Don’t let the modest title deceive you: Earl Sweartshirt’s third feature-length album Some Rap Songs is one of the year’s most captivating projects.
With an esoteric style, arcane production and a heavy jazz influence, this unconventional record finds Earl experimenting with some new, more conceptual ways of articulating his emotions.
Earl’s mental health afflictions were exposed in a big way on his previous record, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and moreover, he cancelled an entire European tour this year – citing his emotional instability as the reason why. Instead of channelling his anger in an empowering fashion like he has done in the past, Earl’s depression seems to have entirely consumed him on this record, resulting in an uncompromisingly dark listening experience.
Earl is responsible for most of the hypnotic and experimental production on this album, fashioning many of the instrumentals himself under the pseudonym “RandomBlackDude”. While this project remains conceptually engrossed in its muddy production and glistening melodies, Earl’s rapping is uninhibited and straightforward from start to finish. At various points, it feels like he’s using this record as a catharsis to get certain things off his chest.
Family has always been a large source of inspiration for Earl, so it comes as no surprise that his late father has a recurring presence on this album. His voice is sampled on the poignant tracks Red Water and Playing Possum, which both underscore the emotional distress Earl experienced as a child following his parents’ divorce.
The track Peanut is one of the shortest on the album, but the instrumental is so raucous and lo-fi it feels like you’re listening to an ambient noise piece, emphasised by its chaotic wall-to-wall bass samples and deconstructed vocals. This song contains Earl’s final verse of the album, which exhibits a sonic reconciliation that Earl was never able achieve with his father while he was still alive (“Death, it has the sour taste/ Bless my pops, we sent him off and not an hour late”).
The record’s depressive loop is finally broken on the closing track, Riot!, which features a joyous tapestry of sound sampled from the late Hugh Masekela – Earl’s uncle who was a celebrated jazz musician. By ending the album on such an optimistic explosion of brass and rhythm, Earl is delivering a fundamental message of hope to the listener.
While Some Rap Songs is one of the year’s most conceptually defined hip hop albums, it leaves the listener feeling deeply concerned about Earl’s mental health. This is the most despondent, emotionally cathartic record Earl has released to date and it’ll be very interesting to see how he continues to evolve as an artist. We can only hope he has some brighter days ahead of him.