Author Ron W. Rathbun once said, “The solace everyone is looking to find is not to be shut away from the world in some safe place, but to be free in the world wherever you are” It is common human nature to search for solace; the comfort and consolation in a time of distress or sorrow. People have many different ways to find solace. Some try to get out into the world to try and occupy themselves to find it, others try to embrace the loneliness and stay to themselves for a while. However, one musical artist had another method of finding solace for himself and the result is truly something special.
In late 2014 a new YouTube channel under the name of “dar Qness” (darkness) arose out of the shadows, appearing as a new alias for artist Earl Sweatshirt, birthname Thebe Kgositsile, to release demos and other side projects. The first two videos released on this channel were not too out of ordinary. The first is a video of Kgositsile and Navy Blue, another prominent underground artist, meddling in front of a computer repeating “darkness”. The second video just appears to be a throwaway Earl Sweatshirt demo, nothing too out of ordinary. The channel then lay dormant for five months until April 28th of 2015 when a ten-minute video titled “solace” with a plain pink thumbnail was uploaded. The description reads, “music from when I hit the bottom and found something” and that he did.
Solace, stylized in all lowercase, is a dive into the mind of Thebe Kgositsile amid his hardest times of life. Between his grandmother dying and a continually straining relationship with his mother, he had turned to drugs and drinking to subdue the pain and developed an eating disorder during this as well. Each of these things fuels the lyrics and overall tone of this EP. It is not hard to guess that the feel of this project would be dark and brooding, but it is not at all a stretch to say this is the closest thing to a full auditory representation of the brain during depression. The sampling plays a huge role in the tone as they present warping sounds of generally desolate-sounding music, representing the confusion and sorrow felt in times such as these. Somber piano melodies and wistful echoes of voices in the background set the tone perfectly for this project. If someone is not in a good state of mind this EP will hit them hard and leave them feeling empty inside, fully hollow.
Although it just appears as one long continuous song, it is an extended play (EP) as previously mentioned. It is composed of four separate tracks, simply listed as parts one through four. Part one opens with what sounds like a groaning voice traveling from side to side, welcoming the listener to what is solace. It sets the stage for this project with an immediate unsettling feeling which is exactly what is needed to open an EP of this nature, just as any great project should. A good album, song, or EP sets its tone at the start, poor musical projects are inconsistent throughout, commonly stemming from a poor opener. This is not the case for solace and it very easily could’ve been with how experimental it is. The opening lines of part one read as:
Late for everything, my face to the cement
That’s how I always seen it
I spent days faded and anemic
You could see it in my face, I ain’t been eatin’, I’m just wastin’ away (Sweatshirt 0:50).
It becomes evident when looking at these that Kgositsile has found himself in a deep crippling depression. This is the first mention of his eating disorder with many more to come. It appears as though he feels stuck, the world is moving around him but he does not have the urge to do anything, he is simply wasting away. He goes on to say, “Looks like the way of River Phoenix went gon’ end up my fate / And when they drag me out the gutter, mail the ashes to my mother / Twist the spliff if I don’t finish my plate” (Sweatshirt 1:03) he feels his current ways will lead to his death, alluding to the death of American actor River Phoenix who died of a drug overdose outside of a Hollywood nightclub at the young age of 23. This is also the first mentioning of his mother, whom he has had a strained relationship with in the years leading up to this project. Kgositsile’s mother, Cheryl Harris, is a respected law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. A woman who stands for law and order, something that rap collective Odd Future seemed to resent in the early stages of the group. Kgositsile was a staple in the upbringing of the group, his debut mixtape Earl getting positive reception by both fans and critics alike, however, his mother did not like the road he was traveling. While the main reason was his drug habits at a young age, Harris had also noticed troubling signs coming from her son in general, so to try and set him straight she sent him to a boarding school in Samoa, an island in the Pacific Ocean in 2010. He spent a year and a half at this program, returning in late 2011, missing the rise in popularity that he had majorly contributed to for Odd Future. While Kgositsile says in interviews that he believes this program was good for him, in his first single after returning he states, “And the ties between my mom and I are strained and tightened / Even more than they were before all this shit” (Sweatshirt 2:19) signaling that he still has a grudge against her. He also mentions “twisting the spliff” if he does not finish his plate, spliff being a slang term for drugs. He has developed a reliance on drugs, sometimes needing them just to be able to finish a meal. He continues to say, “Slip a fist up for my … in chains, my mental was caged / See, I ain’t been to prison but the feeling’s the same / Shared sentiment, when and if the pen hit the page” (Sweatshirt 1:12). He feels trapped in his mind, comparing his mental state to that of a prisoner. He mentions his struggle to put words to paper, and a struggle with motivation. Part one ends with the lines:
As of late, I’ve been watching every bitch in my space
Shit’s just lookin’ different with age
Try to make sense of all this shit in my brain
One foot stuck in a tar pit of my ways (Sweatshirt 1:23)
Kgositsile is not the same kid he was with Odd Future, as time has gone on he has changed and so has his perspective. Those around him haven’t matured as he has and this has left him with confusion. He has started to become paranoid, worrying if maybe someone around him is using him. He wants to move on but he feels stuck to the attachment to the happiness and memories with these activities and the group he has associated himself with.
Part two opens with what sounds like a shallow, simple electric chord progression. Something slow to kick it off and it does not make much sense in the context of solace. That is until a distorted and warping piano interjects itself into the instrumental and takes over. A representation of conflicting thoughts as a wave of depression floods one’s thoughts from seemingly nowhere. Kgositsile preludes the verse, mumbling:
And if it’s like that the whole time
If it’s like that the whole time, we’ll be alright
And if it’s like that the whole time, we’ll be alright
Stayin’ up all night, but it’s alright
And I’ve been stayin’ up the whole night, but it’s alright (Sweatshirt 2:09)
He is finding himself caught in the same loop of not being able to sleep, which is also touched on later, yet it appears as though he’s trying to console himself. Telling himself that everything is fine even though he is pointing out his problems. Kgositsile has a sense of denial going on, most likely linked to the passing of his grandmother. A sign that he may be going through the different stages of grief. The verse opens with the lines:
It’s me and my nibbling conscious…I’m fixing 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
Me and my nibbling conscious (Sweatshirt 2:52)
This provides more glances into Kgositsile’s mind and subconscious as the EP goes on, each part giving the listener more insight. Here he details how he is starting to tear himself apart mentally, he is conflicted, becoming unable to defend his actions and thoughts as his conscience starts to belittle him more and more. He’s considering giving up, this could be about music or just about life in general. Nonetheless, he can see the danger of the path he is traveling. Continuing, he repeats the line “…I’m fixing to give up,” before going on to say:
I’ve been alone for the longest
This spliff, I ain’t been splittin’ no time soon
My brain split in two, it’s rainin’ a bit
I hope it’s a monsoon, my face in the sink
I’m seein’ my mom soon, I’m faded, I stink. (Sweatshirt 3:09)
Kgositsile mentions his mother once again, this time alluding to a damaged relationship, and also details his feelings of being alone. The line of hoping the small rain turns into a monsoon is Kgositsile starting to hope for the worst in situations, no matter how big or small these are. This could also be figurative rain, not literal precipitation but the emotions we associate with rain. The most prominent of these is sadness. “Head in the sink” could be referring to a growing sickness and throwing up from his unhealthy habits in recent times. The instrumental continues after he tells himself to “stay in it, alright…” (Sweatshirt 3:38) getting himself to keep going through these times, and as the sample goes on it eventually hits a more aggressive warp, similar to how it was introduced. This prompts a high-pitched screeching noise, similar to that of a steaming kettle. There is also a faint noise of three notes on a guitar being played repeatedly accompanied by what sounds like coins being dropped into a metal container. This is a representation of the clouded thoughts in Kgositsile’s head, maybe a way he tried to show his mind racing. These convoluted and awkward noises come to a stop as there is a sound of a bottle having a swig taken from it, most likely by him. This is another allusion to his drinking problem during these times. The swig causing the other noises to disappear appears to be his way of saying it makes the pain go away, and thus part two concludes.
