What becomes of the child prodigy? Historically the answer lies somewhere between Bobby Fischer and Lil Wayne, but for Earl Sweatshirt, the Los Angeles-based MC who at 16 released an album that helped spearhead a movement in contemporary rap, simply continuing to exist in that space is something of a victory. “In terms of the lineage of all the shit that I’ve done, niggas have really really grown up with me,” Earl says. “I’m a surviving child star.”
It’s an amusing if not wholly accurate categorization. The world has watched and listened to a boy become the man, each phase of his development marked by a daring and original musical document. The MC’s fourth solo project, Some Rap Songs, comes three years after the highly acclaimed I Dont Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, an album that came two years after his debut, Doris, which was the successor to his tide-changing debut mixtape, Earl.
Some Rap Songs serves as another installment of the MC’s continuously evolving worldview and a chronicle of his evolution as an artist and a human being. “My childhood and the beginning stages of my adulthood have all been in the public light,” Earl says. “I can grow as much as I want by myself but I’m a public figure. In order for my growth to be complete, the work has to reflect it.”
Correspondingly, Some Rap Songs references one of the most severe growing pains of life as we know it, the passing of a parent. Earl’s father, South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile passed in January of 2018. Earl’s parents split when he was young and for the majority of his life, communication with his father had been sparse. When he passed, the rapper was roughly a month out from from a reunion that would facilitate a long-anticipated conversation.
“Me and my dad had a relationship that’s not uncommon for people to have with their fathers, which is a non-perfect one,” Earl says. “Talking to him is symbolic and non-symbolic, but it’s literally closure for my childhood. Not getting to have that moment left me to figure out a lot with my damn self.”
Between the last album and Some Rap Songs Earl would also change how he lived. He moved back in with his mother for a brief period (“That’ll change your shit up real quick and make you figure out at least where you want to go.”) and then to New York City (“I was fake transitioning into being some New York nigga”), before finally returning to LA. “I gotta change my life every time I want to change my music,” he says. “I didn’t want to settle into the music that comes from being too comfortable.”
Some Rap Songs is hardly an uncomfortable listen, but it is a project that rewards engagement. Not unlike I Don’t Like Shit, it is both bar-heavy and concise, eschewing wisdom or platitudes for cold honesty and perspective. It’s an album from an MC who began raising the bar in his adolescence, and who at age 24 can reflect on his existence and what his art has wrought in a way he couldn’t possibly have before. “I take this shit seriously,” Earl says. “And I take myself improvement seriously because I know that I have a platform. I’m trying to be a better person through real action and not just talking about it. My karma comes to me in people: in who I’m speaking to and who I’m speaking for.”