When Earl Sweatshirt saw the release of Some Rap Songs last year, fans witnessed a total metamorphosis. The once-dizzying, multi-syllabic, MF DOOM-loving wordsmith became a rapper that favored simplicity over abstract, jarring production. With that new style switch came polarization, as older Odd Future fans felt alienated by the newfound fondness of brevity and harshness. The album’s production was too grating and lo-fi to be deemed accessible, but others accepted Earl’s challenge, finding the purpose in the rapper’s harshness, finding gold within the abrasive, melancholy production, and depressing, autobiographical lyrics.
If Some Rap Songs felt polarizing to older Earl fans, Feet of Clay sounds polarizing for fans of Some Rap Songs. This is immediately apparent by the EP’s first single and second track, “EAST,” which features an incredibly short loop of an accordion, countered only by a wailing stream of wind instrumentals and a vinyl crackle. Bars are brief, and Earl’s vocals are drowning by the instrumental he produced, intentionally muffling his own words and demanding listeners to read along with lyrics at hand. He raps in short breaks, clouding his rhymes in dense metaphors, and detailing a need for alcohol in grief: of his girlfriend: “I lost my phone and consequently, All the feelings I caught for my GF / My hands was on her wings, I took ’em off, had a story careen against the bars / My canteen was full of the poison I need.”
The choice of woozy, drunken beats often parallel’s Earl’s mental state perfectly, as he takes time jabbing at accepted societal norms and venturing into his own depression. “54,” a nauseating beat Earl glides over, sees him reflecting on Odd Future and his early successes, older fans, his clothing brand Deathworld, and his detest of social media in four bars: “They dug it when they was young, More than one hole in one with no mulligan / Sellin’ kids culture with death, circlin’ like carrion, The more the merrier, phone got you livin’ vicarious.” It’s not bitter so much as matter-of-fact that Earl is living in the moment, dropping songs that lament in his mind-state like journal entries.
On “OD,” his brevity is most apparently as entire bars are four words or less, as his bobs and weaves through a choppy instrumental. “My noose is golden, true and livin’, lonesome, pugilistic moments,” he raps, speeding up his pace only to deliver tight-knit bars about his mental health. Featured on the standout track, “EL TORO COMBO MEAL,” is Charlotte, North Carolina rapper MAVI, dropping a verse over a soulful vocal-sample loop accompanied pianos. MAVI’s flow is rushed as he outruns the beat, delivering mystifying raps before Earl Sweatshirt closes the track out with a reflection on his own upbringing and career hustle.
At its best, Feet of Clay is Earl Sweatshirt writing journal entries in real-time. At just under 15 minutes long, the EP is yet another polarizing entry in Earl’s canon, directly challenging listeners with grating production without ever begging anyone to listen. As abrasive as it feels, it’s a lyrically rewarding payoff for listeners who choose to sift through the muddle and explore a high-brow exercise into poetry. Otherwise, old Odd Future fans and casual Hip-Hop listeners will be turned off by its off-putting and annoyingly grating aesthetics.