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Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Feet of Clay’ lands with concision, eccentricity

Enigmatic rapper opens up about personal losses, verbalizes emotional subconscious

Through an exploration of the subconscious and a confrontation of grief, rapper Earl Sweatshirt reveals more of himself than ever before in “Feet of Clay” — an album only 15 minutes long.

Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, better known by his stage name Earl Sweatshirt, described his first project since stepping away from Columbia Records in 2018 as “a collection of observations and feelings recorded during the death throes of a crumbling empire.” Sweatshirt, who produced the album himself, leans into the darkness of death, addiction and grief in his atmospheric 7-track EP. He provides a voice to the emotional subconscious, allowing each track to find an innate flow.

The album’s title alludes to an Old Testament story where Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of the Babylonian Empire, dreams he has clay feet, a sign of vulnerability that foreshadows the empire’s fall. In an interview with Apple Music, Sweatshirt compared this biblical story to how he felt when trying to make music while grieving the death of his father.

Sweatshirt explores the pains of death by detailing the loss of his girlfriend, grandmother and father in his lyrics: “My soul and my heart / All in it, keep fishing / Gone, the macabre finish,” he raps over a dissonant, cartoonish beat on the EP’s second track, “East.” Sweatshirt highlights the vulnerability in grieving atop this inharmonious backdrop, embracing a novel gloominess and emotionality in both the track’s lyricism and production.

In “OD,” the rapper further meditates on the “macabre finish” through the lens of his personal life: “My noose is golden / True and livin’ / Lonesome / Pugilistic moments / ... / Healing cuts / But willingly I’m refilling the pump / No concealing it.” Still, Sweatshirt struggles to fully realize emotional candor. “My memory really leaking blood / It’s congealing, stuck / ... / Feeling rushed, grew up quick / Trip around the sun, this my 25th, give it up / Gin and rum / We wasn’t supposed to be alive, no funny shit,” he emotes as the track continues, providing tangible specificity about his own identity to the listener. With a flow that almost mimics a talking voice, he is more intimate with listeners than ever before, using raw lyricism to reveal his “pugilistic” battle with alcoholism while coping with loss.

Sweatshirt’s exploration of the subconscious reaches its culmination in the album’s final song, “4N,” which takes up nearly a third of the EP’s total listening time of 15 minutes. Sweatshirt’s newfound openness carries itself over into the vulnerability he exhibits in the album’s longest song.

Featuring rapper Mach Hommy, “4N” also expands upon the sulky, violent imagery of earlier tracks. Sweatshirt raps “Going in landmines, don’t count steps / The old chest said it’s about time / Slow breath, cold flesh made her mouth cry/We know death, alright let’s go left.” In these verses, Sweatshirt expresses a comfortability with exploring tenebrosity in the unconscious mind and even in death. The minimalist production lulls the listener into a trance-like engagement with its ominous lyricism and incorporation of an irregular baseline more evocative of R&B. No care is taken in stepping over landmines, and death becomes accepted as an organic postlude to life.

In the embrace of his own experiences with death, Sweatshirt spits lines with a slouchy flow that reflects the subconscious, offering a glimpse into his head. But he still remains a subversive, esoteric figure, leaving fans hungry for more of his experimental sound.

This dynamic may stem from a newfound artistic confidence: “For a long time, I just felt like shit about my verse. Then I was like, you know what? This joint kind of go crazy,” Sweatshirt said in an interview with Apple Music.


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