And so, it finally happened. Earl Sweatshirt and the Alchemist have been promising a full-length project with each other for a while now, teasing fans with the odd feature here and there, and brief mentions in interviews. On paper, it’s an art-rap fan’s dream link-up – arguably this generation’s defining producer alongside a crucial MC who has influenced a slew of followers.
Released overnight, ‘Voir Dire’ lives up to the billing. It’s not on streaming yet – Apple Music and Spotify will follow – but available through Gala for the price of an email. The swirling old Hollywood strings of ‘100 High Street’ greet you, a vision of an alternative LA. “I reap everything I sowed”, raps Earl, “it seemed effortless…” A slow motion explosion, the song is all controlled force and distilled prowess – an emphatic opening statement. The lush funk of ‘Vin Skully’ features yet another fantastic Alchemist sample – seriously, where does he find this stuff? – while lead single ‘Sentry’ transforms gospel choir backing vocals into a lush, neo-psychedelic sonic tapestry.
It’s not all about the central production guru, though. ‘Sentry’ boasts an incredible guest verse from MIKE, while throughout Earl Sweatshirt raps his ass off – ‘All The Small Things’ could be a short story, “my legs sinking in this quicksand… it’s predictable and funny that we meet again”. ‘My Brother, The Wind’ is imbued with Earl’s free association poetry, while ’27 Braids’ echoes the paranoia of the pandemic: “My mother said I’d never be alone…”
Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of ‘Voir Dire’ is how these two illuminating figures allow their light to cross, and never dim. Earl Sweatshirt and the Alchemist retain their unique individualities, using those distinctive aspects to fuse intriguing aspects of their art. The continual use of spoken word only adds to the unity – specially recorded clips and blurred samples giving the project added unity.
‘Mac Deuce’ rolls on those beautiful keyboard melodies, while the angelic sweep of ‘Geb’ is patched against Earl’s grittiest lines on the album. Closing with the magnetic ‘Dead Zone’, finale ‘Free The Ruler’ might be the best song on the record – an exhortation on family, creativity, and identity, the finds Earl switching up truths, a revelation and a disguise in equal measure.
‘Voir Dire’ is part of a glorious run from both artists. The Alchemist has already released a solo, multi-MC project this year, alongside his joint album with heavy-hitter Larry June. Earl is Earl – forever on the horizon, always on the mainstage. Together, this project might rank as a career high, a work of breathless yet intoxicatingly accessible complexity.
Words: Robin Murray