats, along with an increase in pitched up tones. Gone are the oversaturated and weighty bass lines which framed his outlook on depression, giving way to tracks with more lighthearted sounds.
Going along with both the altered production and message of the album, Earl’s signature fervor has slightly dissipated, with brutal, hard-hitting lines replaced by raw but unsaturated vocals. The quality lyricism is still prevalent, but shifted in mood to reflect the man behind the music. This may seem foreign and even lackluster to those seeking Earl’s signature sound from the past, yet it lends itself well to the overwhelming honesty and tone of the album.
As a whole, Some Rap Songs presents a new style for Earl, who as a person has grown significantly since his previous release, and moves away from blunt and burly vocals to make room for a more reflective and hopeful message overall. The brevity of each track on the album, 15 songs totaling just 25 minutes, evokes a somewhat jumbled trip through this sect of Earl’s mind, and amplifies the feelings of fluidity that he himself feels in his personal life as Thebe Kgositile. The ultimate symbol of hope from the young rapper comes through his closing track on the album, “Riot!”. A fully instrumental piece, “Riot!” was produced by Earl and Shamel of SOTC, who successfully create a light moving and cheerful-sounding instrumental, showing off a carefree creativity which was present but greatly overshadowed in previous releases.
The experience one takes from Earl’s shift in tonality depends heavily on the mindset one has before listening to Some Rap Songs. If fans go into the album expecting to hear the old Earl and his intense rebellious attitude, they will be sorely disappointed. Yet those who appreciate the man as an artist, and respect the idea that true art reflects the mindset of the creator in question, will be treated with new and interesting ideas from a young and highly creative talent.
Don’t just take it from me, take it from the man himself. In an interview with New York Magazine’s Vulture, Craig Jenkins asks the young artist if he, “[gets] a lot of grief from kids who grew up on the Earl stuff who want more of that sound,” to which Earl frankly replies, “There are people that want everything. But we’re moving forward. I don’t say that like the goofy way everybody be saying that in 2018 … I just mean like, come on, man … Everybody an expert now, bro. Everybody knows. Like, ‘Bro, you should …’ ‘You should …’ All right.”
With Some Rap Songs, Earl has certainly proven he is moving forward in the world, both in his personal life, and by extension, in his art.