It’s not that I particularly like traveling for work, and it’s not like listening to podcasts or music is my favorite thing to do and that I crave the peace and quiet to do it. It’s that I already go years without listening to the recommendations of my friends and even the new releases of journalists or artists I like. It’s that being in a car by myself for two and a half hours is a rare situation where I don’t have anything better or more interesting to be doing than listening to podcasts or music, and without these car rides, I might just never get around to it.
Sometimes, usually on the way back home the next day, when I’m exhausted from a long day of teaching, when I’m buzzing from an inadequacy of sleep, maybe from stress, when it’s already taken me an hour and a half to get from Detroit to Novi, the simple fact that I am in a car moving from Point B back to Point A is the only narrative that my brain is able to process. Days like these, I can’t follow a podcast, and music sounds too loud, the tempo much faster than I remembered, the lyrics and storytelling much less compelling. It feels like hearing music in a dream, or what I imagine that to be like—something distantly familiar but inexplicably alien. Nothing sensible, only sensory—and not in a way that frees the spirit or makes it want to dance. It’s days like these that I can’t listen to music that I want to like because I risk hearing nothing more than dull pounding or a voice underwater. So I just drive in silence.
Part of what I have historically appreciated about Earl Sweatshirt’s music is his attention to detail. I’m no music critic and certainly not qualified to be a rap critic, but I can still recognize, even if I can’t calculate, the complexity of his rhyme schemes. I can hear a faint, unusual melody under the layers of dust in his production. Sometimes I need an encyclopedia to piece together all the allusions and shout-outs, all the history and literature in his lyrics, but I can appreciate, and I am amazed by, the depth and the intricacy and the craft in his work—even in the two-minute tracks.
I knew it was probably the wrong time to listen to Some Rap Songs, which I had been putting off for nearly a year, on one of those early-evening car rides home from Detroit, with a bad headache, heavy eyelids, a lot on my mind, and without the wherewithal I felt I owed the artist.
But from the playthrough and a half I gave the album, my impression was that maybe that impulse I had to throw it on because I had nothing better to do was the right one. Fortunately, it turns out, I think throbbing and watery and dreamlike and distant even when you turn the volume too high are all how this project is supposed to sound, or perhaps just feel to a miscellany of your senses.
I actually liked the album a lot, or at least what I can conceive of it having been like. More than I liked the album itself, I was glad that I liked it. I try not to get caught up in what I “should” like, but I still find it relieving and fulfilling when I’m not disappointed by something I had been hoping that I would like (but had been too afraid that I wouldn’t to find out). Though I think the thing I liked the most was that, even feeling how I often did on those drives, things in my life felt stable enough that I could add one more thing to care about. Then I played a few tracks from Saba and Lorde and some other consistent favorites and then drove the rest of the way home in silence.
Earl dropped Feet of Clay at the beginning of this month with almost no warning, and I obviously haven’t listened to it yet. I know it’s short, even shorter than Some Rap Songs, but I haven’t listened to that either since that day. I’ll get to both of them in time, and then I’ll get to them again. I’ve been busy and not sleeping too well, and I know there will be so many careful little details.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.