Earl Sweatshirt: Doris
R&B & Hip-Hop
Tan Cressida, Columbia Records
It’s been a long wait for a new album from Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt. Following the release of his critically acclaimed debut mixtape, Earl, he was sent by his mother to a boarding school in Samoa until his 18th birthday. Now that he’s back, many expected him to release an album in the same vein as his first, and to maintain an Odd Future vibe.
Although there are parts of Doris that do smell of the old group, particularly Tyler, The Creator’s appearances – which unsurprisingly are also the darkest, most aggressive tracks – most of the album is calm and introspective, and markedly different from Earl’s previous releases. While ‘Sasquatch’ ,for example, features Mr. The Creator rapping about kidnapping One Direction fans, and will please old-school Earlwolf fans, in general it doesn’t fit with the feel of the rest of the album. ‘Chum’, for example, was Earl’s first major release since Samoa, in which he deals with the experience and his relationship with his mother and father.
Family is a major theme across Doris; aside from ‘Chum’, ‘Burgundy’ deals with Earl’s guilt at not spending enough time with his dying grandmother as he finishes his album, and ‘Knight’ revisits his problems with his father: “like to send a shout-out to the fathers that didn’t raise us.” These all reveal Earl’s ability and desire to explore personal issues through his music, in huge contrast to so many MCs.
The result is a measured and interesting album of quality and original tracks. Lyrically intelligent, Earl also shows off his rhyming, wordplay and assonance skills throughout the album in his signature lazy drawl. Although he maintains his ties to Odd Future, and Wolfgang humour shines through the album, signing to Tan Cressida and Columbia Records rather than the Future label shows that, like Frank Ocean, Earl wants to be considered as an independent artist – and he is largely successful.
There are so many features throughout the album that it may even be a complaint that there aren’t enough solo tracks. The first track, ‘Pre’ is surprisingly led by SK La’Flare rather than Earl himself, and is perhaps one of the weaker on the album. ‘Sunday’, featuring Frank Ocean, is a chilled, beautiful track over a retro, sloppy beat; the verses are smooth and one even deals with Frank’s recent beef with Chris Brown. Domo Genesis’ two appearances are stylish and experimental; Vince Staples also does good work over the album.
All the lyrical work is underpinned by professional production, and the beats add a great texture to the album; although some are on the darker side, all are slow and messy, recorded from an acoustic kit for that extra meaty sound. They all feel old, although maybe vintage would be better word. Some are reminiscent of old-school Jurassic 5 beats, others – like ‘Hoarse’, with a beat by Badbadnotgood – are almost grungy, with a relentless distorted guitar driving the lyrics. ‘Chum’ uses a plunky piano, ‘Sunday’ an organ; ‘Knight’ has Earl and Domo rapping over gospel-style vocal samples. ‘503’ is a quick instrumental by Earl himself and well worth a listen.
Musically, this is a solid, well put together album. Lyrically it’s a feast, and whether you’re a diehard Odd Future fan or are looking for something different, you’ll find tracks you like. Most interesting, though, is how unexpected it is. Despite his ties to Odd Future, Earl has developed his own identity as a musician, which he asserts strongly throughout the album. The album is deep and complex, and as a whole has a personality and feel that is both original and refreshing.