Thank fellow Uproxx comrade Josh Kurp for his “5 Next-Day Thoughts On…” series, because we’re shifting our review format. The new idea? Present the five big things we took away from each album we cover. We’re hoping this makes our reviews more digestible without sacrificing the critical process. But don’t worry: the Cigs are still there.
So here’s the new format, beginning with Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Doris.’
After a prolonged campaign, West Coast wunderkind Earl Sweatshirt is finally free. Now firmly back on U.S. soil in the midst of a growing resurgence of talent in his LA home, can the precocious son of a poet exceed expectations, or does he still have some catching up to do on his proper debut album ‘Doris’?
As always, let us know what you think in the comments.
1. Earl Is A Rapping Motherf*cker
Every verse is packed with expertly crafted, multisyllabic, lyrics that march out of his mouth like Jason Vorhees in pursuit of horny, drunken, teenagers. His rhyme schemes are remarkably complex, with each verse containing at least one “what just happened?” rewind moment. The truly gifted emcee juggles non-sequiturs and oddball references with his eyes closed. Still, as good as he is, his lines come out at a steady, if nonchalant, pace.
On the autobiographical “Chum” he raps “Sixteen, I’m hollow/intolerant/skip shots/I storm that whole bottle/I’ll show you a role model/I’m drunk, pissy, pissing on somebody front lawn/Trying to figure out how and when the fuck I missed moderate” with the same effort of a cubicle jockey droning his daily Starbucks order. With, the consistently downbeat production, and lyrical density, you may find yourself wishing that Earl would chug a double espresso himself and exert a little more energy.
2. So Are His Friends
In the past year, Mac Miller’s smoky home studio has seemingly been the epicenter of creativity for the next class of West Coast spitters. Earl recorded his album there, and you sense that he and his collaborators bounced ideas off of each other live, and ignited friendly competition along the way. Vince Staples, Tyler The Creator, Domo Genesis, Casey Veggies, and the aforementioned Miller, all turn in inspired performances, but Odd Future soul man Frank Ocean may have stolen the show from his full-time rapping pals.
His confident, braggadocios, verse on the album standout “Sunday,” is one of the most memorable on the album. Not surprisingly, it’s the song where Earl sounds the most alive. Still, on a 44-minute album, the constant stream of guests that file in can make the party a bit crowded.
3. All Grown Up
Earl promised that the subject matter of his debut would be made of more high-minded stuff than the rape fantasy filled, hyper violent, content of his debut mixtape. In many ways that’s true. On the Neptunes-produced “Burgundy,” Earl describes his new found fame like someone whose woken up in a fancy hotel room trying to readjust his eyes to the morning light, and unfamiliar surroundings. The aforementioned “Chum” and “Sunday” respectively detail the nature of his relationships with his family and significant others with remarkable clarity and honesty.
These moments, however, are often hard to pull from under the Tetris level 99 pile of rappin’ ass rappin’. Earl’s verbal acrobatics can sometimes make the fact that he sticks the landing with substance an afterthought.
4. Darkness Is Spreading
Earl’s alter ego randomblackdude handles much of the production, and it shows. The sound is dark, foreboding, and methodical for much of the album. On the Mac Miller-featured “Guild,” the duo’s pitched down voices are accentuated by a short snatch of strings and two haunting, repetitive, key tones. “Hive” consists of little more than a crunchy snare, keyboard present chant vocals, and a distorted synth. The monotony gets broken up when outsiders get involved.
With help from production duo Christian Rich and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, the sparse and minimalistic “Chum” fades out into a lush, warm, dreamscape. The drums in Alchemist’s, blink and you missed it, entry “Uncle Al” have more snap than any others on the album. RZA sprinkles a bit of soul into “Molasses” which lets Earl’s DOOM influences really shine through. BadBadNotGood’s musicality is welcome on the somber “Hoarse.”
5. Illmatic This Is Not
Few knew what to expect from Earl Sweatshirt after his well-documented return to the States. Before his departure to Samoa, the then 15-year-old left us with Earl and his appearances on the Odd Future Tape which revealed potential perhaps never seen from a rapper of his age. The expectations of an older, wiser, Earl were high.
It turns out that he doesn’t break tons of new ground here, but he has continued to refine his gift as a lyricist and paired it with a new found sense of perspective that is all his own. He has the potential to make a truly great album in the future, but for now we’ll have to settle for pretty damn good.
Label: Tan Cressida, Columbia Records | Producers: randomblackdude, BadBadNotGood, Christian Rich, Frank Ocean, Matt Martians, Michael “Uzi” Uzowuru, The Neptunes, RZA, Samiyam, The Alchemist, Tyler, The Creator