Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Rap, Alternative Rap, Underground Rap, Hardcore Rap
Earl Sweatshirt's 2010 mixtape Earl was the first major missive from LA rap guttersnipes Odd Future, its shameless chatroom provocation magnified by a blithe, infuriating brilliance. His mum packed him off to school in the middle of the Pacific, a "Free Earl" campaign exploded online, and now he's back, with all his THC wisdom and daddy issues still intact. His main weapon is mixing around phonemically similar words like a pavement hustler's ball-and-cup trick ("new patterns patty-caking with mannequins"), fired over production that ranges from a cellphone-speaker Pharrell symphony on Burgundy, to loping desert blues on Hoarse.
The first and most superficial thing that followers of Odd Future rapper Earl Sweatshirt will notice about Doris, his second album, is that the lyrical content is, compared to his early work, G-rated. Gone are the psychosexual, horrorcore-ish fantasies of his 2010 debut (recorded when he was fifteen and sixteen); the rapper now seems, for the most part, to engage in societally acceptable sexual transactions. The most outlandish scenario occurs on “Molasses,” on which RZA, who seems to be enjoying hanging out with the kids, echoes the threat: “I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch.
When Odd Future first tumbled out of Southern Los Angeles County in 2010, it wasn’t the high-strung antics of the group’s de facto figurehead Tyler, the Creator that tipped them into the spotlight. It was Earl Sweatshirt, unbelievably young (15? 16?) and skilled beyond his years, a methodical wordsmith whose splatterpunk murder fantasies were rendered all the more unsettling by his incredible poise. The video for “Earl” (off the mixtape of the same name), wherein Sweatshirt and company down a risky drug cocktail and party until they begin to decay, was integral in setting the then-unknown collective on its crash course with hip-hop notoriety.
The genesis of ‘Doris’ goes something like this: in 2010, Earl Sweatshirt, born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile to a professor mother and a poet father, released one of the most exciting hip-hop mixtapes of the year. Shortly after ‘Earl’, his mum sent the 16-year-old to a ‘therapeutic retreat school’ in Samoa, where he stayed until he was 18. While he was there his fanbase in the US and UK swelled, and when he returned to America he was something of a cult hero.
When Earl – both the youngest and the gravest persona in hyperactiveLA rap collective Odd Future – released a mixtape of deft if dyspeptic rap three years ago, he seemed to be the group's pre-eminent talent, a suspicion confirmed by this label debut. The beats remain dank and murky but the subject matter has thankfully left behind rape and murder narratives for the introspective and confessional. His trademark reticence (both this and 2010's Earl begin with voices needling him to speak) means he gives away too many verses: the best tracks are him and him alone.
It's not an exaggeration to say some of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of the past few years have all been from the Odd Future camp. Some of the anticipation wasn't necessarily positive, because the band was partially known for the horrific lyrics espoused by Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt in their mid- to late-teens—rape, homophobia, insane misogyny, and graphic violence were all gleeful subjects, and it was as awful as you'd expect. But much like Eminem's output of the early '00s, the reprehensible lyrical content was tied to some of the most exciting music being released, which left music fans in a tough spot.
On May 23rd, 2011, Kelefa Sanneh had his article Where’s Earl? published in the New Yorker. It was unusual fare for that particular readership and exposed a whole new demographic to a largely unknown underground hip-hop collective called Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All Don’t Give a Fuck Loiter Squad. There are other name variations ranging from simply Wolfgang to OFWGKTA.
Widely considered the most innovative rapper to come out of Los Angeles-based collective Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt attained mythical status in the myth-loving hip-hop world while holed up in a Samoan boarding school following the release of his acclaimed self-titled 2010 mixtape. Three years later, the 19-year-old remains a rapper's delight on his major label debut, a murky and nihilistic-sounding album that runs the gamut of emotions. Sweatshirt remains stubbornly opposed to the persistent idea that if you are a man and an emcee, rapping and feeling are mutually exclusive.
Following his return from exile in Samoa last year, Earl Sweatshirt's media appearances, usually paired with partner-in-crime Tyler, the Creator and assorted Odd Future crew members, have been part performance art, part promotion. Satirical self-mockery presented in the form of genre-bashing Dadaist gags, these performances and interviews have shown off the juvenile peevishness that's always been Odd Future's stock in trade. Yet maintaining a rebellious image is one thing; integrating that outsider status into a fruitful artistic profile is another.
With the 2010 drop of his debut mixtape, Earl, rapper Earl Sweatshirt became one of the main reasons the underground rap crew Odd Future went from obscurity to everywhere. Then, Earl's mom decided he was an "at risk" kid (not because of his ugly, ugly music, but because he was "getting in trouble"), so off to the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa he went, quickly falling into the category of "more of a legend than rapper" as Odd Future broke out the "Free Earl" T-shirts with no other explanation for his absence. As such, his official debut falls into the category of "highly anticipated," but the real story behind the murky and free-flowing -- almost globular -- Doris is that the morbid horror-show rapper heard previously has grown into an observational maverick-style artist, offering downtrodden and even dour rhymes that come off like MF Doom recounting his visit to the Grand Guignol.
With an excess of the Digital Age’s youth using their Rap aspirations to pollute bandwidth, in 2010, a then 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt took Hip Hop’s corner of the Internet by storm with advanced lyrical skill and cunning charm. Shortly thereafter, his juvenile delinquent behavior had him forcibly removed from celebrating Odd Future’s newfound success, leaving behind an enigmatic myth regarding his disappearance that wouldn’t be quelled until his 2012 return from a therapeutic facility in Samoa. As if finishing high school and readjusting to normalcy under the spotlight weren’t enough to accomplish once back stateside, Earl was greeted with an overbearing media and impossible expectations that have leveled artists far more accustomed to the perils of stardom.
