Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, better known Earl Sweatshirt, is a member of Los Angeles assortment Odd Future, bringing captivating wordplay and a distinct cadence à la MF DOOM. Earl, Mr. Early Bird, quickly ascended to fame with his critically acclaimed 2010 debut mixtape EARL. Earl and his collective, Odd Future, lead by Tyler, the Creator gained recognition with their new injection of youth, witty yet controversial lyrics, and viral videos. Instead of enjoying spoils of his success (and a world tour), Earl Sweatshirt was swept off to Samoan boarding school, Coral Reef Academy, due to behavioral issues. Three years later, and a newly reformed man, Earl Sweatshirt is back with his debut studio album Doris. Armed with three years of maturity and a new outlook on life, the real question posed when listening to Doris is, “will it live up to the turmoil that erupted from EARL?”
If you began listening to Doris expecting EARL let me stop you now — it’s not the same by any means. Don’t let that deter you though, Earl pleases old fans who can’t let go of his former with songs such as “Whoa” and “Sasquatch,” as well as his unwavering DOOM-esque flow. Sweatshirt replaces mutilation with multis, ruffles with lyrical ruthlessness, and shock value with life values. Instead Doris is a living testimonial that an artist can grow while still putting out a quality album. Earl exhibits that his artistry extends far past rap by contributing production under the moniker RandomBlackDude.
Feature-packed, Earl Sweatshirt stays true to his roots by enlisting the help of Odd Future alumni and associates. Doris begins with the abrasive and trap induced soundings of SK LaFlare on equally gritty Michael Uzowuru laced instrumental titled “Pre”. When Earl gains entry on the second verse he makes it clear lack of wordplay will not be an issue by bolstering bars that makes Alcatraz look like day-spa. Earl’s assault continues on the championed Neptunes’ chords “Burgundy” and painfully honest prose and enamoring oscillators of “Sunday” with Frank Ocean while inviting us into his life. We unearth pieces of Earl’s world including the longing of embracing loved ones such as his grandmother and girlfriend, Mallory Llewellyn not to mention his current concerns of facing his own self-induced expectations.
Sweatshirt continually boasts his hip hop prowess while lyrically sparring with Odd Future affiliate Vince Staples on “Hive” with Odd Future alum, Casey Veggies laying down the hook and “Centurion” reminiscent of the days “Epar.” Earl makes little attempt to pause, enlisting the help of production grandeur, Alchemist and RZA with tracks such as “Uncle Al,” and “Molasses.” In “Molasses” famed Wu-Tang composer RZA scores a slowed soul sample that warrants every wouldbe rapper to put an impromptu verse to, all while he plays the role of hype man while proclaiming to “fuck the freckles off“ the face of an unsuspecting female. “Uncle Al” is so short (only 53 seconds), you may miss one of Earl’s many double entendres or homage to MadVillian if you blink. “20 Wave Caps,” featuring Odd Future member Domo Genesis, is an ode to the unfinished “Blade” from the 2010 release Radical, where Earl concludes his verse “Take that I’m on top like wave caps/This is grade-A rap, Domo bring that bass back, nigga.” This plays into awkward rambling by Earl that has now been answered by a verse that proves Odd Future spitter, Domo Genesis has ample potential to make as much noise. “Guild” features slow-pace syncopated beat with long drawn pitched-down vocals trading verses like swap meet on ‘lean.’
The one element lacking from Doris was song development through use of hooks. The scarcity of hooks makes the record sound more like a well-formulated cypher rather than a major release album. Honestly, I found that aspect to be a breathe of fresh air to the current radio friendly pop-rap of today as it digs into the foundation created by hip hop ancestry while allowing Earl accomplish what he does best — rap. Doris is full of second-listen gems once you give it that opportunity, it is safe to say Doris is a testament of progression and artistic freedom with something sinister to it.