Yesterday was a day that, for many, was long awaited(and no I’m not just talking about Pay day). Vince Staples dropped his sophomore album Big Fish Theory. As of now I’ve only listened to the album about 5 or 6 times, but thus far I love it. It’s simultaneously everything that I’ve come to expect from the Long beach MC, and yet so much more. After my third or fourth listen I decided to listen to the Vince Staples Essentials playlist on Tidal. This playlist is littered with collaborations (Vince is one of those artists who shines brightest on other peoples records). One of his frequent collaborators is Earl Sweatshirt who is also a gifted lyricist. Listening to those collabs made me nostalgic for Earl’s 2013 album Doris. So after listening to that project a couple of times I’m left pondering which artist I prefer. To put it simply, I’m not sure who’s the better rapper.
Now there are many among you who are probably looking at your phone/computer screen with a mix of smugness, bewilderment, and disgust. “Have you heard Earl rap?! How is it even a contest?!” There are others among you who don’t have a dog in this fight and wonder why the hell that phrase is okay even though dog fighting in reality is supremely fucked up. So for all you beautiful people out there (and my fellow uggos) I will do my best to explain why I’m so conflicted.
Vince Staples first grabbed my ear in 2011 on Earl’s debut tape on the song Epar. I remember laughing for 15 mins after hearing ” ‘Hey what is that?’ Don’t touch it or even look/ You’re Fantasia and the Body Bag’s a fucking book!”
The next time I heard Vince was on Kilo Kish’s Trappin off of her K+ mixtape. His verse was simple but effective and I enjoyed how he flipped his words. “These hoe’s know my preference/order ostrich for the breakfast/posh is posturepedics/But I’m with extras like electives…” Following that I heard him on his Doris features which were Burgundy, Hive, and Centurion(Though on Burgundy he didn’t actually have a verse) His verse on Hive piqued my interest. It was delivered smoothly, yet menacingly and the way he effortlessly hopped from one rhyme scheme to another impressed me. “Tools hit like pool sticks, the way I cue shit/If this was ’88 I would have signed to Ruthless/’94 would’ve had ’em walking down Death Row/First is where the best go, hate is what the rest do/ Voice inside my head told me, ‘Wet ’em if they test you’/ So it’s Raging Waters season/That yomper big as Larry Johnson, leave your momma seedless…” The verse on Hive was good, but it was how he opened Centurion that really blew me away. His metaphors and double entendres weren’t just uncanny to me, but they were very intelligent. And again, his creeping delivery was perfect to open up the song before the aggressive beat switch. “I feel like the Tom Sawyer for real niggas/looking for a problem, revolver under the Hilfiger/No bluff needed, we will kill niggas/So try me if you want bruh, I promise I’m with all of that/Late night shooters got ’em thinking Johnny Carson’s back…”
In 2015 Staples dropped his debut Summertime ’06 that had the bangers North North, Lift Me Up, and C.N.B. then in August 2016 He released his Prima Donna EP which was the perfect project to prepare people for Big Fish Theory (even though it was like 11 months later…).
I first heard Earl on his mixtape that came out in 2010(I heard it a year late but whatever). On that tape I heard some of the most offensive, vulgar, depraved lyrics that I’d heard since the Slim Shady LP…and I fucking loved it. Not only was this content dark, but the way that it was presented was so skillful that I couldn’t help but like it. Two of my favorite tracks off of that project were Luper and Epar. This is because these songs show off Earl’s knack for assonance, and wordplay, but most importantly the songs put the rapper’s talent for narrative on full display. Listening to those tracks I’m actively engaged and wanting to know what happens next. Which is something that used to be at the core of rap music, but has been seen to take a back seat to materialism and subliminal beefs. Luper in particular showcases the rappers talent for imagery “Fixed a plate of eggs and bacon, glass of OJ Simpson…maybe if you looked in this direction/I’d pick my heart up off the floor and put it in my chest then/feel the fucking life, rushing through my body/but you got a guy/it’s not me/so my wrist is looking sloppy.” The song is also notable for how it starts off as a typical teenaged broken heart story and gets darker as the song progresses. Epar is also a dark gem, in fact it’s one of those song that you can’t really sing along to in public places, so I’m not going to delve into it. Just know that you should check it out if you haven’t already.
From the Earl tape we go to Doris. Doris was a masterpiece of an album due, in no small part, to Earl’s uncanny ability to fuse literary and rhetorical devices with music(it shouldn’t be uncanny though rap literally started as an acronym for “rhythm and poetry”, but the the fact that Earl even uses the devices and the ease at which he does is unprecedented) Chum, the first single off of the album, is a great example of his lyrical prose(as well as one of my favorite tracks) “Momma often was offering peace offerings/Think, wheeze, cough, scoffing and he’s off again/Searching for a big brother, Tyler was that/And plus he liked how I rap, the blunted mice in the trap/Too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks/From honor roll to cracking locks up off the bicycle racks…” Another thing that makes Doris such a great album is the fact that Earl had matured. He was no longer rapping about dark fantasies, but rhyming introspectively about his life and experiences…though it was still pretty dark. In 2015 Earl released I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside which turned up both the introspection and the darkness, but retained the same tight rhyme style. One of my favorite tracks on this album was DNA which had Earl speaking speedily and truthfully. “Feet aimed at the jaws of the running mouth/Disdain for the law since a fucking child/Spotlights on me, I ain’t stopping in my tracks/We taking it all and we running out/Threw shade in the past but you want me now ho…” Other stand out tracks on this album are Mantra (my favorite), Grief, Off Top, and Wool. It’s rumored that Earl will release an album later this year, and I know we can expect lyrical expertise.
Yeah I still don’t know.
Honestly these rappers are pretty evenly matched to me. However, I think the two of them as a team is better than either of them individually. In order to prove this point I will provide you with a list of the two’s collaborations so that you can hear it for yourself.
(Hopefully with Earl’s album I can add to the list).
So that’s what I got for you today, I hope you enjoyed it, and if you haven’t go listen to Vince’s new album Big Fish Theory!
There’s Some Flava For Your Ear