When Odd Future first appeared in 2010, it was the exploits of the group’s self appointed figurehead Tyler, the Creator that really catapulted the group into the media’s glare. Even then, the 16 year old Earl Sweatshirt appeared to be the hidden gem in the Southern Los Angeles group. So young, so skilled beyond his tender years, Earl appeared to be a meticulous wordsmith whose fantasies involving slaughter and rape were deemed all the more offensive by his inconceivable swagger. However, just as Odd Future exploded onto the scene, Earl vanished.
Annoyingly, Earl was a notable absentee from Odd Future’s preliminary tour schedule. When pressed for an answer, the group simply fell silent, offering no explanation for the prolonged absence of its most gifted rapper. Yet again more annoyance, Odd Future instead decided to respond by working on a rather inscrutable “Free Earl” crusade. The “fight for freedom” was marketed through t-shirts, new recordings, and sardonic narratives. Shortly after this marketing ploy began, it was revealed that Earl’s infantile actions resulted in him being removed from participating in Odd Future’s newfound fame. Nonetheless, his whereabouts remained a mystery.
In 2012, two years later, the mystery was quelled; Earl returned from a therapeutic facility in Samoa, seemingly a little more refined and reluctant to throw himself into the media gaze. Reportedly, Earl’s mother, a civil rights campaigner and professor of law, decided to ship him overseas to receive treatment after his obvious behavioural issues started to disrupt his schoolwork. During Earl’s time in Samoa, pitifully or not, it was amusing to imagine the justifiably fabled adolescent rapper returning to ‘normality’ with a diploma in one hand and a note pad of unrefined, fresh ideas in the other. Subsequently, after easing himself back into ‘normality’, Earl would sort through all these concepts and quickly release unblemished, almost flawless music. 12 months on, you may be wondering, what has the world of music gained from Earl’s rehabilitation?
Simply, he has unleashed Doris, an album containing minimal calculation or pretentiousness. A lack of cohesion would usually hamper the overall power of an album; however, it’s this very aspect that displays the rawness and sheer tenacity of Earl Sweatshirt. Lines like, “Sitting on the sofa feeling high and dormant. Too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks. Grandma’s passin’, but I’m too busy trying to get this fuckin’ album cracking to see her,” establish that Earl hasn’t abandoned all that sadistic humor that endeared him to so many. The teenager excels in every technical expression, showcasing a lyrical maturity that rivals that of Kendrick Lamar or Drake, arguably the two most gifted rappers of the last five years.
Where fixating on the potency of each artistic pronouncement could escalate into a type of psychosis, Earl ignores a call for reckoning or false pretence. A reinvigorated creature, the adolescent wordsmith seems to have exhausted any of the unconcealed neurosis that once governed his unpredictable behaviour. Instead, rather refreshingly, Earl asks listeners to accept him for who he is, acknowledge his sincere and exposed vulnerability. Earl doesn’t want to be recognized as Hip Hop’s savior, and it’s this detachment that really underlines the radical change from his early attention seeking days.
In contrast, Earl decides to unleash a verbal tirade; putting as much distance between him and old perceptions as humanly possible. Often complex and progressive, Doris discards any apparent perception of how Sweatshirt’s moral fiber should be viewed after his rehabilitation. Yet to fully master the art of producing substantial tracks, Earl’s delivery can lack precision at times. “Uncle Al” is a classic example of this, rough and raw, the track is over in less than a minute. With that being said, Sweatshirt can dramatize a scenario in a fashion much more insightfully than just about any other artist in his peer group. I feel like this is the album Mac Miller wishes he released; Watching Movies with the Sound Off is a solid album, however, Doris is superior in every sense.
Earl’s apathetic yet dicey delivery, the terse rattle of consonance, the metaphors that are ecstasy to visualize, all of these elements create an experience that is quite difficult to elucidate. Human imperfections aside, Doris has regular occurrences when the extremely sentient rapper lets some honest emotion percolate the sound. Yes, I am aware that this LP will not impinge on society like that of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, a co-conspirator in Odd Future. Their sound and delivery is different in every sense of the word; instead, Doris is an album remarkable for its technical realization and its convoluted themes. Additionally, Ocean appears on the album’s finest track. A remarkable artist, Ocean adds a new dimension, a new depth to the core of this very record. “Sunday” is a rolling track enshrined in a layer of glorious metaphors and subversive imagery.
The chaotic voyage towards this moment in Earl’s short life has played a significant role in both his inventiveness and ambiguity, revealing a docile methodology sure to isolate some long time fans, while charming a new generation of listeners. Is the desire to remain rather enigmatic egotistical or actually quite clever? My thoughts fall firmly with the latter.
Earl, real name Thebe Kgositsile, flourishes in promoting himself as a fresh faced 19-year-old with a unique talent. Known for his precocious rhyming style, Earl can now be recognized for his association with instrumental interludes, abiding mid-song divisiveness and just enough shock to justify repetitive, rather neurotic appraisal. An atypical approach to the world of entertainment, Odd Future aside, Earl Sweathshirt is a man with a Big Future in front of him.