Earl Sweatshirt re-emerges with album ‘Some Rap Songs’

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Earl Sweatshirt re-emerges with album ‘Some Rap Songs’

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

By Grey McGettigan, Staff Writer

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Rapper Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, more commonly known by his stage name Earl Sweatshirt, has wandered in and out of the public eye since the release of his 2010 mixtape, “Earl” — a vulgar debut that established the 16-year-old as a misanthropic wordsmith.

While garnering a cult following as a member of Odd Future, an LA-based hip-hop collective which includes other big names like Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean, Sweatshirt embarked on a turbulent journey of self-realization. Sent on a therapeutic retreat in Samoa by order of his mother, Earl left the spotlight. An online campaign to “Free Earl” ensued.

He resurfaced in 2012 with a new approach and a lot to get off his chest. His initial affinity for aggressive humor gave way to stark sincerity in the projects that followed, such as “Doris” and “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.” Now, the 24-year-old returns with “Some Rap Songs,” a despondent, woozy look into the artist’s psyche.

The 15-track project took three years to put together, and much of that time was spent breaking songs down.

“It’s been made evident to me that I’ve become kind of obsessed with simplifying shit,” Sweatshirt explained in an interview with Craig Jenkins of Vulture, “which sometimes can lead to oversimplification.”

The 24-minute album is short, but a far cry from oversimplified. Most of the production is credited to Sweatshirt — under the alias randomblackdude — and it’s dense. Dizzying drum loops and distorted soul/funk samples provide the backdrop for Sweatshirt’s poised voice.

“It’s infinitum. It’s the snake eating its tail. I keep locking in the loops. To write something complete to a loop, I feel like it takes a lot,” Sweatshirt said to Vulture.

Sampling James Baldwin’s lecture “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity,” “Some Rap Songs” kicks off with the phrase “imprecise words” — Sweatshirt’s way of acknowledging the difficulty in articulating thought. However, he does so with crafty wordplay and forthright emotion.

Later, in “Eclipse,” Sweatshirt raps, “Say goodbye to my openness, total eclipse / Of my shine that I’ve grown to miss when holding shit in.” A double entendre, Sweatshirt’s “shine” can be interpreted as either the spotlight or the rapper’s happiness.

Depression, vice and family issues are recurring themes in Sweatshirt’s discography, but the artist’s latest work displays a hopeful change in attitude.

The release of 2015’s “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” captured a period of disillusionment and drug abuse for Sweatshirt. “Some Rap Songs” is, in part, bookkeeping — an account of the damage done and the road ahead.

In the song “Red Water,” Sweatshirt recognizes that his isolation was self-inflicted and reasserts his agency, “Yeah, I know I’m a king, stork on my shoulder, I was sinkin’ / I ain’t know that I could leave.” He returns to feelings of listlessness and malaise throughout the project, but with a sense of emotional understanding absent in earlier works.

Nowhere2go,” the abrasive lead single, gives listeners a glimpse into the rapper’s recent life. He’s watching his steps more carefully, giving thanks to God and celebrating friendship.

As Odd Future’s camaraderie and musical output fizzled out in 2015, Sweatshirt needed to find a new direction. “I couldn’t find a friend, had to rely on my wits,” he reveals on this single. Sweatshirt follows this up by name-dropping NYC-based artists MIKE, Medhane and Sixpress.

These New Yorkers lent a hand. Their influence on “Some Rap Songs” is apparent as the once-cloud-rap-inclined Sweatshirt rhymes over abstract and experimental instrumentation akin to the avant-garde movement his East Coast brethren is ushering in.

Sweatshirt’s newfound friends supply the album with hope and solace, contrasted by the bleak confrontations with death throughout the record.

Unfortunately, the release of Sweatshirt’s latest album was preceded by the death of his father, South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, in January. Estranged from one another, the son addressed their complicated relationship on 2013’s “Doris” with lines like “I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest.”

“I did work with the intention of being able to come back [to South Africa] literally this year, at the top of this year,” Sweatshirt told Vulture. “I’d finally pledged.”

Robbed of the chance to reconcile with his father, Sweatshirt added “Peanut” to the album. On an eerie, off-kilter beat, Sweatshirt raps about his father’s funeral and the accompanying grief. It’s a tragic ending to their relationship and to the narrative Sweatshirt built through his music.

“Some Rap Songs” is a collection of emotions, the good and the bad. Like emotions, the record is unpredictable and sometimes indecipherable. But it’s encouraging to see Sweatshirt organizing his inner turmoil and sharing it with his fans once again.

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