Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Released: August 20, 2013
Label: Tan Cressida, Columbia
Genre: Hip Hop, Rap
01 Pre (feat. SK La’ Flare)
02 Burgundy (feat. Vince Staples)
03 20 Wave Caps (feat. Domo Genesis)
04 Sunday (feat. Frank Ocean)
05 Hive (feat. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies)
07 Sasquatch (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
08 Centurion (feat. Vince Staples)
10 Uncle Al
11 Guild (feat. Mac Miller)
12 Molasses (feat. RZA)
13 Whoa (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
15 Knight (feat. Domo Genesis)
Odd Future first tumbled out of Los Angeles in 2010. Tyler, The Creator was hard at work, as the figurehead, trying to put them into the spotlight. In the end, all of the attention, and their first taste of the limelight, was through the incredibly young (15 or 16) Earl Sweatshirt. Even more unsettling than his age was his incredibly poise, which was almost scary really. The video for “Earl” (off the mixtape of the same name), wherein Sweatshirt and company down a risky drug cocktail and party until they begin to decay, was integral in setting the then-unknown collective on its crash course with hip-hop notoriety. But as the best day of Odd Future came closer and closer Earl Sweatshirt seemed to simply dissapear. The group refused to provide an explanationas to why he didn’t perform with the group. The fans missed him so much that the questions rose to the ealaborate and too much.
After a winding investigation, Complex was eventually able to trace Earl to a Samoan retreat for at-risk teen boys. It seems his mother, a civil rights activist and law professor, had shipped him overseas to clear his head after behavioral problems bled into his schoolwork. Barring an expository chat with The New Yorker, Earl fell silent after the reveal until turning up unexpectedly on Twitter one night in early 2012 with a new song called “Home” that closed with Sweatshirt giddily announcing his return: “I’m baaaack. Bye.”He appeared on various ephemera afterward: a supremely anesthetized spot on “Super Rich Kids” off Frank Ocean’s Grammy Award winning Channel Orange, an unannounced freestyle on the posse cut “Oldie” from The OF Tape Vol. 2 compilation, and tracks with OF compatriot Domo Genesis and Flying Lotus’ rapping alter ego Captain Murphy. He seemed to pick right up where the maleficent EARL left off, the new verses touting the same deadpanned orgies of bloodletting and misanthropy.
When we got to the end of 2012 Earl thought he might want to talk a bit about himself on his verses. Built around a simple, affecting piano figure and clattering boom bap low end, “Chum” was a travelogue of a lost soul seemingly back on track. In it Earl opens up about a life of struggles, from the absence of his father, one-time South African Poet Laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile, after a split from his mother (“I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest/ When honestly I miss this nigga like when I was six”), to discovering drugs and petty crime, finding a big brother in Tyler, and the fallout from the Complex expose. “Chum” was the most personal and direct he’d ever been on record; it was gobstopping without relying on the trick of sullying the youthful zest of his voice with grim stories of death and defilement.
On his debut release on Columbia, Sweatshirt decided to address a lot more ideas and personas, while using a more varied selection of emotions. On the Neptunes production he addresses a more jazzy and happy mood, while at the same time addressing long time scars left by his grandmother’s illness and lingering issues regarding his on and off relationship with his father (“My priorities fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m going to blow it/ When them expectations raising cause daddy was a poet”). On “Sunday” he’s a distant lover in a touring musicians life, showcasing the song by trading verses with Frank Ocean. Hive” captures the sobering realities of L.A.’s inner city as Earl, his voice just above a whisper, speaks of hopeless commuters biking to jobs that don’t pay their bills (“From a city that’s recession hit/ Where stressed niggas could flex metal with pedals to rake pennies in”). All these moments being captured between beats and rhymes, create a lot o visual images inescapable to the listener. But he doesn’t want your sympathy.
Even if Doris has more depth than Sweatshirts earlier material, his major strength remains the same: His wordplay; which makes the whole experience of Doris all the more beautiful. Deeper meaning are here and there throughout the entire album. “Hive”’s second verse opens with: “Desolate testaments trying to stay Jekyll-ish/ But most niggas Hyde, and Brenda just stays preg-a-nant”. A kick of offbeat references, double entendres, made up words, and brilliantly disguised slant rhymes that hit as great exercises in rhyming words well before the deeper meanings can be teased out. His focus though, never strays off from his DOOM-influenced songwriting and beatmaking.
The album is just over 44 minutes; but it feels much longer. Earl’s likes drone, carry on, innovative and dark textured on his songs, intriguing the listener from start to finish. Doris gets as much of its jollies from settling into dark, forbidding soundscapes as it does from unexpectedly ripping us up out of them. Without the noirish serial killer stories of earlier work to fall back on, Earl has discovered new ways to shock and disorient the listener.Doris is a statement. Earl Sweatshirt is back and here to stay.