Odd Future golden child Earl Sweatshirt is a long way from Samoa. While he was gone, the L.A. rap gang’s following snowballed from an internet buzz to a raucous clan of kids from every high school clique.
Earl Sweatshirt was 2,000 miles away at Coral Reef Academy serving community service and trying to explain to his classmates who Lil B the Based God was. His mother sent him away because of strong concerns about his behavior and future, and witnessing the twisted music video for his internet success hit “Earl” was the icing on the cake. Although 16-year-old Earl was not happy about being plucked out of fame and thrust into exile, the now 19-year-old Earl has realized that the time off was for the better. After a reality check while working with victims of sexual abuse in Samoa, he has abandoned his heinous shock rap, and focused even more on his writing. Sweatshirt has rekindled ties with his family, swung fully into rhythm with his Odd Future wolves, and can now count Mac Miller and Captain Murphy as musical collaborators. Now, he’s back with the raps in his first studio album, Doris, and things are different. The brash and outlandish lyrics of Earl have been replaced with thrilling wordplay that explores the innards of his still disturbed adolescent mind. He is the same person, just a little more refined and mature. Earl’s coming-of-age has affected the entire Odd Future gang, each member coming away with more growth than before. Being pulled out of the cockpit right before take-off have taken its toll on the indifferent menace to society, but his debut assures us he’s prepared for the journey ahead.
Doris is a snapshot of the conflicted but determined adolescent, Earl Sweatshirt. Who is constantly wading in a cesspool of fame, strife, and everything not nice. Leaps and bounds more developed than the brilliant but reckless Earl, Sweatshirt manipulates looming drums, gloomy synths, and screeching guitars to set the soundscape for the dense flows he effortlessly lays down. The wordplay that would conjure images of crying girls and dismembered teenagers in your head are long gone, and Earl is instead letting doubters know that his lyricism superior regardless of the subject matter. (“Got us stuck like a barnacle to the bottom of your shit/Ironic ‘cause the audio’s as nautical as ships” on “Knight”). Weed references have doubled, maybe tripled, but these aren’t your token toke lines: “Eighths louder than the voice of Satan that be plaguing him” (from “Centurion”). As Earl navigates through his mental misfortune by smoking with his buddies, he paints a vivid picture of their L.A. nightlife and relationship rifts. The comical aspect of his personality still shines through, as the charisma and inside jokes that Earl and his buddies have fostered is impossible to contain, (“I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch” from “Molasses”).
More prominently, the muddy wordplay is an insight to the ghosts hidden in his the depths of his mind, and the dark realities he has faced since his return from banishment. “Hive”, “Burgundy”, and “Chum” are stacked with lyrics that reflect the tough conflicts that a younger Earl would have pushed away and joked about to change the subject. There is some minor navigation of social discourse, a nod to his civil rights activist mother. Some lines illuminate the dilemmas his passions have put between them. He raps “There’s lead in that baby food” on “Hive”, while sprinkling on references to Sarah Palin’s son and the 1968 Olympic Black Panther salute. “Shouts to all the father’s that didn’t raise us”, speaks directly to his father, once a poet, who Earl recently reconciled with.
In the midst of the tough talk stands the lost teenager, redirecting anger, fear, and heaps of emotional baggage into poetically recited lyrics over howling drums. The sophisticated and calculated murmurs, pauses, and unshapely song structure make Doris an unpredictable ride, much like the temperament of it’s architect. The duality of the lines speaks to the discord between his consciousness and lifestyle. Earl knows right from wrong and understands important issues at hand, but he wants to indulge in the rap star lifestyle, (“Promise Heron I’d put my fist up/After I get my dick sucked” from “Hive”). Although he stares down the barrel of the shotgun that is reality, he does so with a goofy grin on his face: “I’m about to relish in this anguish”.
Although the album is a little feature heavy, it doesn’t take away from Earl’s appeal. With appearances from the mysterious Frank Ocean, fire flame spitters Vince Staples and Domo Genesis, and Wu Tang master RZA, we can’t really be mad. This isn’t a Justin Timberlake experience; besides the airy “Sunday” the gritty beats get no time to breathe. There are nearly no hooks except for a few repeated lines, and majority of the tracks are abruptly sizzled down to silence at around the three-minute mark. Mainly comprised of beats from Earl’s producer pseudonym “Randomblackdude”, Matt Martians, BadBadNotGood, and The Neptunes, they sonically provide a chugging, grimy canvas for Earl’s intense lyrical images to be splattered on to. While Earl lackadaisically employed a few layers of stabbing drums and slapping bass, Doris is more full. The echoing cymbals and live drums clash on “Burgundy”, eerie voice samples and screams litter the running drums on “Centurion”, and distorted bass underscores the entire album especially on “Guild”, an absurdly screwed duet with Mac Miller.
There is something to be said about this divided artist. He has earned the respect of the hip-hop heads, and his return to the spotlight unscathed is a feat that some of the greatest entertainers have never been able to accomplish. The debut studio albums of new artists have fallen into the pattern of mediocrity, but Doris is refreshing. The 19-year-old star’s musical mastery shows no signs of growing pains. He has surrounded himself with a tight circle of budding stars, and while popular attention is on more mainstream names; Earl’s future shows promise. He is a convoluted character that we only learn about through his bars. Doris is a peek at the progression as Sweatshirt apathetically battles his demons, and introspectively sheds light on aspects of his life.
Quinton Boudwin is consuming Breaking Bad on Netflix at alarming speeds but takes breaks to write cool stuff. Follow him on twitter here.