Album of the week: Earl Sweatshirt's Doris

The Odd Future MVP is sad, silly, stressed and stoned, often all in one breath—but what 19-year-old manchild isn’t?
Earl Sweatshirt
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After Odd Future was blasted into fame in 2010, the mantras of the Los Angeles hooligan hip-hop crew were on laptop stickers and Facebook statuses nationwide. Cried from the mouths of the deviant 13-piece rap mob, the words “Free Earl” pointed to the absence of the group’s dark horse: the 16 year-old word whiz Earl Sweatshirt. His polysyllabic flow proved his skill beyond his years, murmuring vivid poetic imagery of murder fantasies—pushing the notoriety outside of Tyler, the Creator’s blatant rape rhymes.

 

However, as a Complex article uncovered, his mother shipped him away to a retreat for at-risk teen boys, forcing him to miss the crew’s formative years. Finally released in 2012, Earl delivered verses that remained just as deadpanned potty-mouthed and integral than those gut-wrenching, mind-spinning pieces on his self-titled mixtape. But it wasn’t until the 2012 single “Chum” was unveiled that we learned his side of the story. He discussed daddy issues (“It's probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless / And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest”), solace he found from Tyler, and how that Complex article affected his relationship with his mother. Sure he’s another charming-yet-menacing troublemaker from that terrorizing Odd Future clan, but the kid actually shows truthful glimpses of depth and vulnerability.

Doris shows an even further matured version of the previously precocious Earl Sweatshirt. Lyrically, he draws from a tummy full of mixed emotions: from his ill grandmother—whom the album is named after—to his insecurity of new material and resentment toward his AWOL dad. All in four stanzas: “Grandma's passing / But I'm too busy tryna get this fuckin' album cracking to see her / And my priorities fucked up, I know it, I'm afraid I'm going to blow it / And when them expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right?”

Throughout the album, Earl continues the multi-faceted stream of consciousness with an unmatched flow, addressing struggles of making it in L.A., fraying relationships, hopeless dreams and, with help from RZA, ensuring that he’ll “fuck the freckles off your face, bitch” in his signature spry spice. “Breaking news: Death's less important when the Lakers lose / There's lead in that baby food, heads try to make it through… Provider of the backdrop music for the crack rock user and the mascot, Earl.” He’s sad, silly, stressed and stoned all in one breath—but what 19-year-old manchild isn’t?

As much as he knocks Doris out of the park technically, the album lacks a tight string to tie the album together. Unlike Tyler, the Creator’s melody-driven Wolf, each song here drifts along stagnantly and superchill, like a ’90s East Coast hip-hop jam session, sans catchy, memorable hooks. Thankfully, the album’s obscurely swingy production adorns the intricate verses with menacing and psychedelic whirrs, due in part from the Neptunes and Earl Sweatshirt’s producing moniker Randomblackdude, but they just sort of float in and out. “Sunday” is Doris’ catchiest track, with head-nodding marching band drum fills rumbling under echoed coastal synth chords while Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean addresses his Chris Brown altercation and alternates the chorus about how life just kinda sucks when they “stopped smokin’ pot.” Although tracks like “Hive” and “Hoarse” deliver better-than-anticipated wordplay (“Fist clinched emulating '68 Olympics / Rock it from the cradle 'til he middle aged and limp-sticked / Coughing from the stable probably indicating spliffs lit / Dismissed, feel it in that saturated cranium / Heavy as insurance off a spanking new laser gun…”), the album lacks cohesiveness.

However, the schizophrenic alternation between vulnerability and bravado found on Doris are the cute pubescent vocal cracks in the adolescence of an emcee with a bombass (and still odd) future.

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