Ain’t No Slave in My Soul: On Earl Sweatshirt’s “Nowhere2go”

Will Hagle goes in on the first new music from Earl in over two years.
By    November 15, 2018

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Will Hagle still dreams of Asher Roth in applesauce.

Far too many rappers fail to recognize that the form must be mastered before it can be deconstructed. Rules need to be understood before they can be subverted. A few rare artists surpass these limitations and reinvent genres seemingly out of nowhere, but even the most innovative creators have at least studied those that came before them.

“Nowhere2Go,” the newest Earl Sweatshirt besides “New earlsweatshirt – Interlude” on Vince Staples FM!, dismantles modern rap into fragmented pieces, with little regard for technicalities of structure or flow. It favors mood and tone over clarity and coherence. It’s an exercise in breaking a style of music down and reassembling it in one’s image. Earl Sweatshirt is uniquely qualified to do so because he’s already proved he’s learned from his influences and peers, and excelled alongside of them, at rapping in a more traditional way. He gets it, and now that he’s had time to work on it, he’s found his own sound.

It’s appropriate that the single came out the same year as Kamikaze, which contained one of Earl’s greatest influences attempting to undermine mumble rap’s pervasiveness in contemporary hip-hop. “Nowhere2Go,” too, is a subversion of the subgenre, albeit at subtler and deeper levels. Earl has long possessed an apathetic attitude, but the way he stops, starts, and rhythmically stutters through the track contrasts starkly with the more typical, technically precise flow. It’s deliberately careless, disjointed on purpose. There’s wisdom in his concise, monotone flashes of downtrodden insight.

By age 24, Earl has already inspired a barely-younger generation to talk about anxiety and depression on record. They’ve since expanded the genre into new sonic territories, and, in return, impacted Earl’s own ongoing musical evolution. It’s a cyclical and reciprocal relationship. “Nowhere2Go” name-drops, among other non-OF individuals, MIKE, Medhane, and Sixpress, the latter of which co-produced the beat with Booliemane under the name Adé Hakim. All three are members of the New York City sLUm collective, and admitted fans of Earl’s work. The new collaborators have pushed Earl into stranger yet more fitting musical territory. It’s likely not a coincidence that the beat drops out when he speaks, for the first time in the song, with clarity: “Trying to refine this shit. I redefined myself. First I had to find it.”

The song is supposed to be included on Earl’s forthcoming album, the full-length follow up to I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Earl produced much of his last album himself, and while it remains an undisputed classic, he’s already benefitting on “Nowhere2Go” from a fresh backbone behind him. The sound builds around his voice, and all of the musical elements blend together perfectly, even if they’re not expertly mixed.

“Nowhere2Go” is a deconstruction of modern mumble rap, hip-hop in general, and Earl’s own approach to the craft. It’s a slight reinvention in sound, which further emphasizes the aspects of Earl’s talent that he’s already displayed in other ways. It’s a sad song, a moody song with a reflective tone and a careful exposure of mental struggle. It’s the new Earl Sweatshirt, and it’s surpassed the limitations imposed by others and Earl himself, in order to create something different.

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