Josh Fundadunda reviews Earl Sweatshirt’s latest album
Almost a full year after his last full-length LP Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt returns with a surprise EP titled FEET OF CLAY. The lack of promotion for the project immediately sets an expectation of what is to come. This is not a conceptual album, nor should it not be treated as leftover songs from his last album. EPs like these serve as opportunities to experiment musically, and further explore themes and ideas.
FEET OF CLAY starts this right off the bat with its title. The phrase “feet of clay” refers to someone of weak character, and this sets the tone for the EP. While this is not a continuation of Some Rap Songs, many themes carry over. For instance, ‘MTOMB’ is Earl expressing the depression he faces in the wake of his father passing. This speaks to the evolution Earl has made creatively, and this addition to his discography pushes the boundaries even further. This thematic growth favours song structures which allow for exploration in all directions. No song is dominated by one idea, Earl opens up and lets loose the feelings weighing him down. Specifically, on ‘EL TORO COMBO MEAL’, Earl and guest feature Mavi, split the track rapping about everything from the loss of a friend to the struggles of upcoming artists, to hidden fears and prayers alike. And the rest of the project follows suit structurally, with no singular focus holding it down. While the overarching idea of ‘weakness of character’ seems to play an important role, the themes Earl addresses are not fixed in any way. In fact, Earl seems as unshackled as on his last project, if not more so.
Earl’s rapping and adept penmanship is as sharp as ever
Nevertheless, I find the project to be fairly disjointed and inconsistent in a few areas. Rather than a seamless flow between tracks, each one sits as its own piece, which isn’t immediately negative. Although, I think with a project this short, just over 15 minutes total, the lack of connection between songs can toss the listener from one track to the next. On the other hand, while the pacing suffers from the project’s length, Earl’s rapping is as sharp as ever. Bars like “Piscean just like my father, still got bones to pick out” on ‘MTOMB’, or “Sellin’ kids culture with death, circlin’ like carrion // The more the merrier” on ’74’ demonstrate his adept penmanship. Moreover, while Earl finds his groove in his lyrics, the production on the project’s instrumentals ranges from subtle and supportive, to awkward and detrimental.
The beat, sample, and mixing on ‘TISK TISK/COOKIES’ is one instance where everything fits into place for Earl; the glitched drums and piano, strained strings, and sporadic horns all accompany Earl’s punchy flow. Not to mention the beat-switch between ‘TISK TISK’ and ‘COOKIES’ thematically reinforces the song. The lowest point on the project comes on the track ‘EAST’. The song, from start to finish, has a cartoonish accordion sample which would better fit a Charlie Chaplin silent film. The combination is interesting, though I think it grossly overstays its welcome; a switch-up or beat change would be warmly welcomed here. Similarly, the closing track ‘4N’ leaves a bad aftertaste, as both the instrumental and guest feature from Mach-Hommy did little to impress.
Overall this projects serves as an update as to Earl’s headspace and how he is dealing with life at the moment, a surprise treat for long-time fans. And whether we’re met with a new full-length concept album or another dense, unfocused EP like this – in the future, I think Earl has nothing but progress to look forward to musically.