There’s a routine I have towards the end of my commute on NJ Transit, in which I get up out of my seat as soon as the train enters the tunnel that connects New Jersey to Manhattan. I walk to where the train cars meet. I do this because you can feel the air from outside the train, squeezing through the divide of the two vessels. On a morning like today it’s a chilling, but welcome, smack in the face. A perfect way to snap me out of the passive trance of sitting dazed and confused for the last hour.
Often times, this is where I pick the song that will soundtrack my speedy jog through Penn Station to the uptown E train. Today, Earl Sweatshirt’s “Pre” provided the soundscape for my weaving route through a sea of commuters (making sure to avoid the K9 Unit, just in case some of last night is still in my coat pocket).
“Pre” is fantastically daring and equally as vicious. It's a bold intro to 19-year-old Earl’s debut album, Doris, since he’s not the first artist you hear. His gruff vocals don’t even enter my headphones until basically the last minute of the song. Leading the charge is fellow West Coaster SK La’Flare. La’Flare’s slithering voice depicts images of fly whips, willing women, and a pension for gun play. Minus the glocks, that shit sounds pretty perfect to me. With instructional wisdom like “Fear and ego is the enemy,” and “Pay your dues while you paid in full”, he shares lines that are applicable to anyone. His aspirations in the midst of his environment are inspiring. He's about his agenda—get in his way at your own risk. "I seen the light/and you blocked it from me/But I found my way/to the top I'm coming." I can definitely feel that.
Earl's first words to the world are an ominous, "I'ma problem to niggas." Entirely true, as he barely even flexes his true prowess on this introduction. He spends a large part of his verse putting all who are listening on notice. He promises, "Just watch I'ma kill 'em all in a minute," as a reminder of his earlier claims on his first mixtape. Although Earl has grown since then, his goals are still the same, just more evolved. Later, he issues cleverly phrased warnings like, "Hard as armed services, y'all might have heard of him/Esco-barbarian, best call the lawyers up/Not with the grain and these bitch niggas wishes." Before he's even gotten into his body of work, Earl is confident, challenging, competitive, and calculated—every quality one needs to be successful.
My thoughts immediately turned back to self, as I borrow many of La'Flare and Sweatshirt's self-proclamations to fuel my own demeanor. No, I'm not starving to pop artillery on anyone (well... maybe), but I'm definitely willing to do what it takes to prosper. But at the same time, I'm aware of potential detriments and making sure to get out of my own way.
By the time I get to the E train I attempt to hide my twisting grim grin from fellow straphangers—a facial expression created from a blend of self-confidence, dark coffee, and the duo's ominously optimistic lyrics laid over the repeating cymbal tap and sinister synths that sound like a video game boss's theme music. I'm ready to win every moment of my unfolding day. And for all those who oppose that, just listen to Earl's last words on "Pre."