Hip-hop on the creative fringes, from Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples
Earl Sweatshirt, “Feet of Clay” (Tan Cressida/Warner Records) A day before the prodigal rapper issued this new EP, he wrote via social media that the release was “a collection of observations and feelings recorded during the death throes of a crumbling empire.” He doesn’t waste any time, packing the opening track, “74,” with a single, uninterrupted verse that references melting ice, holy wars, smartphone culture, “streets flooding like the pants weren’t touching the sneak” and flying missiles.
“Feet of Clay,” in fact, only contains one chorus among its seven tracks, and it arrives in a two-suite quickie called “Tisk Tisk/Cookies” near the end. The rest of his words arrive in verses and show the artist born Thebe Kgositsile experimenting with structure and meter while pouring forth streams of consequential ideas. Musically, “East,” which the artist self-produced, is driven not by beats but by sampled accordion, bowed strings and a marching oompa-loompa bass line. Who does that?
The Alchemist-produced “Mtomb” samples the smooth 1980s disco-soul group Mtume, upon which Earl lays out rhymes that are capped with the memorable fish-driven couplet, “Piscean just like my father, still got bones to pick out / For now let’s salt the rims and pour a drink out.”
As with the free-jazz innovators of the 1960s, Sweatshirt continually pushes against the notion that rap music requires any formulas at all. Again, who does that?
Vince Staples feat. 6lack and Mereba, “Yo Love” (Blacksmith/Motown) Longtime Earl Sweatshirt collaborator and friend Vince Staples made one of his earliest impressions nearly a decade ago on Earl’s self-titled debut mixtape. In the time since, the two have established parallel and occasionally intertwining narratives. Staples, unlike his peer, has moved further toward the center of the commercial rap realm by crafting brash, witty odes to his North Long Beach home.
His new track is a midtempo ballad and appears on the soundtrack to the forthcoming crime thriller, “Queen & Slim.” Acknowledging that a lover is “probably sick of love songs,” Staples nonetheless spills out a series of concise rhymes: “I been beaten black and blue / Story of my life, tell me something about you / Where you from? / Did you stay or did you run? / You ever thought about a daughter or a son?”
Staples is joined for the chorus by R&B singer-rapper 6lack and his Spillage Village colleague Mereba. Elsewhere on the “Queen & Slim” soundtrack, experimental R&B singer Syd, best known for her Odd Future beginnings and as leader of the group the Internet, premieres a simmering new track called “Getting Late.”
Also unlike his peer Earl, who seems to have mostly retreated from self-promotion, Staples has moved further into the spotlight: Last week he premiered the second episode of “The Vince Staples Show.” An original series, it showcases the rapper’s skills in front of the camera.
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