In 2019, Alchemist hinted at a secret collaboration with Earl Sweatshirt uploaded under a different alias on YouTube. Fans scoured the internet looking for fragments of the mythical project to no avail. It was a scavenger hunt without any marquee leading clues. On the premiere of season four of Atlanta, Earl voices a character named Blueblood, a deceased rapper with a parallel mythos to MF DOOM, who ironically enough leads Paper Boi on a scavenger hunt to Blueblood’s funeral. Throughout the episode are songs that fans believed were from the Earl/Alchemist tape. That quickly dissipated.
Voir Dire, surprise-dropped on August 25, is the long-awaited full-length offering from Earl and Alc. There’s moments of brilliance across the 11 tracks; Earl’s pen is elegant and intricate, Al’s production delicate and meticulous. Earl Sweatshirt’s previous works Doris, I Don’t Like Shit, Feet of Clay, etc. feature brooding world building and vivid imagery that captures and immerses you into his world. But in Voir Dire (the process by which lawyers screen jurors and witnesses), the world building is absent, instead it opts for the minimalism of rapper and producer, bars and beats. This can create a disconnect, as if Earl is rapping off a “Alchemist Beats” folder. Alchemist’s means of flipping samples is remarkable but the ideas feel more stiff and stale than refreshing.
Earl tends to rap on abstract, sample-heavy production that warps into his muddied vocals. There’s times on Voir Dire where the stripped down instrumentals better highlight Earl’s writing. Alc loops grooving guitar strings and light snares with tambourine jingles on “Vin Skully.” Earl reminisces on the days of having no heat in the crib, riddled with depression, and suffering from alcoholism fueled by gin and tonics. “Sirius Blac” sounds like background music that plays in a sitcom as scenes change, snipped and put through Alc’s lab. But it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t distract from Earl.
As masterful as Alchemist’s production can be, the cleanliness of the beats in his later years feels more robotic than exuberant. “Sentry,” which features a verse from NYC rapper MIKE, is haunting, as if the woman singing in the sample was from a different astral plane. Alc’s beat is exceptional, but treads in familiar territory. “Memories careen out the past, Halt me to a screech in they tracks,” Earl raps as if his demons slithered around him in the booth. “27 Braids” feels produced to tailor to the likes of Currensy or Larry June, but Earl’s performance adds the identity the beat lacks in.
“My Brother, the Wind” is the centerpiece of Voir Dire, a highly anticipated track since Earl’s performance at Camp Flog Gnaw ‘19. The track is a dip of baptismal water, a moment of cleansing past sins. “Etch A Sketch what I live, Shiverin’, erasin’ what I did,” Earl regretfully spits. He and Alchemist sound best when the production matches the emotions emitted.
Voir Dire is an exceptional collection of raps, but missing connectivity between Earl and Alc holds back the tape’s potential. Where Earl breathes life into his verses, Alc plays it safe with more simple ideas that feel a bit boring and recycled.