Earl Sweatshirt became an internet phenom then an exiled pseudo martyr for misunderstood kids and now an almost folk legend before releasing a proper debut album. Doris is a sonically diverse ride through a precocious MC’s troubled mind. The album’s core idea can be summed up thusly: “I don’t give a f*ck what you think.” A seemingly abrasive stance, but this album delves into how that statement is inherently dependent on a conscious understanding of public perception while actively defying it. A common paradox often faced by a Tumblr generation which thrives off of constant reaffirmation of one’s individuality through the validation of a niche crowd.
There is no conventional number one single (his manager said Earl consciously avoided those). He has another MC rap for over a a minute and 20 seconds (“Pre”) before we even hear Earl’s voice for the first time on the album. Earl even produces on the album but opts for the pseudonym “Ramdonblackdude”. This is the artistically abrasive side to “I don’t give a f*ck what you think”.
Conceptually, Doris is divided into three parts which encompass Earl’s internal battle between self-fulfillment and public perception. The first six songs eases listeners into how weird Earl’s mind can get but framed in conventional manners. Every personal exposition of is life (used to lie and say he hate his absent father) is rapped with the same catatonic monotone flow as his most menacing lyrics. He addresses this dichotomy on the chorus/interlude on the Neptunes-produced “Burgundy”:
“Hey Thebe, n*gga,what’s up n*gga? I heard you back, I need them raps, n*gga. I need the verse, I don’t care about what you going through or what you gotta do n*gga, I need bars, sixteen of ’em.”
This is the artistically self-conscious side of “I don’t a f*ck what you think.”
Once the album reaches its first major beat switch, on the Matt Martian, Chad Hugo and
Earl Randomblackdude produced single “Chum” the topics, lyrics and production of the next five songs are noticeably darker. These songs are catered to the Odd Future superfans who immerse themselves in the eclectic range of artists under the Odd Future umbrella. The album takes a sudden shift to rapping in slurred time measures with Mac Miller on the average “Guild”, misplacement of amateur-sounding meshing of sounds that is “523” and entertainingly useless Tyler, the Creator-assisted/produced “Sasquatch”. I would not be surprised if a number of Earl’s personal favorite songs from Doris appear in this section of the album.
The final four songs (“Molasses”, “Whoa”, “Hoarse” “Knight”) are Earl’s most Hip Hop purist appeasing section with Tyler, the Creator on “Whoa” stating they can “go back to that old f*ckin’ 2010 sh*t”(only three years ago). Leaving his most traditionally sounding Hip Hop songs for the end was conscious.
This is the culmination of “I don’t give a f*ck what you think”.
Earl is at an age where he would be entering his Sophomore year of college and probably taking social psychology courses while smoking on the quad. As an apparent student of the game who is conscious of so many factors let me give you Earl Sweathshirt’s Doris Report Card:
Musicality : Earl really shows his ear for music is quite eclectic. Doris‘ production is the most diverse of any rap album released from the Odd Future collective. The album constantly changes moods and sound with only the gothic gloom and muddy bass-lines of tracks such as “Hive”, “Centurion” and “Chum” being the only commonality between the majority of the album. Sibling production duo Christian Rich are the standouts on an album that features production from RZA, The Neptunes and Matt Martian. The duo produced perfect soul sample “Knight”, “Centurion” and co-produced “Chum” and “Molasses”.
Lyricism (Writing Skills): Lyrics are either focused on being super technical or extremely self-conscious. Earl rhetorically asks fans if he’s “dispelling one-tick ponyness” (“Hive”) and even ends a verse because he knows “you tired with my rude a*s.”He also has never been a punchline heavy MC, opting for loose associations of concepts and mutlisyllabalic internal rhyming which is showcased on Doris heavily. As the son of poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, Earl exhibits expert ways of simultaneously appearing personal while still maintaining his wild character:
“‘Bout to catch a case again/eigths louder than the voice of Satan that be plaguing him.”
Earl is still evolving as an MC and getting over his biggest hurdle: words-connect flow. While this type of flow allows for dizzying displays of rhyming, Earl’s dense bar structure and aversion to conventional lyricism creates impressively rhymed verses that say absolutely nothing:
Gorgeous chrome-plated horse whip
Home-making paintings for poor quality porn flicks – From “Hoarse”
Collaboration (Group Work): Earl plays very well with others. Unfortunately for Earl, the most impressive verses on his album come courtesy of Vince Staples’ extensive verse on “Hive” and Domo Genesis immaculately concise stream of though verse on album closer “Knight”. While overshadowing at times, his collaborators fit the concept of each record and even come out of their comfort zone in order to sustain this world Earl has created on Doris. The usually somber singing Frank Ocean even decides to give his vocal chords a much needed rest to spit a spoken word verse ripe with allusions to his altercation with Chris Brown in late January of this year (“Burgundy”).
Doris is an entertainingly flawed depiction of a young MC trying to “brush the dirt up off my psyche”. Earl Sweatshirt has officially entered himself into the conversation for best MC of Tumblr generation. The only question is will he ever give a f*ck to fully reach his potential.
ALBUM OVERALL GRADE: 7.5/10 (B+)
Doris is availbale now and can be purchased on iTunes. Stream the album in its entirety below: