Tuesday (Aug. 20) was something like a super-moon for late-summer album releases, Ty Segall, Julianna Barwick, No Age, Zola Jesus, Julia Holter, Shigeto and Braids (see more below) all logging anticipated entries. There was none more anticipated, though, than that by Earl Sweatshirt, the 19-year-old Odd Future rap prodigy, whose mythology has ballooned in the couple years since his debut to a scale rivaling his lyrical chops.
If you don’t know Earl’s story, album single “Chum” takes it on in surprisingly confessional form. Son of a law-professor mother and South African poet laureate, absentee father Keorepetse Kgositsile, Earl was promptly heralded at 16 as Odd Future’s brightest talent, garnering comparison’s to MF Doom with his dense internal rhyme schemes, double meanings and effortless cadence. Then, as Odd Future exploded, Earl disappeared. His mother quietly shipped him off to boarding school in Samoa until he turned 18. Complex Magazine eventually tracked him down to out the story, an episode he laments on “Doris” for straining his family ties and making his eventual return that much harder. “Been back a week and I already feel like calling it quits,” he admits, a sentiment that sets a strange tone for the record. For a rapper variously regarded as the future of the form, Doris is largely about Earl’s reluctance to rap.
Contributing MC Vince Staples goads Earl on “Burgundy” for being “sad and depressed like a little bitch” and this is largely the emotional canvass that Doris explores, woozy beats and down-pitched vocal effects wandering from Earl’s personal trials to snapshots of the recessionary American city. Blow jobs and “blowing cabbage” are the only reprieve, with Odd Future menace Tyler, the Creator admitting on “Whoa” that there’s no “going back to that 2010 shit” after Earl “got all personal” on “Chum.” The problem throughout is the pressure the wunderkind faces to deliver the playful, gymnastic lyrics fame unwittingly burried for him. “I don’t care about what you’re going through or what you gotta do. I need bars, 16 of ‘em,” the voice of a fat cat demands on the hook for “Burgundy.”
“Hook” is a relative term here, though, as Doris is consistently engaging without the use of much melody or chorus-like elements. This is testament to Earl’s almost unrivaled ability to dispense through-rapped master verses that demand repeat listens to decipher all the nuance. “Sunday” comes closest to a proper hook, as Earl and Frank Ocean echo each other’s disillusionment with fame in the way they bookend their verses, but when repetition occurs on Doris, it’s a full verse that will get recycled, as on the album centerpiece Hive. Sit down; write it out; commit it to memory. This stuff is the antidote to mindless twerk-pop.
No doubt, Doris draws plenty of its strength from contributors like Domo Genesis, Staples and the RZA. Even converted frat-rapper Mac Miller manages a capable verse on “Guild” but this record is largely about Earl casting off the Odd Future mythology and actually asserting himself as an artist. While it might be technically his sophomore record, Doris feels like the debut he deserved and the Internet demanded.