comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness
a source of relief or consolation
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the first time I heard the 10-minute song/EP “solace” by Earl Sweatshirt. I don’t remember when it was, if I was alone or with friends, or exactly what my initial reaction was. What I can say, though, is that I didn’t particularly care for it. The production came across as too experimental and weird, all of the verses seemed too short, the almost-minute-long scratching noise seemed super out of place. But, before long, it began to grow on me. As most great art does, this song revealed itself to me layer by layer, slowly pulling the curtain back opposed to handing out a simple explanation after the first few listens. Eventually, this abstract piece of music became a thesis statement for my understanding of my own humanity and a safety net for when the pieces begin to fall apart.
Calling it my favorite song would be disingenuous; what “solace” really became to me was a slow-burning grey-kaleidoscope dream of repose that would be there for me during both the buoyantly cheerful and exceedingly painful times. What “solace” taught me is that nothing meaningful is instantaneous; rather, contentment is something that doesn’t present itself in ready-to-eat microwavable-boxes but in buried time capsules. The 10-minute-long song/EP is a dissertation on recognition; it proclaims the need to accept hard truths and grieve before allowing happiness to enter once more. Earl Sweatshirt’s “solace” taught me to slow down and enjoy the experience of everything, whether painfully sad or fruitfully happy.
solace is uncomfortably honest. It’s a 10-minute puddle of transient rivulets that stream down the face of the creator, pooling onto the floor to create something more when taken in as a whole. Each word is precisely chosen, each beat-switch exceedingly abstract. Sweatshirt’s painful candor is worn bleeding on his sleeve; every line seems to punch you square in the face, setting free truth after truth which must’ve been gruelingly difficult to speak into existence. In the first verse alone, Sweatshirt discloses revelations such as, “I spent days faded and anemic / You can see it in my face, I ain’t been eating, I’m just wasting away,” “My mental was caged / See, I ain’t been to prison but the feeling’s the same,” and “Try to make some sense of all this shit in my brain / One foot stuck in a tar pit of my ways.” These aren’t the breezy, lighthearted confessions of break-ups or teenage angst; these are the rigid truths of a man who is wise beyond his years and has finally decided to come to grips with his reality. While “solace” can be deeply depressing, it’s also freeing. The song allows for us to watch Sweatshirt remove the cinder blocks off of his own wings, scrape off any leftover cement and prepare for flight once more. The releasing of weight off of one’s conscious isn’t always pretty, but Sweatshirt displays a gritty elegance as he picks apart his many demons and attempts to reach mental liberation.
As the first verse gives way to a second, the beat morphs into a high-pitched piano loop that sounds as if it should be accompanied by a forlorn Jazz lounge pianist. As Sweatshirt begins his verse, it’s soon clear that this is much more of a spoken-word soul-cleansing than it is a rap song. Sweatshirt supplies heart-ripping personification and sounds as if he’s at the end of his rope: “It's me and my nibbling conscience / N****, I'm fixin' to give up / I've been alone for the longest / It's trouble, the way that we joggin' / Nothin' gon' save us or stop us.” It’s a demoralizing expression of self; Sweatshirt sounds like he’s given life all that he can. It’s painstakingly frank and stained with death, yet there’s something breathtakingly gorgeous about his admittance of an immense depression in both the words he chooses and the way he chooses to deliver them.
As his words float into the oblivion, the piano loop melts into a shrill scratching noise. The sound omitted is akin to nails on a chalkboard and lasts for far longer than you’d expect. Paired directly adjacent a beautifully poetic verse from Sweatshirt, the awful-sounding scratching works as an abstract explanation. The prior two verses weren’t easy listens in way of their brutal sincerity, thus the scratching noise reinforces the notion of a harsh reality, only this time making it sonically uneasy opposed to lyrically. Sweatshirt is trying to express the difficulty of coping with his quandaries, so opts to do so both verbally and aurally.
The last verse on solace is both the most haunting and the most hopeful. It’s by far the song’s longest verse, as it finds Sweatshirt picking up the broken pieces of his demolished self and poising to eventually put them back together. The first few lines are dripping with tenderness: “I got my grandmama’s hands / I start to cry when I see ‘em / Cause they remind me of seein’ her / These the times that I needed her most cause I feel defeated.” As he works his way through emotionally upending sentiments, Sweatshirt stumbles across a handful of his words yet keeps going, deciding to use the unedited version in order to convey the rawness of his words. The verse snakes its way through the jungle of Sweatshirt’s psyche before coming to a halting conclusion in its final three lines: “Well time waits for no man and death waits with cold hands / I'm the youngest old man that you know / If ya soul intact, let me know.” These powerful words have had a hand in shaping my entire outlook on life.
While it seems depressing, I’ve always understood these last three lines to be a rallying cry against the inevitability of our impending death. We are all going to die one day, we will all pass into the afterlife cold and alone; there’s no denying this. Yet, accepting this as fact and understanding that we will still have each other, with our souls both very much in shambles and intact, is necessary to finding a road of happiness to walk along. This is Sweatshirt staring his death directly in the eyes and choosing to continue living.
This song has ballooned the word “solace” to mean so much more than I ever thought anyone word could. So much so, that I chose to get the word tattooed on my body, an indelible symbol of tranquility that reminds me to revel in and love both the imponderabilia of life and the things that bring me comfort.
I find solace in many different things: the people closest to me; writing; laughter; reading; music; and the fact that all of this, as great as it may be, will eventually come to an end and being okay with that. To be able to find solace in the things I love, and even in the things I hate, is an important realization I found through the heartbreaking words of Earl Sweatshirt. As we both wind through the throes of life separately, yet together, eternally bonded by a single word, I hope the creation of such a defining piece of my peace has brought Sweatshirt the same solace it’s brought me.