Death has stalked Earl Sweatshirt’s career. He dedicated his debut album, 2013’s ‘Doris’, to his deceased grandmother and released last year’s ‘Some Rap Songs’ after dealing with the death of his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile. And his latest, surprise-released album ‘Feet of Clay’ is a deep examination of the stages of grief.
A further exploration of the lo-fi sound and stream-of-conscious rapping he mastered on ‘Some Rap Songs’, ‘Feet Of Clay’ does not boast the Olympian-style rhyme schemes or the bursts of clear-eyed soul-searching he’s been lauded for. Rather, it’s a tender portrayal ofs Earl’s psyche.
It’s a distinctly concise project – more so than last year’s release – a collection “of observations and feelings recorded during the death throes of a crumbling empire,” he said in a statement before the release. On ‘EAST’, over a cartoonish beat, he rhymes, “My hands was on the wings / I took ’em off, not a story / Careen against the bars / My canteen was full of the poison I need”, alluding to his grief-induced alcoholism .
On ‘TISK TISK / COOKIES’ he admits: “The moments that’s tender and soft / I’m in ’em, the memories got strong / But some of them lost / The silliness in you, I mourn / The moments that’s tender and soft / I’m in ’em, the memories got strong / But some of them long gone”. And on EAST he raps, starkly, “And miss my Pop dukes, might just hit me / Depending how I play my cards / The wind whispered to me, “Ain’t it hard?” / I wait to be the light shimmering from a star /Cognitive dissonance shining and the necessary venom restored.”
The production on the project, mainly overseen by Earl – with support from Cali producer The Alchemist – ranges from dark, haunted tunes to lo-fi production that’s rough around the edges. Agile blends of cassette and vinyl hiss warps around Earl’s own slurred lyrics and vocals. Samples are opaque, chopped beyond recognition.
Earl hascrafted his own path within the hip-hop world, delving into a planet where honesty through stream of consciousness raps is more important than polished production and catchy hooks. A lot of the project may sound imperfect, but it is purposeful. As with ‘Some Rap Songs’, what ‘Feet of Clay’ instantly brings to mind the sounds early jazz musicians created when embarking on their own journey, bucking trends and ignoring the norm.
The project forces you to stop and listen to each line to decipher the meaning. The brevity and density of the album, coupled with the unique production, makes it seem like an epilogue to ‘Some Rap Songs’. Earl Sweatshirt has made another project that listeners will scrutinise and dissect repeatedly. It’s further proof that Earl Sweatshirt is a generational talent.