FEET OF CLAY (DELUXE): ALBUM REVIEW
Earl Sweatshirt’s career has reached a precipice...and he leaps from it happily.
Thebe Kgositsile, ubiquitously known as Earl Sweatshirt, released his Feet of Clay EP on Halloween in 2019. Owing to the album’s macabre cover and content, it was a fitting release date despite its announcement mere hours prior. Now, Sweatshirt’s discography is no stranger to tackling grief, depression, or delinquency in a myriad of ways. We’ve come to identify his esoteric style and measured delivery to be synonymous with the emotional weight of his work (see his 2015 album I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside). And as of late, his recent projects have moved closer and closer to unpolished aesthetics, ‘[sLUms]’-inspired production, and most importantly, a showcase of versatility. It’s the pursuit of the latter that ultimately influenced Feet of Clay’s reception, proving its sound was just as unexpected as its arrival.
In the least cliche terms, FoC is a roller coaster of lyricism and production.
Earl comes out the stables hot, opening the very first second of “74” with an avalanche of braggadocio and biography. “Sellin' kids culture with death, circlin' like carrion,” he raps about his influence and brand. “The more the merrier, phone got you livin' vicarious. Ice melting 'cause it's so hot. The veil lifts, the pain salient,” speaking realtime about the mood of tracks past, present, and those to follow. This sets the first precedent of the album. Earl has always been secure in his talents, but much of his career has been marred in moments of loss. His debut album Doris references and bears the name of his late grandmother; following IDLSIDGO’s release he disappeared from the public eye for four years; and Some Rap Songs, released only six months before FoC, was a sullen libation to his father and uncle, both passing that year.
Thematically, FoC represents Earl’s aspirations towards further growth in spite of the things he’s gone through. He feels like he’s lived a lifetime’s worth rapping, “[being] twenty-five was a quarter to life” on the track “MTOMB.” Invoking both unfathomable hardships but also optimistic longevity in the same breath. In FoC, this pivot between painful memories and anticipation for what's next are the two poles Earl operates within lyrically. The album’s title serves as a thematic juxtaposition as well. “Feet of clay’ is a biblical allusion that draws attention to the structural crisis of the ‘golden head’ that rests upon a fundamentally weak foundation, e.g. feet of clay. The idea here is that collapse feels inevitable, a fitting motif in the COVID-19 era. Earl looks outward and towards our present moment with hints of revolution and racial justice. At the end of “EAST” he raps, “They couldn’t fathom all the damage that had to get done. Piglets in a farrow; we cookin’ up. Don’t give the sparrow no air or room to sing that there tune to the Sheriff. Deadly flowers bloom; howling rabidly we stare at you and say a prayer. Let’s take it there.” And whether by coincidence or not, the deluxe release of this album came with two new songs, one of which is “WHOLE WORLD.” In it, Brooklyn rapper Maxo repeats, “Whole world 'round me crumblin'”’ in a delayed and disinterested manner that feels all too appropriate for the situation. I go to great lengths to highlight these lyrics first because it’s the production of FoC that somewhat overshadowed what it had to offer.
Here is where the ride becomes more obvious. Track for track, save for the deluxe add-ons, there’s a clear departure from the usual Sweatshirt sound. Earl, under the moniker RandomBlackDude, produced five of the original seven tracks. The flip-flopping between beats can be jarring at times. The glitchy, scattered, and distorted sounds put on display throughout Some Rap Songs make an unapologetic return on tracks like “OD,” “TISK TISK/COOKIES,” and “4N.” While “4N” closes out the original album, it’s five-minute runtime feels awkwardly misplaced considering the total runtime of OG FoC was only 15 MINUTES! Again, I could understand having a drawn-out closing but the beat drones on and serves to sell-short the emblematic final bars. Then, interspersed between, are songs like “EAST” and “EL TORO COMBO MEAL.” The production of both these songs is simply thundering and full. The infamous loop that plays on “EAST” was met with a polarizing response. Some applauded the ambitiousness of such an untraditional beat and borderline amelodic delivery. Others found it to be a cacophony attuned to that of a circus instrumental. Coupled between the lo-fi mixes of “74” and “MTOMB”, “EAST” feels like it was mixed to clip your audio. Personally, I was always fond of “EAST” but it’s another song where the lyrical content could’ve been appreciated more had the mixing been a bit less abrasive. And the cymbal crash and rumbling percussion of “EL TORO COMBO MEAL” introduces Mavi’s verse as something grand and grand it was. Earl closes it out rhyming, “Every time a nigga didn't spot me. I had to figure out my own thing. Now we at the precipice droppin'.” I don’t interpret this line as a fall from grace or fame. I interpret it as the dive of a phoenix, moments away from its fiery rebirth.
Feet of Clay continues to contemplate grief and growth while pushing the envelope of what rap can express sonically and vocally. In that way, it undoubtedly follows the aesthetics of Some Rap Songs, but it shines a light on a career evolution that’s been met with nothing but trauma only to give us treasure in return. This sounds like a search for emotional stability as well as a hope to grow more accustomed, not complacent, to the world Earl finds himself in at 25—ten years since his debut as a member of Odd Future. If the last lines of “4N” are indicative of anything it’s that pain can strike us to stillness, isolation, and malice. It happens to the best of us. Golden heads held high until one day we look down in pain and there it is, our clay feet struggling to hold us up. However, in the meantime, life is happening. There are changes to be made and there’s work to be done. Lows will come but should never stop you in pursuing your peaks, eventually overshooting them. Earl Sweatshirt sounds-off assured that he’s given his all for now, with more to give in time: “Couple clips left, couple lips cleft...Wrote it on the foggiest mirror. The quality thorough, ill. It's all I could spill. There's more I could do”