The elusive Earl Sweatshirt has made his return to Toronto, performing here for the first time since 2015. He’s had a bumpy ride over the years since then, cancelling tour dates due to health and drug problems, having his father pass away, and not releasing any new music until just recently. This past November he made his return to rap with the release of his third album, Some Rap Songs, and with it has drastically reinvented his style and sound. Clocking in at about 25 minutes, the new album is his shortest project since his 2010 debut mixtape, Earl, but the 25-year-old artist has evolved since then.
Developing into his own producer, Earl has revamped his sound with each album, with the new one sounding nothing like the youthful and rebellious Doris (2013) or the dark and gloomy I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015). His style of rapping and approach to lyricism over the years has been loosely inspired by MF DOOM, but with Some Rap Songs, Earl dives much deeper into that influence, crafting an album that sonically draws comparisons to DOOM’s classic 2004 collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy. With the obscure samples, the calm, quiet rapping, and the majority of the songs lasting less than two minutes, it would be interesting to see how the new material would translate into a live performance.
Just like last time he was here, Earl’s Toronto show sold out months in advance, with demand so high that he had to upgrade to a larger venue to reach as many fans as he could. While 2015 saw him jump from the Opera House to the Phoenix Concert Theatre, this concert was moved from the Phoenix to Rebel Nightclub – the venue where we last saw the Wu-Tang Clan perform last fall and may see Snoop Dogg perform next month. It was his biggest concert in Toronto yet, and the fans would be ready to party on a Friday night.
I showed up over an hour after doors had opened, and the place was packed with an all-ages crowd. Opening for Earl would be Tennessee emcee BbyMutha, who had all the ladies in the room energized. It was my first time experiencing her music, and while her performance was basically her rapping over her own vocal recordings, she did pump a lot of energy into the room. Her southern trap style of music got the crowd hyped, and the ladies danced and sang along as she closed out her set with her single “RULES.”
There would be a short break as Earl’s DJ got set up and played some songs. As he was playing songs by Jadakiss and Future, he would cut up and tease a sample of RZA’s opening vocals from Earl’s song “Molasses,” the crowd growing more excited each time he chopped it. Promptly after 10pm, Earl himself would come out and humbly introduce himself to the crowd before getting into that same song we were teased with, “Molasses.”
Getting the crowd hyped by telling them he was about to rock for over an hour straight, Earl Sweatshirt got thing started with a couple songs off his 2013 debut album, and followed up “Molasses” with the high-energy “20 Wave Caps.” He would rap both Domo Genesis’ and his own verses from the latter track before jumping ahead and diving right into the new material. At his last Toronto show in 2015, he performed almost all of his new album at the time, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, in track listing order, and in 2019 his Some Rap Songs album would get similar treatment. Starting midway through the album with “December 24,” he would perform six songs straight, in order.
As the album title suggests, there’s a simple method to the way Some Rap Songs flows. You have obscure, Madlib-esque loops with Earl spitting his poetic, sharply rhymed rap verses over them, and when the verse is over, the beat abruptly switches to a new song with a new verse. That’s how the show flowed for a bit, as a new beat would come on and Earl would kill his verse and move on to the next one. The live performance brought more life to the new songs, as the mixing on the album gives it a quiet feel that requires focus to pick up on Earl’s lyrics, but the live show brought his rapping to the forefront.
After performing all the songs from “December 24” to “Azucar” on the new album, Earl then took it to 2015 and performed several tracks off of IDLSIDGO, starting with the intro “Huey.” He would rock fan favourites including “Faucet” and “Off Top,” and also did some of the deeper album cuts like “Inside” and “Grown Ups.” The fans knew the lyrics to rap along with Earl, and they had perfect timing when he left gaps for them to fill in as he performed “AM // Radio.” Next, he would do a segment with some loose singles and features that weren’t from any of his albums, including “Wind in my Sails,” and some others with some up-tempo energy.
Between the loose singles, Earl would sprinkle in more familiar tracks off his albums, performing both verses from the Doris intro “PRE” to get an energetic reaction, and going back to Some Rap Songs with “Nowhere2go.” While the latter track is really laid back when played on the album, the live performance had the bass and the drums turned up to give it more energy, some fans even crowd surfing and moshing to it. The fans would rap along to the songs, but Earl especially enjoyed getting them to shout out the obscure vocal samples in his beats, like the weird “eeeh” at the end of “Nowhere2go.”
Earl would do one last throwback with a locked-in performance of 2015’s “Grief” before closing out with a couple more new songs. He would do the laidback intro from Some Rap Songs, “Shattered Dreams” before closing out his set with the instrumental outro “Riot!.” He brought BbyMutha back out and they humbly thanked the fans as the instrumental played them out, but rather than leave the stage, Earl joined his DJ behind the booth and BbyMutha danced as they played some trap songs. The fans continued to party as they played an eclectic mix, moving from Trap to RnB to Hip-Hop. They even played one of my favourite MF DOOM songs, “Deep Fried Frenz,” and got the crowd to sing along to the vocal sample on Jay-Z’s “Song Cry.”
Some fans were waiting through the trap songs to see if Earl would perform an encore, but many cleared out when they realized he wasn’t returning to the mic. It was a fun show overall, as Earl performed his own songs for a solid hour, and gave an extra half hour curating a DJ set. The new album is very much a laidback listen at home, but it’s given much more energy with emphasis on bass and Earl’s rapping when performed live on stage. Earl also gave the fans plenty of throwbacks off of his previous albums, although skipping out on some classics like “Hive,” “Burgundy,” “Whoa,” and “DNA,” which got a huge reaction at his last show here. As the young artist continues to grow and evolve, his shows become more interesting, and we’ll look forward to seeing him back in Toronto in the future.
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