Earl Sweatshirt - Doris

From Earl Sweatshirt, the young man often championed as the strongest lyricist of the turbulently popular LA rap collective Odd Future, comes his highly anticipated debut solo album Doris. Returning from a hiatus in Samoa that was imposed by his mother (reportedly due to “troublemaking”, not because of his music), the 19 year old delivers a newfound maturity in a first full-length release that is surprisingly austere.

Although it’s received a mostly positive acclaim insofar as professional criticism, the album almost certainly will draw some negativity from members of his fan base who weren’t looking for an evolution in his lyrical content. Much of his earlier material seemed hell-bent on inducing visions of graphic violence, rape, and branding himself as a young psychopath; his most popular video, ‘EARL’, released in 2010, featured him and members of Odd Future drinking grotesque mixes of household items and liquids out of a blender, vomiting, and spewing lyrics about “decomposed body parts in plastic”. On Doris, however, Earl seems to be on a mission to develop his own voice and vibe, one that distinguishes itself greatly from Odd Future’s highly publicized themes of youthful anarchy and gleeful madness. The highly autobiographical first single, ‘Chum’, has Earl ruing the times he never told his estranged father he loved him: “And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest/When honestly I miss this n--ga, like when I was six”. It’s an intriguing window into the young rapper’s neurotic and sensitive mind, and, on a side note, boasts what might be the wordiest chorus out of any song in recent memory.

One thing that does remain constant is his proclivity for abstract and enigmatic wordplay, reminiscent of Lil Wayne’s 2006-2008 mixtape releases, with unheard-of similes and bizarrely compounded words. Earl doesn’t hesitate to reintroduce the audience to his eccentric lyrical style, where in the opening song ‘Pre’ he describes himself as a “ticket-dodging aristocrat’, and an “Escobarbarian” (half-Pablo Escobar, half-non-Roman?).

One of the standout tracks on the album, ‘Sunday’, which features fellow Odd Future associate Frank Ocean, highlights a dreamy organ-based beat and some lazy percussion that ride along superbly with Earl and Ocean’s laidback LA flows. Here, Earl and his long-time friend rap about the perils of the artistic mind, habitual drug use, and their effect on relationships: “And I don’t know why we argue, and I just hope that you listen/And I’m sorry if I hurt you, the music makes me dismissive”.

Other than aforementioned verse from Frank Ocean, guest appearances don’t enhance the album a whole lot. Tyler the Creator’s verses remain as abstruse as ever, and popular Caucasian rapper Mac Miller still doesn’t seem to be interested in anything more than describing what outfit he has on that day or describing puffs of blunt smoke.

While by no means a pop album, Doris boasts production from some very popular players in the hip-hop world. Both RZA and The Neptunes produced beats for the album, the former of which contributing the chorus to ‘Molasses’, where the Wu-Tanger welcomely pops by to say “I’ll f—k the freckles of your face, b—tch”. The album’s production is for the most part understated, with some songs lending themselves to simple piano riffs and acoustic bass, while others like ‘Whoa ft. Tyler the Creator’ utilize the age-old Dre-inspired gangster synth. The stripped-down and consistent use of acoustic instruments recalls classics such as Common’s Be and Tribe’s The Low End Theory.

If there’s an obvious complaint to be made about the album, it’s that it never really deviates from a dizzy and slow-paced style of song. It remains to be seen if Earl’s drawl and unassuming flow could even mesh with beats other than what we’re used to from him, but the headstrong young lad may have no interest in creating anything upbeat or user-friendly. For a freshman release, Doris offers an unusually innovative and often laidback sample of hip-hop’s new generation of hopefuls, though you might find yourself pressing rewind and trying to comprehend what the hell “New patterns patty-caking with mannequins/Cause I don’t like my f--king homies dip” means.
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