Earl SweatshirtDoris[Tan Cressida / Columbia; 2013]By Chase McMullen; August 27, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetWhen Earl Sweatshirt suddenly disappeared at the apex of Odd Future’s rapid rise to cultural dominance, some saw it as an early end to his potential. If the last few years have proved anything, it’s that in trying to avoid his path to into the rap world, his mother did Earl the biggest favor. During his obligatory stay at an African reformation school, Earl missed what was essentially his group’s implosion.
During Earl Sweatshirt?s time at a Samoan boarding school — and especially during the period of that time when the mythos surrounding him were at their most wildly imagined, before Complex divulged his location and the circumstances under which he was there — it was fun to imagine the already mythical young rapper would return to the States with not only diploma in hand, but also notebooks upon notebooks of raw, new material. Then, presumably, he would sift through the thousands of bars and promptly record the best of them, releasing a mixtape or two before joining back up with the rest of the Odd Future crew like he?d never been M.I.A. in the first place.
Earlier this month, Earl Sweatshirt made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon — the same program that played a large role in Odd Future’s explosion two years ago. Earl began his performance in the green room, watching The Roots on a wall-mounted TV as they laid down the beat for “Burgundy,” the second track off his major label debut, Doris. The camera followed Earl as he made the slow walk from green room to stage; it then glided past his right side, finally taking its traditional position out in front, giving us the same vantage as the live audience there in the theater.
Earl Sweatshirt has always seemed like the smartest smartass in Odd Future, but for a long time, it was hard to say for sure. By the time most people heard his gory cult-classic 2010 mixtape, Earl, the teen MC had already been shipped off to Samoa; since returning from boarding-school exile in 2012, he has remained relatively elusive. That makes this, his first full-length release since becoming famous, feel like a moment of truth: Was he really that great, or was it all some kind of mass hallucination? Actually, he's even better.
Let's get the backstory out of the way: Odd Future rapper Earl Sweatshirt dropped EARL in 2010 at age 16, featuring 26 minutes of eloquently repellent verses about murder, rape and drugs. The album is critically acclaimed, but Earl disappears, later discovered at a school for at-risk-youth in Samoa. Earl returned in 2012 and began work on his true debut, Doris.
Musical obsessions are some of life's great pleasures, and "Doris," the latest album by Los Angeles rapper and Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt, 19, has lived in my car at huge volume for a month now. I'll confess to crawling up next to cars blasting "Molasses," a dubby, reggae-rolling jam co-produced by RZA and Christian Rich, sonic humble-bragging my way through L.A. I know the nooks and crannies of this baby — Earl rapping "new patterns, paddy-caking with mannequins" while a spooky organ hums out a carousel melody on "20 Wave Caps," for instance — and the moments of joy I've discovered are notable.
Earl Sweatshirt is only 19 years old. When listening to his eagerly-anticipated debut album, that’s the biographical tidbit that looms largest — not the Samoan hiatus that turned him mythic before he was legal. The preternaturally gifted rapper who turned heads with vile fantasies is more mature and skilled this time around — and he still can’t buy a beer.
opinion byDREW MALMUTH Talking about his new album, Earl Sweatshirt said that he will probably lose some fans because he doesn't rap as much about rape. Thankfully, he sees this as a good thing. But what is amazing is that he even considers fans of his most vile material to be a demographic worth taking the time to discuss. Have we really come to the point where “innovative” underground hip-hop artists need to budget for a drop in sales because they eschew lines like: “Three seconds it takes for her to turn blue/ With my hands around her throat, her arms stopped moving/ Pulse stops too, in the back, look confused.” Arguably, the answer is no.
Earl Sweatshirt first attracted attention with the 2010 music video for his track “Earl,” in which he and a few friends take drugs and skate around LA until they fall down bleeding. He was 16 at the time and on the brink of fame, but he suddenly vanished, not to reemerge until 2012. On “Doris,” his first album since his return, he does not abandon twisted imagery or dexterous tongue twisters, but he adds a confessional layer.
“Free Earl.” That was the motto, the creed and the goal. As Odd Future ascended to hip-hop cult hero status in 2010, fans chanted those two words at sold-out shows and plastered them all over the internet, elevating a prodigiously talented teenager with a self-titled EP and a few gross-out videos into a mysterious hip-hop folk hero. He was the perfect type of enigma—angry, ill-defined and far away—but buried inside the phrase “Free Earl” was a question: What would Earl do with his freedom? The events that came next—the discovery of his location, the New Yorker profile, the tentative return—didn’t answer that question as much as complicate it.
Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, a.k.a. Earl Sweatshirt, was the musical guest on the August 9 show of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, but when Fallon howled, “Please welcome Earl Sweatshirt!” his introduction seemed to fall on deaf ears. The man of the hour was seemingly absent on the stage—at least momentarily. The spotlight instead moved to the Roots, who played an extended instrumental of “Burgundy,” while Earl, who was making his solo network TV debut, walked unhurriedly through a passageway backstage until he arrived on the main stage where an audience awaited him.
There's a reason that Odd Future inspired a million think pieces and it wasn't just because they shocked white America. The truth is that this was an unruly, oddball rap collective that nobody really knew what to do with. They were hip hop's tie-dye-wearing misfit nephew, just as likely to cite trap as an influence as old jazz records, psychedelic rock or Top 40 R&B.