By this point, Earl Sweatshirt is long removed from the speedy, horrorcore raps fueled by teenage angst that defined his early career. It was surprising to many to hear the direction he went with last year’s Some Rap Songs, subbing out “jacking off to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating apple sauce” for the highly experimental, self-examination that album presented. While he had been heading in a more mature direction for a while, Some Rap Songs was the final nail. But he’s a year removed from that, so, where is Earl Sweatshirt now? His newest project, Feet of Clay, doesn’t necessarily answer that question- at least not as directly as his last record.
If 2018 was the pit of despair Some Rap Songs made it out to be, Feet of Clay feels like Earl has surfaced, but isn’t quite sure how to reintegrate back into normal life. The project is technically impressive, loaded with brilliant songwriting and inventive production. He touches on his usual tropes of alcoholism, depression, isolation, etc, but also mixes in a fair share of fun bars too such as the pistons reference on “EL TORO COMBO MEAL.”
Pistons roarin’ like I’m Rasheed Pistons roarin’ like I’m Ben Wallace Pistons roarin’ like Chauncey Fill up somethin’ ’cause I been drivin’
There’s a lot to love about the project, but it lacks the cohesion of a fully fleshed-out work; it seems like a pack of singles more than a full project. There is little to no connection between songs, just look at the transition from the wacky “EAST” to the nuanced, introspective “MTOMB.” Both are great tracks on their own, but they, along with the five other songs, don’t come together to say anything interesting as a whole. Feet of Clay mostly feels like out-of-context leftovers from Some Rap Songs.
“Cookies” for instance, was first performed at Camp Flog Gnaw 2018, the same month Some Rap Songs released. The cadence was slightly different, but it’s the same here. Earl raps “I took the cookies, put ’em to the side/Sunny day, but I’m cooking inside/Muddy path, but I’m taking my time.” It’s reminiscent of the interim years between I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and Some Rap Songs when loose, unceremonious, sometimes live SoundCloud posts such as “Hat Trick” or “Wind In My Sails” were all we heard from Earl– perhaps this is why it didn’t make the Some Rap Songs cut.
What Feet of Clay is missing are references in the production like the Western Electric Company’s, “The Dialect Of The Black American” on “December 24,” the reworked instrumental of Hugh Masekela’s “Riot” or the James Baldwin quote that kicks off Some Rap Songs. These samples tell the story of that album as much as the lyrics themselves. The production on Feet of Clay on the other hand, doesn’t appear to serve any overarching purpose except as an outlet to rap over.
Stylistically, Earl continues marching further in an experimental direction, floating through expertly crafted stream-of-consciousness bars matched with dark, glitched out, jazz-sample heavy production. It’s a direction that has divided the Earl Sweatshirt fanbase, with some wanting Earl’s violent, funny persona back while others bask in the depressive avant-garde candor.
“OD” is a perfect summation of Earl’s current sound. The samples throughout are so contorted and glitched that they’ve crossed beyond recognition. Themes of despondency and desperation ooze throughout the lyrics, “I watched a child get introduced to violence/I beat you to the point, my noose is golden/True and livin’, lonesome, pugilistic moments, riveting.” There’s no hook here, just bars– typical Earl.
Over the course of the decade, Earl Sweatshirt has evolved beyond recognition. With each project comes leaps and bounds of new talent and perspective on life. We’ve watched him grow from an immature precocious teen to one of the best rappers in the game. While his newest effort lacks an overarching narrative or conceptual structure, Feet of Clay is still an entertaining 15-minutes.