Earl Sweatshirt knows himself—finally. On his latest record, his most bare offering to date, Some Rap Songs, Earl is finally fusing his rap persona with his human persona. Earl and Thebe have the best collaborative album of 2018.
In a new interview with NPR, Earl breaks down his fusion as a point of Black expression, and why the Pitchfork review of Some Rap Songs hits his sound right on the nail.
“I mean, then you gotta look at really like what is rap,” Earl said in response to Pitchfork saying his album blurred the line between avant-garde jazz and hip-hop. “That shit is black expression, bro. And what was jazz? The one that got copied, the one that got over-produced, over-criticized, over-made a victim of like nomenclature. It's black expression, bro.
“I'm going back to what [rap] is. Look at what it is like from the documentaries. I think, when I was getting into rap music, my mom made me read the Jeff Chang book [Can't Stop Won't Stop], my mom made me watch all the rap documentaries. It's like, bro, somebody gotta watch that shit.
“I be thinking that things are matter of fact, like for all of us. Like, the definition of this means this, but it's like, that's where you get into when consensus realities are different. Because if I'm like, 'This comes from black expression,' black expression is directly related to pain — at least this black expression is. And then if you want to compare it to jazz, when it started getting avant-garde, when it started getting whatever, n****s was wailing. N****s using these instruments to express very crazy emotions, like that come as a result of the sometimes cursed existence. So, like, that's what's tongue-in-cheek kind of about rap.”
As far as expression goes, Earl Sweatshirt is on the money with his breakdown of jazz and hip-hop. Wailing is one way of putting it, but the arrangement of Some Rap Songs calls to mind 1972 Joe Henderson records, where the clutter and tension of the album was the focal point. Some Rap Songs', too, is cluttered to the point of challenging the listener purposefully, and we listen to this album to find the meaning in the overt density. Earl has our ear, he has the floor that he’s built up out of seemingly scattered parts.
The brilliance of the structure of Some Rap Songs, as it relates to jazz, is the way Earl commands space to the point of making us uncomfortable. We are in his palm, waiting for him to soothe us, and for the most part, his poetry is our saving grace. The album is as preoccupied with space as it is writing, and though it struggles to involve movement the way a good jazz album should, what Earl does accomplish proves him to be one of this generation’s most inventive writers.