Last week Odd Future MC and talented wordsmith, Earl Sweatshirt, dropped his debut LP, Doris. Though the skills were already evident with the young spitter for quite some time now, there were always questions of whether or not he could hold down a complete album by himself. I got my hands on a copy and decided to determine that for myself.
So off top, I hated the opening track entitled “Pre”. Then I listened to it again and realized I was wrong, because it knocks. Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt included, are consistently difficult to label and put into a categorical rap subgenre/box. Earl flips a very simple flow, like a style Chief Keif is capable of, yet delivers bars typical of the vulnerability, rawness, insightful youthful energy, and angst we’ve become accustomed to hearing from the OFWGKTA squad. What I think I dig most about Earl, is that he effortlessly reflects a current vibe, yet displays understanding of the crafts of beat making and lyricism that is polished, cohesive, and nuanced to levels that should earn him the respect of the most elitist of backpackers. Track #1, “Pre”, is produced by Odd Future’s own Michael “Uzi” Uzowuru. It’s not a very epic or over the top way of opening an album, like you would expect on say a Jay Z album, but the understated vibe seems intentional, like all of the perceived imperfections of Odd Future music in the minds of anti-fans. Not much replay value on this song, but the awkwardness almost makes sense. SK La Flare concludes the opening song with an underwhelming 16 about getting dome and being tough and what not.
Favorite Bar(s): “I want that Rothchild money. That top is Sunny. I’ve seen the light, you blocked it from me.”
Produced by Pharell Williams, this shit KNOCKS. Big horns, big strings, big drums, and then Earl says, (Favorite Bar(s) “Nobody care about how you feel. We want raps, RAPS. nigga… My Grandma’s passing, but I’m too busy tryna get this fuckin’ album cracking to see her, so I apologize in advance if anything happens.” That :27 seconds of the 2nd song on Earl Sweatshirt’s album is in my top 3 songs of 2013. No hook, but Earl maintains a theme to the song by defying his own voice, chopped and screwed, that returns between verses and says things like, “I need the verse, I need the verse, I need bars, 16 of em.”
20 Wave Caps:
This is my favorite sound in the Odd Future mainstay arsenal. Domo Genesis opens the track with a no-nonsense 16 bar combo ala Marvel Vs Capcom, and Earl responds with a verse that sounds like random grimy braggadocio. These songs remind me that they’re a crew of emcees who make beats and went to high school together. Reminds me of what my apartment used to sound like when the fridge had more 40 bottles than food items, and my cat litter box went 1.5-1.87 weeks without being cleaned. I’m glad to see Samiyam on the album credits for producing the tune.
Favorite Bar(s): is when Domo says, “LOOK FOR ME!”
Aaaannnnnd here is the sappy shit that sounds like the things we think in our heads and that our other self responds to with, “stop being a bitch and quit that whinin’.” There seems to be check lists of places to visit when making a hip hop album, and the places “Sunday” takes you, remind me of where “Awkward” on Tyler, The Creator’s Wolf takes you. Earl’s verse is about the pain of falling out of love with someone who he feels doesn’t share his passion, because he is more focused on his journey than he is pursuing her. Frank Ocean has a verse on this song, and his is actually more interesting and quite vulnerable.
This sounds like El-P could have produced and Aesop Rock could have wrote to it. Again, it seems like there is a checklist of facets an Odd Future album will display. This song sounds like a girl named Backpack had a baby by a guy who was half backpack and half west coast gangster shit, and the baby was a gutter skinny jean and raiders cap wearing alternative rapper. The beat is minimal, and the darkest sounding on the album yet.
Favorite Bar(s): “Tryna stay Jekyll-ish, but most niggas is Hyde, and Brenda just stay preg-uh-nant.”
The first point of the album where I’m catching glimpses of some of Earl’s pain associated with family. He opens the track by describing missing his father who left him 12 years ago. He goes on to call Tyler the brother he needed, who mentored him artistically. He also speaks on strains on his relationship with his mother and God. After 16 year old Earl released his last project for free, he was taken to a boarding school on the Island of Samoa. He was a minor, and apparently his mom was worried about the young spitter who was 16 and kicking it with a sort of rap version of Animal House meets the Blues Brothers or Jackass meets Wu Tang, if you will. So in many ways Earl pursuing rap and experimenting with the liberties that come along with success in rap put stress on the relationship with people he cares about. Yet another consistent source of inspiration from Odd Future, is dealing with growing up fatherless.
