Thebe Kgositsile emerged in 2010 as the most mysterious member of rap’s weirdest new collective, Odd Future—a gifted teen turned anarchist, spitting shock-rap provocations from his exile in a Samoan reform school. In the 12 years since, he’s repaired his famously fraught relationship with his mother, lost his father, and become a father himself, all the while carving out a solo lane as a serious MC, a student of the game. Earl’s fourth album finds the guy who once titled an album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, well, going outside, and kinda liking it; on opener “Old Friend,” he’s hacking through thickets, camping out in Catskills rainstorms. There’s a sonic clarity here that stands apart from the obscure, sludgy sounds of his recent records, executed in part by Young Guru, JAY-Z’s longtime engineer. Beats from The Alchemist and Black Noi$e snap, crackle, and bounce, buoying Earl’s slippery, open-ended thoughts on family, writing, religion, the pandemic. Is he happy now, the kid we’ve watched become a man? It’s hard to say, but in any case, as he raps on “Fire in the Hole”: “It’s no rewinding/For the umpteenth time, it’s only forward.”

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