In 2015, a collaboration between Madlib and Earl Sweatshirt was briefly rumored. While nothing came of this, 18 year-old Chester Watson is essentially the embodiment of what could have been. He made a name for himself in 2012 with the release of Phantom, and in 2014 he released Tin Wooki, which ignited a barrage of Earl Sweatshirt comparisons. Past Cloaks is Chester’s first album, a near-compilation of the original material spanning his career, with some new flavors sprinkled in sporadically. On this project, Chester rides the line between influence and “biting”, something the underground artist is not unfamiliar with. But it tows a weird line; too grimey for an Earl clone, too lyrical for a Mac Miller clone.
This project recalls MF DOOM’s use of obscure television and cartoon samples; nearly every song begins with some sort of introductory clip or sound bite. Another obvious influence is Mac Miller’s 2014 mixtape Faces. “Baby” practically screams, “should’ve died already” if you’ve racked up as many listens on that project as a Chester Watson fan likely has. Nearly every song on this album induces déjà vu, though it’s unclear whether it’s because Chester’s literally already released most of these songs before on previous projects, or his faux-Madlib Soundcloud producer warehouse is reusing samples of other more popular artists’ beats. It’s hard to listen to “Andromida” without being reminded of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hoarse” and its spooky western sample. That being said, Past Cloaks isn’t devoid of originality. The most original beat on this project, produced by former Cool Kid Chuck Inglish, is a lo-fi sample aesthetic that Chester adorns beautifully. The mix on this project also recalls Madlib’s Piñata, with many fans finding Gibbs’s vocals just a tad too quiet amidst the grand soul sampling. Although the mixing isn’t nuanced or perfected, it’s nowhere near the abysmal approach found on your average Blu output.
Lyrically, Chester is an amalgamation of the apathy of Doris Earl, the girl trouble and shock value of EARL Earl, the existential crisis of Faces Mac Miller, the goofiness of Madvilliany MF DOOM, and the teenager troubles of 1999 Joey Bada$$ and Nehruviandoom Bishop Nehru. His focus on this project for the most part is bars for the sake of bars, which, despite doing greatly, prevents this project from being a cohesive work all the way through. Another glowing flaw with Past Cloaks is the unashamed reuse of so many of Chester’s past tracks. Like his contemporaries, assonance and alliteration are very noticeable on this project. The hooks on some of these songs are also undeniable catchy. “Chinamen” contains the repetitive “roll up nigga cuz I’m tryna get high as fuck”, a vapidly infectious display of musicality. His verses are also unequivocally great; no doubt his strongest quality. With every listen, more and more clever lines emerge, previously hidden away amidst the rapid display of references and double entendres.
If Chester Watson can continue to make his way up the blog-rap ladder, he could potentially work with some of the people who this project’s sound is absolutely dependent on. Currently the age Joey Bada$$ was when he released 1999, Chester has a lot of room to grow and become his own artist, something Joey largely did with his follow up Summer Knights. But the potential is uncomfortably present for Chester to mimic his influences with just enough lyrical prowesses to get away with it. The most interesting thing he’s ever done, a remix of Glass Animals’ “Gooey,” or any material similar to it, is nowhere to be found on this project. For anyone missing “old Earl”, or for those who were unimpressed with Nehruviandoom, or even for those seeking some more Madlib-esque production, Past Cloaks will do.
– G. Gemici