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Album Review l Earl Sweatshirt's Doris

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Earl Sweatshirt does not fit in. Earl Sweatshirt is Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, born in 1994. His mother is a law professor at the University of California, and a civil rights activist. His father is a South African poet Laureate and left the family when Earl was 6 years old. Earl grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from New Roads High School, a very progressive private school where he found himself “too black for the white kids, too white for the black.” In search of a role model and someone who could relate to his unique identity, Earl met Tyler, the Creator. Earl finds a group he fits into. That group is hip-hop collective Odd Future, or OFWGKTA.

Odd Future doesn’t fit in either. They are not the hardened gangsta rappers of the early ‘90s, they are out of the bling era rappers of the early oughts who worshiped diamonds and money. OFWGKTA is a group of young rappers who ignore the traditional 5 elements of hip-hop and whose message is one of unrestricted creativity. For Odd Future, nothing is off limits. That’s what got Earl into trouble.

Earl’s mom removed him from the group and sent him to a reform school in Samoa. Remember, Earl is still a kid, he was just 16 at this point, and he just released Earl, his debut album. His mom said that she didn’t send him to reform school for his explicit lyrical content, but because he was getting into trouble. It was probably a mixture of both. Just check this video of his song EARL. Understandably, his mom was concerned. It’s not surprising that Earl’s banishment ended up helping his career. Benefiting from having OFWGKTA on his side, exile only built up anticipation for a return. OFWGKTA started a FREE EARL campaign that pitted a young creative artist against censorship and authority. His return album, Doris was going to be big, no matter what.

Doris Delivered.

Doris is music therapy. At its best, the album serves as the red armchair. The audience asks an open ended question and Earl works his thoughts out in rhyming couplets and introspective bars. In the albums second track, Burgundy, Odd Future member Vince Staples starts the track asking telling Earl “What’s the problem man? N**** wanna hear you rap. Don’t nobody care about how you feel, we want raps.” But we do want to know, and Earl tells us. In Burgundy he grapples with the stresses of trying to produce the album that he is working on while his Grandma is in poor health and could pass at any moment. In Sunday, the stand out track on the album, Earl is a lover who isn’t sure how to handle his fame and balance friends, work, and the relationship. On Chum, he bares all, chronicling his history, his rise, and his vulnerability. Finally, in a display of just how self aware, and perhaps self conscious Earl is, he teams up with Tyler, the Creator to produce Whoa, a track that deliberately goes back to “that old f***in’ 2010 s**t.”   

As for beats instead of bars, Earl sways a bit from the “horrorcore” beats of Odd Future, but stays notably hookless. Doris is not going to keep you coming back to it because you can’t get that beat out of your head. I think that Doris could benefit from a hook or two. The closest it comes to a hook is the piano in Chum and the guitar in Sunday. Doris wants you to concentrate on lyrics and flow. Earl’s versatility in flow matches the versatile subject matter that he takes up. In Hive, the bars stylishly stumble off soft lips, and in Guild (feat. Mac Miller) his slow motion, back of the throat bellowing lets us know how dark he can get.

Overall, Doris is a triumphant return. Earl proves to be intelligent, self aware, and introspective. Earl is not in this to make money, women, or fame. He is working out issues of identity and trying to figure out where he is in life and what it means. It will not be the ratchet album to get turnt up to on Saturday night, instead, it will be one that stands the test of time. Look forward to it in album of the year lists in December.   

There is not an official music video for this song, but it is my favorite on the album.