There’s little doubt that the social media generation of emcees is now beginning to come into their own. And being part of the most prominent collective to rise out of this new genesis of artists, Earl Sweatshirt was bound to have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of eyes and ears transfixed squarely at attention on his music. While Doris, Sweatshirt’s new album, is a culmination of mounds of mainstream music attention and fascination, both good and bad, given to him over the last 3-plus years, it’s also a gritty and biting yet strong beginning to the career of a young artist that might already be on the edge.
The prevailing sound and auditory theme of Doris is clunky and disjointed, gloomy and mournful, subconsciously hostile, lackadaisical and dismissive of whatever the listeners’ attitude and preconceptions could possibly be. Sweatshirt, much like the rest of Odd Future, takes a punk rock approach to his music and lyrics: many of the songs are short, sparse, fall somewhere in between abstract and dismissively vulgar, and sometimes hard to grasp. But the music as a whole is drenched in a D.I.Y. aesthetic that the collective has grown famous for. Many times without clear direction or concept, but thick with personality a certain aloof swagger. It’s part of the appeal that Sweatshirt has worked hard to introduce and maintain as his mantra. Beginning with “Pre”, Earl Sweatshirt does is best impression of Chief Keef with a stuttering, elementary flow… if Chief Keef were more lyrical and coherent.
Following in the footsteps of GOLFWANG leader Tyler, The Creator earlier this year on his album Wolf, Earl manages to get more personal and introspective, even if still somewhat guarded, on the tracks “Burgundy” and “Chum”. While guest feature Vince Stephens chides him at the beginning of “Burgundy” for being overly emotional, Sweatshirt proceeds to revel and wallow in his youthful angst: “Grandma’s passin’/But I’m too busy trying to get this f*ckin’ album crackin…” It’s a prime example of how at times on Doris he swings back and forth between guilt-ridden disinterest and wearing a bleeding heart on his sleeve. Where as with “Chum”, he delves into his more lyrical Hip Hop wordsmith side while harping on losing his father and being an outcast. Again, it lends to an appealing air of mysteriousness and jaded paranoia at letting the wrong people into his emotional closet.
Earl purposely makes himself out to be an angsty, tortured young artistic soul that still just wants to be left alone. After all, that’s what got him on the map with his previous self-released, self-distributed albums and mix tapes. Spots where this works the best are with Sweatshirt’s Odd Future affiliate Tyler, The Creator on “Sasquatch” and “Whoa”, where Earl and Tyler as a pair on a few of the songs are reminiscent of a younger, bleaker, more punch-drunk version Method Man and Redman. But though most of the time Doris makes that ideal true to form, it’s also an aspect that drags the music down and can grow laborious to listen to.
Which isn’t to say that there are actual bad songs on Doris, because there really aren’t. Sweatshirt actually has created some of the darkest, yet most interesting and engaging material that any Odd Future member has made since they first came to the limelight. “Centurion” is probably the bleakest, most descriptive and vivid song on the entire album. Sweatshirt’s lyrics are sharp, slicing, concise and raspy set against voice distortions and a musical backdrop that’s horrific and sinisterly irresistible.
And “Molasses” featuring RZA, one of the best Hip Hop songs of the year, gives Earl the chance to share the spotlight with one of Odd Futures most obvious and heaviest musical influences, sounding eerily similar to RZA at one point but still being his own man lyrically.
But after slightly over 40 minutes, Doris actually weighs on the listener and doesn’t let up. One interesting thing that happened upon the release of this album was a tweet that Sweatshirt sent out, telling followers in effect that if they felt positively about another hotly anticipated and polarizing 2013 Hip Hop album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, that they should un follow him.
Doris is almost the complete antithesis of Magna Carta: where Hov is an established and comfortable artist/ambassador of Hip Hop culture running with the high society, One-Percenter high art crowd, Earl is an apprehensive, darkly sarcastic young wall flower still struggling to find himself as an artist in an industry that has placed a mountainous burden on both he and his crew. And where Magna Carta celebrates the high life, glorifies fatherhood and loftily questions religion, Doris seeks to stay lurking creepily through the shadows and barely gives a shit about every day life, almost to the point where you want to tell Earl Sweatshirt to lighten the f*ck up.
In the end, Doris is a good listen, but a little too grim and desolate for an artist that’s still finding his footing and hasn’t yet entered his twenties. Here’s hoping that Earl Sweatshirt can eventually follow the lead of Tyler and Wolf on his next album and find some growth and balance.