Review: Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Published on August 20th, 2013 | Jamie Steiner
Rocksucker scribe Jamie Steiner runs the rule over Doris, the eagerly awaited new LP from Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt…
In the modern age of the music industry, it is no longer uncommon for an artist to start posting music online, build up a following and subsequently release an album.
Every so often, one of these musicians will generate such a ludicrous amount of hype it can feel as if they’re morphing into the Second Coming. YouTube and music blogs are strewn with Earl Sweatshirt superlative flotsam, many foreseeing a savior of rap, each predicting the emergence of an unrivaled talent. In short, it feels like a bomb is about to go off.
So, a week after his second album Doris leaked before its official release, the question is: does it live up to its PR? After the laughable calamity of Holy Grail… Magna Carta, has rap been reinvented? Of course it hasn’t, but none of that really matters.
It’s a shame that so much hyperbole has paved the way for the release of Doris because it unavoidably casts a shadow over your initial introduction to it. This was meant to change the game, right?
Presumably trying to ignore all of this and just knuckle down to making an album, Earl Sweatshirt has served up some impressive lyrical gymnastics and hypnotic beats, something Jay-Z has been incapable of for many years now.
So even if the rap landscape remains pretty much unchanged, it definitely has an interesting new addition.
Kicking off with the jarringly dull “Pre” (“Baby girl, what you want to do? / Hop in this ‘Cedes, girl / She like where we going to”), Doris finally announces itself with the Neptunes-produced “Burgundy”, a thumping opening statement full of vocal muscle-flexing, melodic confidence and the lyrical likes of:
Grandma’s passing / But I’m too busy tryna get this fuckin’ album cracking to see her / So I apologize in advance if anything should happen / 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? / Talk all you want I’m taking no advice / Nigga, I’m ’bout to relish in this anguish
And I’m stressing over payment, so don’t tell me that I made it / Only relatively famous in the midst of a tornado / Misfitted, I’m Clark Gable, I’m not stable, abrasive as fuck / And they all pay me, I’m chuckling, cross-faded in public / Heart racing ’til blunt is lit like, ‘He don’t give a fuck again, right?’
Next up is the Samiyam-produced “20 Wave Caps”, a fist-pumping marching beat punctuated with Nintendo Gameboy-esque organ stabs. It’s the first of many fruitful collaborations with producers whose musical ability arguably overshadows portions of the lyrical content.
Featuring Odd Future cohort Domo Genesis, they flow nicely with the up-and-down rhythm of the beat but it’s ultimately all meaningless, inconsequential hip-hop posturing perhaps best surmised by the non-ironic “Damn, Doms, it don’t even seem like you trying”.
However, for every unimaginative line there’s a verse from ‘Hive’ like this:
From a city that’s recession-hit / With stress niggas could flex metal with, peddle to rake pennies in / Desolate testaments trying to stay Jekyll-ish / But most niggas Hyde, and Brenda just stay pregnant / Breaking news: death’s less important when the Lakers lose / There’s lead in that baby food, heads try to make it through / Fish-netted legs for them eyes that she cater to / Ride dirty as the fucking sky that you praying to”
Compare this with a verse from Jay Z’s Holy Grail… Magna Carta:
Hands down got the best flow, sound I’m so special / Sound boy burial, this my Wayne Perry flow / Y’all know nothing ’bout Wayne Perry though / District of Columbia, guns on y’all Tumblrs / Fuck hashtags and retweets, nigga / 140 characters in these streets, nigga / Pardon my laughing, y’all only flagging on beats, nigga / Pardon my laughing, I happen to think you sweet
…and back to “Hive”: its looping bass line is brilliantly simple and all the better for it. Like Dead Prez’s “Hip-Hop”, its under-production belies a musician who knows when to stop.
Likewise, “Guild” (giving way to the unlikely sparring of Earl Sweatshirt and the usually underwhelming Mac Miller) is an exercise in atmosphere and restrained brushstrokes, both rappers’ voices brought down to Tramadol speed, as if the song is trying to run waist deep through industrial sludge.
The most obvious points of interest are Earl’s collaborations with Tyler, the Creator which, unsurprisingly, result in two of the best tracks: “Sasquatch” and “Whoa”.
“Whoa” in particular is an unpredictable delight, strange electronic whirs straight from 36 Chambers-era Wu-Tang Clan augmented with sprinkles of delicate piano appreggios.
“Chum”, the best track on Doris, happens to coincide with some of Doris’ most interesting lyrics:
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… Searching for a big brother, Tyler was that / And plus he liked how I rap, the blunted mice in the trap / Too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks / From honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks / I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened, it’s evident / And them eyes, where he hiding all them icicles at?
Yet another pared-down beat consisting of just a piano riff, bass and snare drum, the song is laden with melancholic introspection (the album is named after Earl’s recently deceased grandmother) and is genuinely moving (Tyler, sensing Earl might lose some street cred, responds to this on “Whoa” with “Niggas think ’cause you fucking made ‘Chum’ and got all personal that niggas won’t go back to that old fucking 2010 shit about talking ’bout fucking everything. No, fuck that nigga, I got you.”)
After a debut album that was mostly concerned with scatology and rape, Doris is most definitely a progression and maturation both in its sound and in its themes. The likes of RZA, BadBadNotGood, Pharrell and Samiyam leave their mark but keep it within the confines of the overall mood of Doris which, aside from an initial misstep in “Pre”, is cohesive and well structured from start to finish.
It might not change your life but it has survived the ridiculous weight of expectation placed upon it, which denotes an accomplished album in its own right.
Doris is out now Tan Cressida.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!