Earl Sweatshirt may be the most important and influential artist in hip hop today. In the past, I’ve chastised the direction Earl has taken with his career, but according to Spotify, he’s remained a staple in my “most listened to” artists of the past years. Which, admittedly, makes me a bit of a hypocrite. In all honesty, my initial reaction to Feet of Clay and Some Rap Songs, his most recent projects, was hasty and misaligned, which has motivated me to revisit my critique.
Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def, listed Earl as a go-to when asked of his current musical rotation. His exact words: “Earl Sweatshirt always. Blu., Mach-Hommy, JPEGMafia, Kendrick, Kelsey Lu, Blood Orange — it’s a lot of old stuff too,” (Source). Mos Def’s approval should not go unnoticed.
Earl doesn’t just push the limits; he has steered hip-hop in a trajectory towards long-term, diversified success. He’s an unlikely leader in the ever-changing landscape of this genre. Earl doesn’t hide behind a façade, or create a fake allure built on showing off; he’s unapologetically and unassumingly himself. His subdued delivery doesn’t always align with the strength of his lyrics, which invokes a certain charm to an otherwise dark demeanor. His lyrics can be gloomy, but they’re substantial and important. On “Hive”, Earl makes a simple, poignant reflection on a paradox we see every day: “Breaking news: death’s less important when the Lakers lose // There’s lead in that baby food”
The commingling of bravado and personal soliloquy makes Earl’s music so appealing. He explores his relationship with his mother on “Off Top”, found on the album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: “Trying to pay my momma rent, figure that’s just what I owe her // I been trouble since I tumbled out that stroller”. His honesty about his shortcomings as a child, and the need to pay back his parents in stride, is relatable to young adults across the country, and deserves more recognition. This evaluation of his relationship with his parents saturates his discography. Some similar lyrics include:
“My priorities fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m going to blow it // And when them expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right? // Talk all you want I’m taking no advice” – “Burgundy”
“I wasn’t born, mama snatched me off the motherfucking stork on a Friday” – “E. Coli”
Post Malone once said, “If you’re looking for lyrics, if you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip-hop” (Source). I cite Earl as the number one case study to dissent this opinion. Hip hop can be fun and uplifting, but like any good genre of music, it requires balance. We need more intimate tracks and albums to create this balance. We need Earl Sweatshirt.
Here are some of my recommended songs that denote Earl’s influence; these are examples of the vital role he plays for hip-hop.
Hype: “Pre”, “Off Top”, “Hive”, “Riot!”
Introspective: “Molasses”, “Huey”, “Burgundy”, “Nowhere2go”, “E. Coli”,
If you want to cry: “Playing Possum”, “December 24”, “El Toro Combo Meal”
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