Not much time will be spent on part three as it is instrumental but it is still very important to mention when truly taking a deep dive into this project. The beat differs from the others as it is quite upbeat, but also very subtle. There is a crackling noise in the background and the instrumental itself seems very distorted as if the bass was increased where it was not necessary. While that might sound like a bad thing, it fits the theme of the project. This is why part three works musically, following the tone of solace. The drink taken from the bottle to end part two started part three, and the respective sounds of the two parts differ extremely. This is another example of Kgositsile turning towards drinking or other substances to fuel his happiness, or maybe not even happiness just contentment. The instrumental then starts to come to an end and so does part three, as we transition into part four, the final stop.
Although part four does not have the brooding sample of part two, it can easily be considered the most depressing through its lyrics alone. The verse is opened with Kgositsile speaking about his late grandmother:
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 need her the most ‘cause I feel defeated
And I buy nothin’ by myself, my second thoughts, my sec… (Sweatshirt 6:55)
Showing Kgositsile’s reliance on his grandmother and how he sees her in everything around him. The death of Kgositsile’s grandmother impacted him heavily because she was one of the only people who supported him through his negativity. These lines are repeated before continuing to say, “My hectic process of thinkin’ and all my doubts, and I think” (Sweatshirt. 7:22) alluding to the fact that his grandmother was also one of the only people to understand his “hectic process of thinkin’”. He then introduces one of his close friends to the mix, “I know Nak in there sleepin’, he on the couch, that’s my brother / Give me a boost when my confidence need it, so I love him” (Sweatshirt 7:26). He is referring to Na-Kel Smith, a member of Odd Future and former rap duo Hog Slaughta Boyz, which featured the two. Smith was someone Kgositsile had learned to rely on heavily during this time to keep his head up, as seen by these lyrics. After the unofficial disbandment of Odd Future in 2015, Smith was the most prominent member Kgositsile would be regularly spotted with. He goes on to say:
To tell the truth, I’m not supposed to be off in here
I’m supposed to be sleepin’, but I be turnin’ and tossin’
To tell the truth, I miss my partna dem
To tell the truth, you can’t be loud when you’re the wrongest, fam
To tell the truth I’m at a loss of friends (Sweatshirt 7:33)
His sleeping problem is brought back up most likely due to his thoughts detailed during the project keeping him awake at night. He also mentions missing his “partna dem”, a slang term for one’s friend group. This is most likely a reference to Odd Future, which was splitting during the release of this project. It is safe to assume that Kgositsile relied heavily on this group to keep him happy, and now that it was on the brink of breaking apart it was bound to make an impact on his mental health. The line claiming, “you can’t be loud when you’re the wrongest” shows he has convinced himself that he may not be deserving of happiness due to the actions in his past. The repetition of the phrase “to tell the truth” could mean that this is Kgositsile opening up for the first time on the matters and that this has just been bottled up in his brain. He is using this as a way to let these thoughts and emotions out. The verse then concludes on the captivative quote of, “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.” (Sweatshirt.7:53). The first line suggests that life is about perspective, no matter how depressed or happy someone is, time goes on and death is still inevitable. There is still life to live and it is up to one’s self for how they perceive the remaining time they have. Kgositsile then claims that he is “the youngest old man that you know”, an oxymoron showing that he is wise beyond his years. Then there is the final line, a call for help, asking for people who understand what he is going through to help him through these times. The instrumental then transitions into a final run using light horns, synth, bass, and a basic drum loop. Although this feels like it has been the most depressing part of the EP, it ends on a triumphant note with the final instrumental. This can be seen as the turning of a new leaf, the start of a new chapter in life, and with that, solace ends.
Solace is one of the saddest pieces of media to be created. It is not an exaggeration to say that he was able to encapsulate the feeling of depression in music. Solace is special in the fact that it is simultaneously cripplingly depressing while also being a beautiful piece of media. Art comes in many different ways, displaying several different emotions, and this project is just that, a work of art. Yes, this EP can make someone feel hollow, completely empty inside, but it can also give them comfort at the same time. This is truly something like no other and it is hard to think that anything like this could be seen again. Words can only do this project so much, to truly give it justice one must listen through it. Someone can say that it sounds depressing but cannot convince an individual exactly how it makes them feel, that is for one to explore on their own. Please listen to this project and understand to connect and understand the contents of this paper and truly experience what is solace, a journey through the tattered soul of Thebe Kgositsile