Every once a while a piece of art is created that becomes the creative spark for a generation. These pieces of art tap into something so transcendentally true about the times that they are able to capture an entire generations imagination, through influencing social and political change, inspiring stylistic shifts and standing out amongst a sea of similarities. From Miles Davis Kind Of Blue, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon, Nirvanas Nevermind, Kanye Wests 808s & Heartbreak, these projects captured their moments in a way few artists before them, during and after were capable of, they made their contemporaries seem fake, the mere presence and the creation of these projects killed off entire genres because the ideologies shifted, Nirvana killed off Hair Pop Metal, it instantly seemed like the corniest thing a human can do. I had one of those moments in November of 2018.
I was a 19 year old introverted writer who didn't like shit and didn't go outside, a month away from my 20th birthday and that's already one of the most confusing moments in a man's life, society keeps telling you that you’re an adult but you feel like a kid, bills & responsibilities start piling up, you have girl problems and childish aspirations with this overarching awareness of the passage of time, your own mortality of yourself and loved ones, growing apart from friends, confusion over what you’re doing with your life, as well as the tumultuous nature of being a black teenager and everything that means, then with the political and social climate with Trump and climate change, it felt like the world was ending (and it literally did a little over a year later) but on November 30, 2018 Thebe Kgositsil better known as Earl Sweatshirt released his third studio album Some Rap Songs.
I love Some Rap Songs so much. I can’t fully articulate how much this album means to me because I don't fully understand what it means to me. This project is only about 25 minutes, there’s 15 songs on it and the longest song only clocks in at 2 minutes and 47 seconds, but Earl was able to pack what feels like multiple lifetimes of experience on this piece. I can go through each track separately but that's never how I listen to this project, if I turn on a song I have to listen to the whole thing because it feels like a cohesive continuum like an old jazz composition. To say I had never heard anything like this before I heard it would be downplaying how monumental it felt to me when I first heard it, it felt like a UFO had just landed.
This project is stacked with dusty lo-fi soul and jazz loops, dreamy ambient and distorted production that ranges from nostalgic to inconsolably dreary, the production on this was unlike anything I was listening to at the time. On top of that, Earl, who has already been considered one of the best lyricists of his generation since he was 16, seemed to enter a super saiyan level transformation on this project. Earl harnessed this detached flow with these profound, psychedelic & surreal lyrics after being around Mike and the Slums crew which had stylistically been venturing into these distorted production abstract emotional boombap.
During his odd future days, quite like his bandmate Tyler The Creator, Earl strayed away from sincerity in his music and relied heavily on shock value and gritty bars, albums like Doris and I don't like shit I don’t go outside began to show another introspective, emotionally charged, uniquely depressed and gritty side of Earl after he had been notoriously sent away to bootcamp by his mom for rapping about drugs and doing hoodrat stuff with his friends as a teenager.
Some Rap Songs is a comprehensive album detailing deep abstract emotional poetry that focuses less on gritty punchlines and witty metaphors and more on venting. Earl would repeat various vague abstract lines that faded between reality and dreams in these surreal sonic landscapes, certain lyrics were trying to uplift himself and his listeners as best as he can, certain lyrics on here just sound like Earl talking to a therapist. 24 year old Earl Sweatshirt created an album so grown up, reflective, introspective, abstract, & full of lines that have brought me to tears several times throughout the years I’ve been listening to this album at this point.
This album feels like achieving your dreams, realizing everything you ever knew was a lie, and trying to put the pieces of life together. Since this album's release in 2018 it has influenced an entire subgenre with artists like Mavi creating Let The Sun Talk, & Redveil, Navy Blue, Pink Siifu, Mike, Medhane as well as Earl himself continuing to create those dusty lofi sounds topped with poetic and emotionally charged dreamlike abstract music.
This subgenre isn’t trying to be the biggest thing in the world, it’s not trying to sell the most records, this was just a man who had a lot on his heart and needed to get it out and didn’t really care about what you felt about it. From the album cover being a blurry selfie of Earl seemingly taken on an iPhone, to the dusty production, lack of and distorted mixing on records, and abstract psychedelic lyrics that would be inaccessible to the average rap fan, this album wasn’t here for the charts, it was trashed by many fans saying it was too experimental, but it's one of those albums that clearly marks a shift and showed an entire generation that you can talk about what you’re really going through however you wanna do it and it doesn't matter what people think because the people who understand will find it.
Listening to this album has gotten me through some of the toughest times in my life, lines like “Peace to every crease on your brain” are so beautiful and emotionally weighted in a way I’ve never heard in rap before. Earl touched on the social climate, the political climate, his relationship with his parents, the passing of his father, racism, the water in flint, apartheid, god, how it felt like the world was ending, how he grew up and how he had been depressed his entire life, there are moments of brief joy and acceptance on the album.
The lyrics can get extremely dark with Earl talking about suicidal ideation and dark imagery from dreams and nightmares, but there’s still something extremely hopeful about this project. As one commenter put it, the last song Riot feels like finding your way out of hell and instead of arriving to a party you just walk around a city watching everyone live their normal life and even though some would says its boring and mundane, you can't help but think how much sweeter a normal way of life is, and that's the vibe I feel every time I go back to this album, and when I look at the tumultuous nature of life, how difficult it can get, how we don’t get to choose our context and we just have to embrace our realities, this album reminds me that it’s definitely not easy, but we’re all in it together.
“Keep pace, my nigga, Be safe, seek safe my nigga, Keep faith, my nigga”
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