By Taylor Faber
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
Album: Feet of Clay
Release Date: Nov. 1, 2019
Thebe Kgositsile (Earl Sweatshirt) is years ahead of nearly everyone his age that is involved in not only rap, but even popular music. Whether that is the result of the instant critical success of his 2010 debut mixtape Earl when he was only 16, or last year’s 25 minute genre defying Some Rap Songs, he has proved himself to be one of the more progressive artists of this generation.
What sets him aside from his peers is his will to pursue what feels articulates himself best rather than trying to appeal to a mass audience. This has been the case since he first affiliated himself with the Odd Future Hip-Hop collective; and with age came darker themes and advanced production associated with his music. Some Rap Songs offered a short (but not sweet) glimpse of Kgositsile’s unfortunate battle with change through a lo-fi, woozy tracklist and it seems that Feet of Clay is carrying that torch.
Aftering looking into the title of this album, one would notice that the name stems from the Bible’s Book of Daniel. The feet of clay stem from the King of Babylon seeing them on a statue in his dream. This statue represents the world’s greatest empires while the feet of clay represent a flaw within someone or something that is deeply praised.
Kgositsile felt this embodied the trials he went through when trying to make music after his father’s passing in 2018. The fact that he was never able to connect with his father before he died caused his foundation to crumble beneath him similar to that of the Roman Empire. Many had put their faith into him after his first two successful studio albums, so they were confused on why it took so long for Some Rap Songs to come out, similar to that of the citizens of the Roman Empire when it came crumbling down.
Kgositsile expresses how lost relationships have caused his structure to deteriorate in the song “EAST,” where he explains how he lost his father, his girlfriend and his grandmother in a short amount of time. These relationships vary in how they end and how these people impacted him, but his response to them leaving is only to be justified by the use of alcohol to numb his pain.
The line, “The canteen filled with the poison I need…” acknowledges the fact that his indulgences are causing him harm, but he can’t help but to continue to depend on them for their temporary remedies. He opens up more about his dependency on the track “OD” by stating, “Healing cuts/ But willingly I’m refilling the pump / No concealing it…” As he tries to deal with his issues along with his alcohol indulgence, he is unable to hide the fact that he is in a vulnerable position in his life and he is in need of guidance. Instead of bottling in most of his worries like most people would do at his age, Kgositsile fully embraces the state in which he is experiencing at the time providing more authenticity to his work.
Ever since he came onto the scene, Kgositsile has been very particular about his flows and his word delivery. His technical diction and the presentation of such has made him into the artist he his today. He even includes rappers Mavi and Mach-Hammy who use their influence from Kgositsile to tailor to the rough, grimy aesthetic. He also continues to expand on those aspects by allowing more fluidity to his flows.
In the past, his rhymes were as concise as the beat he was using at the time. Whereas now he feels more comfortable with experimenting with different rhythms in which to present his raps. On the first track “74”, he’s delivery comes off as a confessional ramble to a friend with little structure behind his bars. Although it may seem that way on the surface, it could be attributed to the odd time signature that is employed on the instrumental. Having done so has allowed Kgositsile to invoke a more honest presentation to his vulnerable lyrics and darker themes of this EP.
The production that Kgositsile strives for on Feet of Clay is similar to that of Some Rap Songs while still making experimental strides along the way. He still has the style that New York artists Mike and Slauson Malone (Medslaus) have presented on the last album with the help from fellow Californian, The Alchemist, on the new one, but there are new ideas that make for more memorable instrumentals.
From the soley accordian based “EAST” to the reversed drum samples on the final track “4N,” Kgositsile aims to recycle old soul and jazz records to create something new and fresh. His approach to production can be similar to that of Madlib with his variety of samples he uses among many genres to the way he loops them to incorporate a more human rhythm. What sets him apart from the great producer is the rustic tones he added to convey a gritty yet smooth sound.
Although Kgositsile may not be okay on the surface or on the inside, his music most definitely is. His honest presentation of his life through his music presents a grime yet marvelous check in on his life since his last release in 2018.