Basement Dwelling: “Some Rap Songs” by Earl Sweatshirt

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On my first listen of Earl Sweatshirt’s third album, Some Rap Songs, I thought a lot about that title. Some Rap Songs. It struck me as sort of commentary on how so many people consume music in 2018. Here’s this rapper that has been buzzed about for years. Here’s his album. Listen to it, get it or don’t, and move on to the next thing. What was it? Some rap songs. It’s a notion portrayed in the cover art too; a blurry, borderline frightening image of Earl is front and center — an image that renders the creator of this album nearly faceless. In my mind, it all fits, being brilliantly calculated and serving a specific purpose; an analogy for this record as a whole.

This was not a record meant to be released in this time, but couldn’t have come out at a better one. If you think the intention was to just deliverer “some rap songs,” you’d be mistaken. No. instead what’s been presented here is a masterclass in album making, Earl Sweatshirt’s finest work to date. and one of the most forward-thinking and boundary-pushing rap records of this decade.

You probably know the story already: Earl, a near mythological figure in rap already at only 24 years of age, has been in the spotlight since his early teens. Born Thebe Kgositsile, Earl made his start in the Tyler, The Creator-founded hip-hop coalition, Odd Future. He was sent away to a boarding school in Samoa for at-risk teens right after the release of his first mixtape, only then to make a triumphant return with his first proper record, Doris, in 2013, and following that up with the brilliant, now cult classic I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside in 2015. I Don’t Like Shit marked the signs of a significant stylistic shift and the start of a new era for Earl.

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Basement Dwelling: “Oxnard” by Anderson Paak

The cover for Anderson Paak’s latest album, Oxnard, immediately gives the impression of a film. “Starring Anderson Paak,” it reads, much like the marquee on a movie poster. And like a movie poster, we see an array of images all pertaining to Paak’s life. These include images of his son, two of the members of his band The Free Nationals, as well as Paak himself, standing before a large crowd next to the most glaring inclusion, which is hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. All of these images are portrayed in a cloud of smoke, as Paak stands firmly there, arms open, assuredly singing something uplifting and life-affirming.

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This is the poster to the film that is Anderson Paak, Oxnard being the third film of the trilogy — and the biggest one to date due to his meteoric rise in the public consciousness in the last two years. Keeping this in mind, despite my hype for this record and my love of Paak’s previous works, I still had my apprehensions about this project. I wondered if this newfounded backing and production by Dre and his label Aftermath would result in a production too large with stakes so high that it might suck the soul out of what makes Paak so great — the soul that was allowed to freely reign on a record like Malibu. Would Oxnard be marred by tracks lacking the songwriting ability that made his previous works so instantly lovable and memorable?

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