Tim Hughes reviews Doris by Earl Sweatshirt.
The myth of Earl Sweatshirt is something the Internet has dwelled on for quite some time now. Earl Sweatshirt exploded on to the scene in 2010 with his debut mixtape ‘Earl’, with all of its rape and drug fantasies, intricate rhymes and bass heavy beats. He then disappeared. Speculation as to his whereabouts quickly went into overdrive with his Odd Future affiliates shouting ‘Free Earl’ at every given opportunity, but refusing to speak publicly on the subject. The myth continued to expand with all manner of stories spreading about his elusiveness. The reality is that his mum sent him to the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa for ‘at-risk teens’ after she became aware of his extra-curricular activities. Fast forward to February 2012 and there were murmurings that he had returned from Samoa after his 18th birthday. Earl then dropped a song that lasted no longer than 1 minute and 48 seconds. He was back, and the rap world was now salivating for a full-length album.
Which brings us to Doris, Earl’s debut album. It was undoubtedly one of the years’ most highly anticipated albums, which is no mean feat with Kanye, Jay-Z and Drake all dropping albums in 2013. So, how do you start a massively anticipated album from such an elusive and cagey individual, whose rapping prowess had been compared to the all time greats? A guest verse. Doris feels like it couldn’t be made by anyone else; this is undoubtedly an Earl Sweatshirt album and he cares little for expectations – the album was made by and for him. After all the waiting Doris opens with a guest verse, leaving his listeners waiting even longer. And when he finally comes in? There’s a second of complete silence where, yet again, he leaves everyone waiting, then he starts with an opening line that’s as simple as it is menacing: ‘I’m a problem for ni**as’. You instantly believe him.
From then on Earl switches between this menacing tone and deep reflections on his new life, on fame and problems that come with it. The constant thread throughout, however, is Earl’s flow. It is quite simply unparalleled in the rap world. It’s so intricate yet unfaltering, and continues smoothly through the whole album. He has the lyrics to match, which flit between topics from the impact the recession’s had on his hometown, to struggling to cope with his Grandma’s illness while he’s supposed to be finishing the album. Earl’s whole appeal however, is just the sound of many elements culminating. His tired-sounding voice, his impeccable taste in differing beats, his flow, his lyrics, and his choice in guests. It all just fits. Take for example this line from ‘Chum’, the finest bar on the album: ‘Momma often was offering peace offerings/think, wheeze cough, scoffing and he’s off again’. Even ignoring how effectively the verse deals with Earl’s relationship with his mum, it just sounds amazing.
Each subplot, whether it is Vince Staple’s career-making verse on ‘Hive’ or Christian Rich’s immense production, builds a truly great album that will be remembered for years and garner devoted fans. In a year with albums by nearly every big name in rap, Doris does well to still stand out for being entirely singular and for simply for sounding great.
Image Credit: Tan Cressida, Columbia