New music from Earl Sweatshirt arrives when you least expect it. Similar to a Frank Ocean or an Isaiah Rashad, he updates his catalog every three years instead of once every 12 months. Eager fans hate this release pattern. They always want more, but it never comes fast enough.
Following the release of his 2018 album Some Rap Songs, Earl’s flawlessly titled third full-length, one would assume another lengthy break would separate his latest offering from his next. Surprisingly, 11 months later, the celebrated rapper returns with a seven-track, 15-minute EP, FEET OF CLAY.
If Earl is now the eager one, ready to release more music, hip-hop will not complain.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
Earl starts rapping immediately. Not as soon as DaBaby, but he’s close. This beat is a black hole, the type of dirty that even roaches find unattractive. Place this on your purgatory playlist. I love Earl’s flow. It’s fluid like he’s a drunken Kung-Fu master. He raps like Rock Lee fighting Kimimaro. If you know, you know. When is Drake going to give Earl a verse? That’s one moment he missed. His flow would be perfect on this. “74” is the brand of stream-of-conscious rapping that Earl delivered on Some Rap Songs. Is that a sword? I love these textures. He made a movie.
The production sounds like a cartoon. Loony Tunes. His voice just appeared out of nowhere. Earl sounds like he’s rapping on the ceiling, and the microphone is on the floor. His voice is just hovering. What did he say about losing his phone? If Earl lost an iPhone with the raps, it’s the new Blackberry with the slide scroll. “I keep my sentences short.” “EAST” is the Earl I love. He’s just a stream of words that could go on endlessly. He’s a 2019 beatnik poet. Earl is hip-hop’s Allen Ginsburg, and Some Rap Songs is his Howl. FEET OF CLAY is the sequel. I can’t wait to play this back.
I wonder if Earl did all the production? These beats have his warmth. I love this loop. It’s more fluid rapping. He’s just an ongoing, continuous rapper. He sounds healthy. The looseness isn’t sloppy. Earl is flying, not stumbling.
Earl’s brevity is excellent. “I watched a child get introduced to violence.” The golden noose was the one. I’m just lost in the raps, trying to catch every line. He’s the kind of rapper who makes you listen, not for wit or anything profound, but because you never know what kind of golden nuggets he will drop. Earl is going to give you that one line you think about for days, if not weeks.
5. “EL TORO COMBO MEAL” ft. Mavi
Earl and Mavi together are Gohan and Piccolo. “EL TORO COMBO MEAL” has to be some of Earl’s warmest production. It’s so much brighter than I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Mavi begins. There’s a lot of passion in these raps. A full-bodied passion. He means these words from his temple to his toes. The line about his grandmother. Yep, this is the one. Mavi went Super Sayian 2. He could defeat Perfect Cell. Listening to Mavi rap is a joy. Earl! It sounds like he’s enjoying rap. “Let go and I got wings.” He’s taking off. “I put my fears in a box.” A Ben Wallace bar is nice to hear in 2019. Earl floated, but he’s on the court of a championship game watching Mavi do his best Kobe impersonation.
6. “TISK TISK / COOKIES”
Oh shit, was that a Boondocks sample? Man, R.I.P. John Witherspoon. Can’t believe we lost Pop. This loop is sugar cereal. “I need Cash Money, baby, we live.” He’s sliding here. “TISK TISK / COOKIES” is some of Earl’s loosest rapping. He sounds as if the lines are coming without effort. “Muddy path but I’m taking my time.”
7. “4N” ft. Mach-Hommy
Looking forward to these two together. Slow build-up. Mach! He has one of my favorite rap voices. “Send me the invoice.” He is one “Exhibit C” away from being our next Jay Electronica. Instead of Just Blaze, it’ll be produced by The Alchemist. That’s what JanSport Twitter needs. Mach is just singing. Like he’s storing up energy before the raps start. I swear Mavi has the only rap performance that was spoken directly into the mic. Earl and Mach both sound like the mic is across the room. The flow is slow, fluid; you never know what you’ll get from a Hommy verse. “Won’t catch me at no award ceremony.” Yep, that’s what I’m here for. Earl! “We know death.” “Still with the bands like lead singers.” “Hammer and nail, Hommy and Earl.” Yep, took a minute to start, but color me satisfied. The beat is just saucing.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Earl Sweatshirt’s FEET OF CLAY
Earl Sweatshirt’s FEET OF CLAY picks up where Some Rap Songs left off. It’s a looser and sunnier release. It doesn’t strain listeners with heavy themes or Olympic performances. Earl doesn’t break a sweat to get his point across. The once wordy rapper is saying less, but the brevity of his sound and style is charming.
FEET OF CLAY, much like Some Rap Songs, sounds like a rapper recording an album in the basement, rambling into the microphone. Earl is driven by passion, but he is not in pursuit of perfection. The poetry isn’t as potent on FEET OF CLAY; his words don’t land on the skin like tattoos. They’re more like text messages from your most astute friend. You read them, thinking, how does he come up with this stuff?
With Earl, it’s not about delivering the cleanest mix or if he has the clearest vocals—those are pop star concerns. He’s a rapper, and rap doesn’t have to be glossy or polished. The music has to be honest. FEET OF CLAY continues the stream-of-honesty that Earl has made his brand of hip-hop.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Witherspoon, aka @Yoh31