Favorite Bar(s): “It’s probably been 12 years since my father left. He left me fatherless. I used to just say I hate him in dishonest jest. When honestly, I missed this nigga like when I was six, and every time I got the chance to say it I just swallowed it.”
“Searching for a brother and Tyler was that, plus he liked the way that I rap…..”
“…Too black for the whites, too white for the blacks.”
“Feeling harder than Vince Carter’s knee cartilage is.”
The first of 2 appearances by the Odd Future big homie, Tyler, The Creator, Tyler opens the track with a nasty verse of randomness and rawness. I’m reminded of how much more brawny he sounds compared to Earl, which may be due to the years Tyler has on Earl. Earl responds to Tyler’s verse with one of his own, and I’m reminded that Earl is the real spitter of the click. Earl is the GZA of the camp, Tyler is the Abbot. Earl spits more complex multi-syllables and patterns than Tyler, and his voice is far more monotone. The listener should appreciate what he’s saying and how the words are placed, more than how he’s saying it, and what he sounds like when he says it. While Tyler, on the other hand, offers more interesting inflections and off kilter cadences. Tyler produced the beat, and it’s super minimal – a lo-fi drum break, a few moody guitar licks, and a bass line. No hook, no gimicks, just bars and some boombap shit.
Favorite Bar(s): “I suck now, I’m not dope. But Chris and Rhianna are fuckin’ again, so there’s still hope.” – Wolf
This is basically two short tracks. The first half features Vince Staples doing much of the same shit he did on “Hive”, and the beat is contributed by Christian Rich. Big synth horns and minimal drums, which then abruptly turns into a David Axelrod loop, upon which Earl spits probably the most vicious bars on the album up to this point. This makes me realize that at 18 years old in 2013, Earl could go back in time, land on the Wake Up Show circa 94 and stand his own in a cypher with golden era underground rappers like Heiro and Living Legends. If you listened to Dark Leaf, or CoFlo, Earl Swearshirt might be your Bering Strait to the new world and age of rap music. The album improves from this point of the LP for me, which I appreciate, because most full length albums get weaker as you get further from the opening track.
This is an instrumental track, and the best song produced by Earl aka randomblackdude. This reminds me of Madlib’s Shades of Blue.
Another randomblackdude production, Earl sounds like he makes beats, and then records verses in one sitting. The “song” is only 53 seconds long. This makes me think of recent Blu albums, where they sound less polished as Below The Heavens, and contain a lot of music that sounds un-mastered. I would have liked this had it been a couple minutes long, but a lack of effort is a big part of Earl’s sound here.
Favorite Bar(s) : “Roll with no niggas who was probably gonna remain broke.”
This track lleads with a chopped and screwed Mac Miller feature. The vocal effect makes Mac’s voice fit well. I’m not the biggest fan of Mac Miller, but he definitely sonned Earl here. The white boy murdered him on his own shit. The further into this album I go, the more it becomes apparent how ‘back’ backpack rap is. This LP is absolutely reminiscent of late 90’s underground rap….
Speaking of the 90’s, backpack, and boombap, RZA makes an appearance on track 12, and it sounds more Wu-Tang than most actual Wu music these days. It’s really cool to hear RZA’s sound backing a youthful, grimy, don’t give a fuck type of emcee, as opposed to the middle aged cats who used to be those things who we usually hear on RZA beats these days.
The highlight of the album are the last 4 tracks in my opinion. This shit GOES. It serves as the anthem of the album. A strait BANGER. Sounds like School Boy Q meets El-P. It almost sounds like they recorded this in a bedroom studio or something, as the quality of the vocal track sounds less polished than the rest of the album to me. The beat is in the same vein as “Yonkers”.
The tone of this album is very dark – darker than Tyler’s, even. I realize now after making so many references to El-P, that what this album reminds me of is Cold Vein, this track especially. Produced by Toronto team BBNG (BadBadNotGood).
This is the most well produced song on the album, and was contributed by Christian Rich. Sonically, it’s an amazing way of closing the album. It’s got more depth than the rest of the album’s beats.
So what’s the verdict? Earl definitely holds it down the whole way lyrically and further bolsters his already sterling rep for dropping quality bars. Though sonically, the album is verging on the edge monotone, we soon get to see the point of this as the grimy, sparse, and underwhelming production easily highlights the raw lyricism that’s Earl’s calling card. If you’re already a fan of the OFWGKTA camp, you won’t be disappointed. If you’ not a fan of them, yet are a true connoisseur of premium raps and lyricism, then you’ll find yourself liking this offering from Earl Sweatshirt.