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Review: “Voir Dire” by Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist

Sweatshirt and The Alchemist collaborate for the best rap album of the year.
The rappers have individually written some of the more introspective rap albums this decade.
Image by Morgan La Casse
The rappers have individually written some of the more introspective rap albums this decade.

Ten years ago, an unknown 19-year-old named Thebe Kgositsile emerged on the rap scene as a bright-eyed wunderkind. Known to the masses by the pseudonym Earl Sweatshirt, the artist returns to the rap scene triumphant on Friday with his fourth full-length album, “Voir Dire.” 

“Voir Dire” is the long-awaited collaboration album between legendary producer The Alchemist and rap prodigy Earl Sweatshirt. On previous records, The Alchemist and Sweatshirt created independent rap classics like “Loose Change.” The familiar duo returns on “Voir Dire” with a heavy dose of moody atmospheric production from The Alchemist mixed with the ruminative rhyme schemes of Sweatshirt, resulting in the best rap album of the year. 

For Sweatshirt, his exultant return to rap dominance comes after a long period of artistic experimentation. Since the critical acclaim of his first album “Doris” in 2013, Sweatshirt has released just four full-length albums including, “Voir Dire.” In an era of consistently mediocre 30-song mixtapes by mainstream rap artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Sweatshirt took a path less traveled. 

Instead of boasting about his absence from the consumer culture of modern music, Sweatshirt released some of the most tragic and introspective rap records of the last decade. Including, the aptly titled 2015 release, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” and the 2018 experimental stand out “Some Rap Songs.” 

To longtime fans, these releases felt like an update on the beloved artist and provided a view into his ever-evolving technical rapping abilities. For casual fans, though, the off-kilter flows and meandering beats felt displaced and hard to approach. 

Although he may have alienated himself to some mainstream rap audiences over the years, Sweatshirt undoubtedly held true to himself. Whether he was rapping about his journey with severe depression on the 2018 track “Nowhere2Go” or about the death of his father on the 2019 EP “Feet of Clay,” Sweatshirt never wavered in his growth as a lyricist. 

Now, on “Voir Dire,” Sweatshirt conveys a more buoyant collection of songs that honor the turbulent artistic years of the rapper’s career while ushering fresh sounds into the mix. 

On the first track of the new album “100 High Street,” The Alchemist utilizes an engaging orchestral string section and lightly echoing drum beat. Then, Sweatshirt immediately demonstrates his rapping ability over the cinematic beat, with the lyrics, “Seen Skeppy out in Shoreditch. He said the telly for the hoes. Keep them heffers off ya doorstep. Geese fеathers under forehеads. Tempur-Pedic with the reaper, got to know Death.”

On “100 High Street” Sweatshirt compares his depressive episodes to sleeping with death while effortlessly weaving in allusions to a conversation with legendary United Kingdom rapper Skepta. 

The high-level bars on “100 High Street” are just a sample size of the album’s expertly drafted rhyme schemes. On songs like “27 Braids” Sweatshirt continues his dominant lyrical performance with lyrical digressions focusing on his personal life and new role as a father, “She said I got a son on the way. Made my bed so that’s where I’ma lay. My worried bones, my heavy head I carry home every day. My momma sayin’ that I’ll never be alone. Even though she gotta know that I know she dismayed.” 

“Voir Dire” provides ample evidence Sweatshirt’s lyrical talent is unmatched in modern rap. Whether he is recalling conversations with rap royalty or unpacking personal relationship history like in “27 Braids,” the artist shifts smoothly between topics throughout the album. 

After a complicated decade, Earl Sweatshirt returns to rap dominance on his newest album “Voir Dire.” In collaboration with legendary producer The Alchemist, Sweatshirt delivers the best album of his young career. Throughout “Voir Dire” Sweatshirt showcases artistic maturity and unparalleled rap lyrcism, resulting in the best rap album of year.

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