TRIP AROUND THE SUNIt's been almost 12 months since I gushed about Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt's third studio album and 25 minute meditation on mortal grief. At the time I praised Earl's collaboration with artists from the New York underground, shaping his sound with the likes of Standing On the Corner and Adé Hakim.
In spite of its brevity, Some Rap Songs remains a shrouded quandary, one brimming with effortless prophecies waiting to be unpacked for years to come. In the wake of this abstract classic came Earl's return to independence, severing a 6 year partnership with Columbia Records to "Do riskier shit".
Feet Of Clay is a 7 track sample of this new direction, and Earl doesn't seem to be coming up for air any time soon. Its title based on a Biblical tale foretelling the end of empires, Sweatshirt paints a grim and complex picture of the uncertain future. Opener 74 comes bursting out the gate with a burdened beat crumbling under its own weight and hypnotic flows demanding of close attention.
"Sellin' kids culture with death, circlin' like carrion
The more the merrier, phone got you livin' vicarious
Ice melting 'cause it's so hot
The veil lifts, the pain salient"
Deteriorating song structures make extracting quotes from their original context a difficult task as Earl's serpentine train of thought integrates each line into a larger whole. It's a trait shared by some of hip-hop's greatest lyricists, unique ideas coalesce to reinforce the MC's character. Even if you're rarely left with a clear picture, each line carries enough weight to make its mark.
Consistency is key here given most tracks barely reach the 2 minute mark. Earl has trimmed so much fat off his music I'm worried it might be malnourished, taut skin stretched across the bones of pseudo-philosophic musings and pessimistic comparisons. EAST exemplifies 'less is more' with its 3 second sample of Arabic strings looped ad-infinitum. Earl's delivery matches this off-kilter tone with lackadaisical bars tackling the loss of those close to him. I was initially thrown off by this contrast but further listening reveals EAST as one of the young MC's finest lyrical moments.
"The wind whispered to me, "Ain't it hard?"
I wait to be the light shimmering from a star
Cognitive dissonance shttared and the necessary venom restored
As if it matters if you think it matters anymore"
It's followed by the somber MTOMB, flipping legendary percussionist James Mtume into a soulful reflection. I'm inclined to believe these beats are self-produced, given Earl's increased creative control over his music. They're a less consistent batch than on Some Rap Songs, but still a perfect fit for what Sweaty is trying to accomplish. The EP's latter half brings an unexpected dose of positivity, grabbing cuts from heartfelt sung melodies and upbeat instrumental numbers.
NY protegé Mavi features on EL TORO COMBO MEAL and does his best to match Sweatshirt's standards. Both verses are brutally honest but I couldn't get past his derivative style. Mach-Hommy is a welcome switch-up on nearly 5 minute closer 4N, a marathon length in Earl's timeline. The song is largely instrumental but it's such a good one I didn't mind the repetitive beat. Mach brings an unusually gritty performance that pairs wonderfully with Earl, ending things on an uncertain note.
There's no doubt Earl Sweatshirt has come into his own as a once-in-a generation writer, delving deeper into New York's hypnoagogic sound to find a powerful voice. I find it near-impossible to fault his performances despite their intentional obfuscation that puts so many off. Next to Some Rap Songs it seems Earl is in a better place, but the themes he's grappling with are as heavy as ever. If you enjoyed the density of his last release, Feet Of Clay is a welcome second helping sure to placate. Most hip-hop listeners however are likely to bounce straight off. Earl's experimental forays have already earned the ire of long-term fans, making them all the more admirable in my eyes.