Earl Sweatshirt’s “Some Rap Songs” is a heavy album. It is 25 minutes long, but it goes down like a solid brick. Do not think I am just stating that this is a depressing album or anything short-sighted like that. As with any good work of art, this record probes the spaces in between the extremes of emotion—through the broken sadness of cuts like “Peanut” and the spiritual soars of the song “Azucar.” “Some Rap Songs” is Earl Sweatshirt’s most sustained piece of musical exploration and one of the freshest collections I’ve heard in quite some time.
Additionally, if you have not listened to Earl Sweatshirt’s new EP “Solace” yet, I am begging you to check it out and to engage with it as genuinely as you can. Dig into the lyrics, take a walk while you listen to it and research as much as you can about Earl. You should consider Post Malone’s problematic statement that rap isn’t emotional while you listen to it and “Some Rap Songs.”
This EP is a peak into the heart of so-called depressive emotions—when our lives contort themselves into everything we feared would never happen. This song is music for when you take a long look at yourself and realize, horrified, that you didn’t used to be this way before. Or, to use Earl’s own lyrics from the EP, “I’m fixin’ to give up / I’ve been alone for the longest / This spliff, I ain’t splittin’ no time soon / My brain split in two” (Earl Sweatshirt, “Solace,” 2018).
And right as this EP gets to its most revealing—it’s bleakest, harshest spot—it just continues. A jazzy outro loop repeats and repeats. And the chord progression on this synth doesn’t feel hopeful, but it doesn’t feel awful either. “Some Rap Songs” ends with an outro similar to the track “Riot!” These endings just keep going and ride out their runtimes. Or, to use Earl’s words again, this album was from “when I hit the bottom and found something” (The 405, “Earl Sweatshirt releases Solace: ‘music from when I hit the bottom and found something,’” 04.29.2018). There’s a sense of motion going forward at the end of both of these projects. A listener gets a sense that the world keeps going on and that this is not a cause for concern.
If I haven’t said it blatantly enough yet, “Solace” is a masterpiece. I also think it is important to listen to “Solace” before “Some Rap Songs” because they constitute one big project for me. Much of what is on “Some Rap Songs” can be found on “Solace” and vice versa. The two resonate wonderfully.
But if you don’t want to listen to an extra 10 minutes, or even the 25 minutes of “Some Rap Songs,” just listen to the first single of this album—“Nowhere2go.” I know Earl didn’t design this song as a single, but how could I think about it as anything else? The thick, looped, vocally haunted beat that continually swells and resides, the very purposeful mix on the track where Earl sits beneath the great instrumental and the boundary-pushing lyrical performance all explode vibrantly across this short album, and the listening experience is memorable and evocative.
I can hear the complaints coming now. I know that listeners are going to be thrown off by the production, how Earl’s voice sits too far back in the noise or too far in front of it. I can hear critics complaining that this album doesn’t have a traditional verse-hook-verse structure or that there isn’t much variety in the beats. People may say Earl just released a lazy creation instead of wrestling with the idea of how these choices elicite a response from the listener.
Or, alternatively, I can see a lot of (white) people claiming that this album is a masterpiece because of its emotional depth. As you can tell from my raving of “Solace,” Earl is capable of attaching emotion to his music. But one quality I cannot stand about Earl’s white fan following is how reductive
they are. To call this album just “depressed rap,” and call it good only because it is depressing, isn’t just stupid—it’s racist.
It’s racist in that it transforms Earl from being a capable musician making meaningful choices into an overly emotional, racialized subject that doesn’t make music as meaningfully as, say, Bob Dylan.
Or, as I’m sure my fraternity friends from back home (Eugene, OR) would suggest, XXXtentacion, whose musical use of emotion was predicated by his notorious violence toward women and gay men. Rap is a Black art, and Earl’s new album is exactly that. I don’t want to define Blackness, or even suggest a definition of it. But I can point out problematic representations of Blackness when people like Post Malone thrive off of their racist statements.
I am fed up with the idea that a Black artist needs to justify their use of emotion through the use of violence and instability—an act Earl knowingly dropped after “I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside.” I am also utterly aghast at the notion that Earl’s music is just “sad rap.” In my mind, any statement like that is predicated on an implied negativity attached to Blackness.
Real emotions are complex. Approaching them with simple creativity is, in my mind, simple cowardice. “Some Rap Songs” and “Solace” are complex masterpieces with real-life emotions. These projects imbibe this complexity; they pick it up and employ it musically to elicit a response from you. In my opinion, any sort of labeling of these projects as too depressing or as depressed rap are airy nothings and only reflects the undeniable cowardice of the accuser.