It’s been less than a year since Earl Sweatshirt released the great Some Rap Songs — his most experimental album so far and a three-years-in-the-making followup to the great I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside — and now he’s already back with a followup, the quick and dirty seven-song Feet of Clay. Earl produced most of the project himself, and his beats are still mostly cut from the same psychedelic cloth as Some Rap Songs, but he brings back some of the harder-hitting rapping of his earlier days. And the individual songs on Feet of Clay sound like distinct entities compared to Some Rap Songs, which often feels like one big collage. In some ways, it’s like a culmination of everything he’s done up until this point, but it also sounds like no other Earl album yet. Save for “Tisk Tisk / Cookies,” there isn’t one hook on the album, just stream-of-consciousness delivery from Earl, who packs in threats, boasts, sentimentality, fun references, a shoutout to the late Ras G and much more into these bars. And even without hooks, Feet of Clay‘s impact is felt immediately. It’s still an experimental album, but it quickly registers as a more accessible album than its predecessor.
Earl remains both a great rapper and an inventive producer, and since he has such a strong grip on all aspects of his sound, he’s been able to consistently progress his music and stick to a strong, focused vision. It’s been a thrill to watch Earl — and other members of the scattered Odd Future collective — evolve over the years. He started out making one kind of underground rap, then had the chance to go mainstream, but he passed on the opportunity and now he’s been making a much different kind of underground rap. Instead of the dark, bare-bones horror rap that he helped create with Tyler the Creator, Earl is now making trippy lo-fi rap and associating with other likemeinded underground artists like recent tourmate MIKE, Some Rap Songs contributors Standing on the Corner and Navy Blue, and Mavi and Mach-Hommy, both of whom make the only guest appearances on Feet of Clay (and who both released projects featuring Earl earlier this year). Both Mavi (who’s on “El Toro Combo Meal,” which was produced by little-known Oakland artist Ovrkast, whose style suits this album perfectly) and Mach-Hommy (who’s on “4N” and co-produced the song with Earl) fit into Earl’s world seamlessly. The three rappers do all sound different, but if you weren’t paying close enough attention, you might not even notice the album has two guests. They’re not there to add star power to the album’s tracklist; they come off more like members who belong to a group than like “guests.” The only time an outside contributor really does change up the vibe of Feet of Clay is Alchemist with his production on “MTOMB.” Most of the album finds Earl rapping over futuristic production (even when, on “East,” he loops an accordion that sounds like it’s a century old), but Alchemist provides Earl with a head-nodding jazz-rap beat on “MTOMB,” and its inclusion on Feet of Clay is very much earned. It’s a nice break from the haze of the rest of the record, and it’s a nice reminder that Earl can still deliver some classicist rap shit when he wants to.
At seven tracks that clock in at 15 and a half minutes, Feet of Clay is by far Earl’s shortest project yet, but it doesn’t feel incomplete. It reminds me of his old pal Vince Staples’ 2018 project FM!, which itself was a shorter, more accessible, quickly released followup to Vince’s most experimental album yet. It wasn’t obvious if FM! counted as a “proper album,” but it turned out it didn’t matter. It remains one of Vince’s best releases to date — easier to listen to than his most ambitious work, but still adventurous in its own right — and I have a feeling Feet of Clay will experience a similar fate. It might be short, but it’s more proof that Earl is still evolving, still trying out new things, and coming out with great songs in the process.