As this year draws to a close, my views that media can give someone the greatest feelings of emotion were definitely concluded. All my favourite forms of entertainment provided me with some truly great experiences this year.
The latest instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise: Fallout (which played a pretty big role in my childhood leaping around the living room pretending to be Tom Cruise) turned out to be an excellent change of pace from the redundancy that the series had been churning out until now, while Spike Lee reminded me why I’m such a fan of his movies with the incredibly powerful “BlacKkKlansman” telling the shocking story of an undercover cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan and getting all too deep with the extremist group.
But while Hollywood did impress me this year, I do think it barely held a candle to the satisfaction that music brought me. Given my preferred taste in music: American rap and hip-hop; a lot of people are quick to roll their eyes and dismiss it all into one sub-category of mumbling nonsense. (Which in fairness… a lot of it is) but a lot of albums and artists this year who I have supported for a while came through with particularly standout records this year.
It was a great year for international artists receiving pretty widespread acclaim and plaudits in the U.S. this year. Colombian native Kali Uchis’ personal and infectious tunes on her solo commercial debut “Isolation” is easily one of the most replay-able albums of the entire year, while Swedish singer and auto-crooner Bladee also had a simple, yet catchy as all-hell album “Red Light” drop this year packed with melody and European artsy imagery. The UK also had a rather big splash across the pond as well with Devonté Hynes’ musical alias ‘Blood Orange’ dropping a fantastic 80’s throwback with the album “Negro Swan”, with Irish rapper Rejjie Snow putting out easily the most surprising full-length debut of the year with the personal and conceptual “Dear Annie”.
When ranking my favourite albums of this year, I had every expectation that my inner Kanye ‘Stan’ was going to show off my bias, with Kanye West’s collaborative album with long-time friend Kid Cudi easily being the most ambitious and resonating project of the entire year for me, albeit being at just 7 tracks and at 20 minutes.
However, it would take one of my long-time favourite artists: Mr. Earl Sweatshirt to put out something that I didn’t just hear, but really felt.
Me and Earl go back to when I was 12-years-old and when I was even edgier than I already am and when I was listening to Odd Future. I was trying to be different and so were they. And they were offending literally everyone at around the time I was entering my adolescence, so it was essentially a match made in heaven. Along with frontman Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt was one of the real standout artists for me. His twisting flows reminded me of MF Doom, while his lyrics bouncing off the rhyme schemes he would use like tall walls in a narrow alley. It was reminiscent of something from an early-2000's era Eminem.
His presence was captivating and was encapsulated perfectly on his 2011 self-titled debut “EARL”, with even more lyrical and thematic progression on his commercially released albums “Doris” (2013) and “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” (2015), both drowning in themes of loneliness, isolation, and procrastination; sometimes with reason, sometimes without. It was difficult to listen to, but also impressive that someone could just lay this kind of raw emotion threadbare. It was something that at the time, a lot of artists were not doing, especially in a genre that promotes hyper-masculinity and until now would not dare show any kind of vulnerability.
Fast-forward three years later and we have the cobbled sounding “Some Rap Songs” and if Earl’s last album was his sophomore release, then his latest release is definitely his post-graduate project. The album is 15 tracks though spans just 25 minutes, averaging at just over a minute-and-a-half to two minutes per song. It’s ‘all killer, no filler’ and says gets its message out before moving onto the next track. The production, sometimes rickety, enhances the very raw and intimate listening experience. It sounds like a person scribbling internal thoughts and monologues onto a piece of notepad paper in their bedroom at 2.30AM given Earl’s very stream of consciousness delivery. The loose verse flow gives the tracks a very loose structure, though sonically the project sounds cohesive as ever; making the album sound more like a short anthology of poems rather than a well-versed collection of songs.
The lead singles to this I think are a very good indicator to what you're getting yourself into, with “The Mint” uses its metaphorical title of refreshing and overcoming prior bad events that occurred in Earl's life, such as his father's abandonment and owing a portion of his success to the way his mother raised him, while “Nowhere2go” takes a dark plunge into Earl's deepest internal crevices, referencing the untimely death of his grandmother, while also updating the listener on his battle with drug addiction and depression.
Either way you look at it, it's heavy stuff. It's raw; and its bedroom-made presentation adds all the more emotional kick to it. But in a way, I feel this is why I connect with it so much. It's a change and such a more harsh, yet truer portrayal of what the outside world is like as opposed to the glossy, fetishised view of the world being this constantly happy place that is expressed so often in the modern music landscape.
I know I said it earlier, but I feel this album more than I have felt any other this year and it even made me go back to other albums I love to listen in a different way, with a larger ear for introspection. It makes me want to listen to people more outside of music and look out for them in the same way I would want. It's that impact it had on me as a person towards the end of 2018 which made "Some Rap Songs" my favourite album of the year.
Earl Sweatshirt - The Mint (Official Audio) ft. Navy Blue -
Earl Sweatshirt - Nowhere2go (Official Audio)