By: Tommy Rodriguez
Thebe Kgositsile is one of the most talented contradictions in hip-hop today. He is simultaneously a rapper whose subject matter is rife with deeply personal, downright dark themes who somehow maintains a hysterical sense of humor and witty sense of self-awareness. He pushes further and further from mainstream hip hop standards with every new release, yet is one of the genre’s most universally respected poets. With the release of his latest EP, Feet of Clay, it seems like his boundary pushing has only deepened into an abyss of ominous beats, abstract wordplay, and odd song structures.
With Feet of Clay, Earl has done what he does best: ruffles the ever-living shit out of the feathers of the rap community. Whether it be his boundless knack for lo-fi sounds or labyrinthian rhymes, he has gotten everyone talking and theorizing. Of all the songs Earl had to offer from the EP, one in particular stood out as an enigma, confusing everyone and riling up even the most fringe of Earl fans: “East”. The internet opinion machine had torn itself up in the past week, trying to find a consensus for it where none lies…
It’s one of the most creative things Earl has created recently, and represents who he is as an artist and enigma in the rap art form.
Right off the bat, “East” is bizarre, almost freakish in nature. It’s a mix of a Madlib-esque accordion and flute loop that sounds as if it was somehow whipped up on the island where Jack Sparrow spent his days drowning in rum. It’s such a sharp sonic contrast from Earl’s typically introspective, nocturnal approach to production that it’s almost comical. It’s drunken, but somehow manages to stand upright at the tavern, asking for more drinks as everyone looks on in shock.
Earl, however, is as sober as ever.
As the beat staggers and swaggers along, Earl remains the straight man. His subject matter remains in his wheelhouse: loosely connected, thought-provoking, and brisk lines of social commentary and introspection rattling in the mix. His brand of witty wordplay on lines such as “Off top was me, no cap, I don’t bottle things” is quickly followed by references to substance abuse: “My canteen was full of the poison I need/The trip as long as steep/My innocence was lost in the East”. Earl’s very vocals come off as buried 5 feet beneath the beat, but Earl’s voice calls from the clay as he continues to thrive and prosper as a wordsmith. If he’s in the same tavern as the beat is, he’s the night’s designated driver.
The brilliance of “East” doesn’t necessarily stem from either side of the song, but rather how they work as a single unit. The track itself is a confusing mess of a song, with lyrical and instrumental ideas never correlating nor mixing together; it’s a hip-hop equivalent to oil and water. The beat seemed designed to make things harder for Earl, to hinder his flow and writing over a completely bizarre track that sounds more upbeat than anything he has rapped on in a while.
And yet, this is exactly why it is so worthy of discussion.
Many have already noted that the song sounds like Earl is dueling the beat, getting his voice and thoughts out as the same 3 second loop burns into our ears. In much the same way, it feels like a symbolic moment for who Earl is an artist and human at the time. He’s always had an uphill battle, with hardships and losses along the way, but somehow he manages to get his words out to world, regardless of how tough it may be on him or his fanbase. Through all the somber wordplay and serious delivery, there’s an element of tremendous comedy that lies in Earl’s personality; hell, just follow his twitter to see how funny he is. The clash of ideas is a manifestation of what Earl has been as an artist for years now: troubled yet incredibly talented, stone-cold yet human, a poet and a jokester. A contradiction in the truest sense of the words, Thebe Kgositsile is both a bright light and a shadow in his work.
“East” may be tough on first listen, but as the song repeats in my head, I realize now that it’s simply a way of getting to know Earl and his music. It may be confusing at first, but you’ll see deep down that his skill, cleverness, and humanity make him an artist worth understanding.
Stream Feet of Clay Below!
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