Album Review: Earl Sweatshirt “Some Rap Songs”

On Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt strives for simplicity. As he explained in an interview with Vulture earlier this week, “Incomplete sh*t is really stressful to me, and the concept of unsimplified fractions is really stressful to me.” This philosophy explains the minimalist title, but does the music on the album follow suit? Despite its fragmented nature, SRS still manages to feel complete, honest, and pure.

While this album has very little single power, as a front to back listen it is perhaps Earl’s most focused artistic statement to date. It is comprised of fifteen songs, but clocks in at a brief 24 minutes long. Each track acts as a tiny window into a musical landscape where the listener must take in as much as they can before the song vanishes in a haze.

Very few songs on the album feel resolved, usually ending with a vocal or instrumental sample that sounds like it was cut off a few seconds too soon. This takes away any feeling of resolution from even the catchiest songs, like Ontheway! and Cold Summers. When listened to all the way through, however, this creates an interesting effect, like mindlessly surfing through radio frequencies. It also echoes the style of one of Earl’s biggest influences, M.F. Doom, specifically his classic Madvillainy.

In stark contrast to the crisp, electronic production that dominates the popular sphere of hip hop, the songs on SRS are muddy and smeared, refreshingly human and organic. There are very few musical detours, with each track generally revolving around a single loop or sample. The lo-fi production proves to be detrimental to some songs, like on the second track, Red Water. On this song Earl’s vocals are muffled, dampened and ultimately overpowered by the loop he is rapping over.

  This album’s feeling of completeness comes chiefly from its beautifully raw bars. Earl has cut out all the fat, with his usually tongue twisting and image laden verses largely missing from this project. Instead, Earl delivers painfully intimate and piercing lyrics concerned with mental health, addiction, and family relationships.

Some Rap Songs stands as an unflinching personal document of the mind of Thebe Kgositsile. While at times dark, this project is an undoubtedly inspiring and therapeutic listen. While Earl Sweatshirt brings his inner turmoil to the surface for all to hear, the listener comes away from these songs with feelings of solidarity and catharsis: the signs of a truly effective piece of art.

By Jack Hernstadt