With his critically acclaimed debut Earl dropping at just 16, Thebe Kgositsile has a strong claim to the familiarity with his audience the title of his latest release - Some Rap Songs presumes. With a 24 minute run time (admittedly less surprising in 2018) and eerily blurred selfie as its cover, Earl is making an understated return after two years of silence.
“Imprecise words” chimes a sample of 60s social critic James Baldwin on the album’s opener: ‘Shattered Dreams’. Earl, son of recently deceased poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, has always shone as a lyricist, with unforgettable features including Odd Future’s ‘Oldie’ and Danny Brown’s star-studded ‘Really Doe’. However, on his own material, the lyrical expectations of hip-hop, as well as the imprecision of language have hindered him from delving into the darkness that permeates his music.
Throughout this record, Earl digs deeper into his emotions, a theme punctuated with imagery of bleeding or drowning “It was holes in the boat, we ain’t make a fuss” rhymes Thebe on ‘Shattered Dreams’, while the refrain repeats “Why ain’t nobody tell me I was bleeding? / Please nobody pinch me out this dream”.
Earl shows a much deeper understanding of the malaise that plagues him and uses it to provide us a much more visceral tour of his private hell. “…I revisit the past / Port Wine and pages of pass / Momma say don’t play with them scabs / It’s safe to say I see the reason why I’m bleeding out” are shining examples of this from ‘Ontheway!’, a track featuring the genre-bending Standing on the Corner. “Pages of pass” referencing the apartheid in South Africa where Earl has roots, while also mentioning the importance of Earl’s mother as a supporting figure.
On the album’s first single: ‘Nowhere2go’ we hear Earl even more raw “…spent most of my life depressed / only thing on my mind was death”, perhaps more impactful when surrounded by tracks about Earl “pissing problems out the bottle” and other references to his substance problems- “muffle my pain and muzzle my brain up”. The 24-year-old rapper seems much more at terms with this burden thankfully: “I still give thanks to the most high / even when I hit a low”.
Thebe’s flows have always been dense and polysyllabic, dripping with the influence of underground legends like MF DOOM. On Some Rap Songs he folds them together with even greater intricacy, albeit at the price of pace, with track after track plodding by at Sweatshirt’s leisure: fans of high-speed lyricism should look elsewhere. Earl oozes with impossible ease and languor over his knotty, sample-based instrumentals, keen listening is necessary to catch half of the subtlety of the verses on this record. This is not helped by the vocal mixing of the LP, which finds vocals buried almost beneath the hiss and crackle of J Dilla style loops.
The production on this record distinguishes it greatly from his previous work: while Doris bustled with synthesisers and I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside packed aggressive drum machines, SRS is built almost entirely from samples. Simple, brutish loops often slowed beyond recognisability and far from sweet on the ear.
While Earl handles most of the production on Some Rap Songs himself, its more beautiful moments come when other producers take the wheel. ‘Azucar’ is produced by pro-skater and Odd Future affiliate Sage Elsseser, a heavenly mixture of xylophones and strings, dropping in, out and behind walls of EQ seemingly at random. Other stand out instrumentals include the glitched vocals of ‘Nowhere2go’ and ‘Peanut’ built largely on vinyl hiss and spare piano notes, matching Earl’s sombre ruminations on his fathers’ death.
Some Rap Songs is not for background listening, nor the faint at heart: it unapologetically demands the listener’s attention for its entire run time to even catch Earl’s lyrics. While this can be a difficult task - it rewards the listener by shedding its calloused exterior to reveal brutally honest poetry and innovative instrumentals. There is little doubt this record will have a huge influence on innumerable artists, even if it doesn’t make a splash straight away.