Three years ago, Earl Sweatshirt dove deeper into the topics of misanthropy and mental health with his sophomore album, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.” His latest full-length record, “Some Rap Songs,” feels like the logical progression in his depressive and antisocial binge. In this album, Sweatshirt pushes his music beyond alternative hip-hop — verging at times on experimental noise and outsider music — with contorted samples and rhymes that feel both disoriented and emotionally precise.
The album’s understated title might match Sweatshirt’s jaded and lethargic flow, but it also downplays much of the artistic ambition on this new collection of tracks. “Red Water,” for example — which is short and minimal but not quite an interlude — repeats Sweatshirt’s singular verse over a chopped and anxious instrumental.
It’s the kind of audio experiment that would pair nicely with the video art installations at the Museum of Modern Art. And Sweatshirt’s lyrics — “Blood in the water, I was walking in my sleep / Blood on my father, I forgot another dream” — only gain a greater significance through each repetition.
Despite Sweatshirt’s tendency toward experimentation, however, the album never ventures into pretentious territory. For the most part, “Some Rap Songs” mirrors the casual vibe of a beat tape, with only a handful of tracks ever pushing past the two-minute mark. The entire album only lasts for about 25 minutes in total.
Sweatshirt, who handled the majority of the production himself, keeps the mix in a comfortable state of low fidelity. This stylistic choice gives off an organic feel of home production but also compliments his candid diction. The murky vocal track on “Azucar” warbles in and out with the lyrics: “I piss problems out, the bottle empty / Mama said she used to see my father in me / Said I was not offended.”
The music remains consistent and focused throughout, but the high point does not arrive until the closing triptych.
On “Playing Possum,” Sweatshirt refrains from rapping and instead mixes separate spoken word samples from each of his parents together into one conciliatory gesture. Sweatshirt initially intended to send both this song and the album to his father, the South African poet and activist Keorapetse Kgositsile, but his father passed away in January before its release.
“Peanut” deals more explicitly with his father’s recent passing, with a beat that is more obscured than anything else on the album. It devolves almost into pure noise with sparse beats and piano notes to hold up its minimal frame to an excellent effect. “Picking out his grave, couldn’t help but feel out of place / Try and catch some rays / Death, it has a sour taste,” Sweatshirt says.
The album ends with the beautiful and uplifting instrumental track “Riot!” Sweatshirt crafts the beat around a sample of Hugh Masekela, a trumpeter and bandleader known as the “father of South African jazz;” the track communicates a sense of melancholic closure better than any words could.
“Some Rap Songs” may be more inaccessible than anything Sweatshirt has put out in the past, but this is no doubt his most significant release yet. On this album, Earl Sweatshirt has matured his artistic process into something bold and esoteric, while retaining all of his emotional authenticity.