On his second release in less than a year, Earl Sweatshirt continues to push the boundaries on what hip-hop can be.


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Joe Eckstein, Contributor

The culmination of what Earl Sweatshirt means to hip-hop is defined by his 2018 release in “Some Rap Songs.”

After a three-year hiatus, the genre was gifted one of the best experimental projects filled with emotions, brashness, and the west coast artist showcasing his unconventional flow. As someone who makes the most of every line, Earl has emerged as quite possible his generation’s top lyricists. With a style quite similar to MF DOOM, his punchlines and rhyme schemes are among some of the best to ever grace the mic. Even “Some Rap Songs” drew many comparisons to DOOM’s collaboration with producer Madlib on the 2004 project, “Madvillainy,” with both albums consisting of quick tracks and a plethora of impressive lyricism.

Many weren’t expecting another Earl project for a long time. With the big gap between “Some Rap Songs,” and his 2015 release in “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” the assumption was that Earl was going AWOL. Instead, in the most Earl fashion possible, he announced that a seven-track EP would be releasing at midnight on November 1. In its short 15 minute run time, “FEET OF CLAY” continues where the rapper left off on his prior effort. Continuing the experiment with different instrumentals and flows, this project is not for the casual listener. Take “EAST,” for example, a track that’s instrumental consists of an awkward accordion and string pieces. Sounding much more like a polka song, an initial listen will cause bafflement at what was just played. The lyrics contrast heavily with the production, as Earl continues to discuss his personal matters in life, such as the death of his father back in 2018.

Outside of “EAST,” the majority of the instrumentals on this project are these dark, lo-fi beats that match the demeanor of Earl. “MTOMB,” features a soulful sample backing up Earl’s dark subject matter. “The socialite reformed, alone every night,” reminds everyone of Earl’s metamorphosis from his days with the rap group Odd Future, to the present, as he and his music have taken a darker turn. “EL TORO COMBO MEAL” continues the melancholic theme listeners have become accustomed to. Earl’s distorted vocals while rapping, “I keep the tears out my mind reach/ I put my fears in a box like a prayer that you won’t read,” provides insight into the inner workings of his mind. The two-part track in “TISK TISK/COOKIES,” shows a static-like instrumental mixed with jazz samples that provides the perfect platform for Earl to show off a variety of flows. Surprisingly, the change in his pacing throughout doesn’t feel choppy despite being intentional. Closing track “4N” features a smooth and heavy-hitting bass giving off the feeling of G-Funk combined with lo-fi. Like on “MTOMB,” the distorted vocals match the somber tone of who Earl Sweatshirt is; hip-hop’s very own puzzle. Trying to solve it can be a challenge, but the result is well worth the effort.

“FEET OF CLAY” is Earl’s way of saying nothing has changed, both musically and personally. The man we heard on “Some Rap Songs” hasn’t left and doesn’t plan on it. From an artistic standpoint, Earl has embraced experimentality for his music. Much like his prior record, “FEET OF CLAY,” is no easy listen. No trap beats, no prominent features, no radio appeal. A first listen doesn’t do justice for what has been accomplished. While the EP may not be as abrasive as other experimental acts, such as Death Grips or JPEGMAFIA, I give kudos to Earl for once again stepping out of his comfort zone. He’s doing music his own way. Despite not being the norm for what hip-hop has been the past few years, this project accomplishes more in its short run time than the majority of its peers. Is it unorthodox? Very much so. Is that a bad thing? Not in the slightest. With what feels like a saturation of sound with many artists feeling like carbon copies of one another lately, Earl Sweatshirt once again separates himself from the rest of the pack.