Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
Released: August 20, 2013
Discussions regarding the state of modern hip-hop can be divisive. One camp would like to believe that hip-hop should try to mature as a genre and that its artists should speak more about the issues that modern-day youth face or, to put it more generally, rap should be about something. The other camp however, is fine with the more ‘pop’-oriented direction that the genre seems to be taking with plenty of fun and a stronger emphasis on catchy beats and quick-and-easy flows. Yet, whenever the subject of Odd Future comes up, there is a tendency amongst non-fans from both camps to respond with derision and to a certain point it’s not hard to see why. Odd Future, short for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, is characterized by their rowdy antics and their boisterous lyrics. Yet, if there is ever any mention made of the real musical contribution of the collective to hip-hop as a genre, these discussions centre on Earl Sweatshirt, arguably the group’s most prominent lyricist. Sweatshirt’s first studio album, Earl, was the perfect Odd Future album – it was loud and provocative, more concerned with offended and shocking than actually having a consistently good sound. Yet, despite that Earl created waves throughout the rap landscape and that was thanks in no small part to its featured artist. Sweatshirt’s flow and ear for lyrical wordplay were noted and the follow-up to Earl was eagerly anticipated.
Doris, Sweatshirt’s sophomore album, comes after a two year gap during which Sweatshirt was conspicuously absent from the Odd Future line-up and fans worried that he would miss his chance to capitalize on the group’s growing fame and success. Doris, features a new Earl Sweatshirt, an artist who has returned from his exile not rejuvenated but spent – most of Doris has a melancholy, depressive sound to it and while there are the occasional upbeat or energetic tracks, these are the exceptions rather than the rule. However, while this new Earl is slightly more reflective and introspective than the old, he is nevertheless just as competent if not more so. He has a more poetic approach to his rhyming, relying on quick word associations rather than drawn out metaphors or themes. Tracks like ‘Chum’ and ‘Burgundy’ are great examples of this style. One downside to it of course is that his actual point is lost behind the ambiguity of his words. Often the lyrics are totally inscrutable on a first listen but slowly, reluctantly begin to reveal their intentions on further listens. Sweatshirt favours burying his listeners in references, mixing in plenty of double-entendres on these references to setup his easily begun, easily completed punchlines.
Sweatshirt also handled most of the album’s production, albeit under the pseudonym ‘Randomblackdude’. The production does falter in several spots, particularly in tracks that Sweatshirt produced himself like ’20 Wave Caps’ and ‘Guild’ but there are plenty of other points where the production raises the track to completely new levels. The best of these tracks include ‘Burgundy’, ‘Molasses’ and ‘Chum’. The album’s sound is largely mellow and depressive, with slow moving beats occasionally interspersed with more upbeat, optimistic sounds that keep the sluggish album from grinding itself to a halt. The album’s lethargy is perhaps thematically appropriate given how drawn and drained its creator seems on several tracks but nevertheless seems surprising on an album that is almost entirely hook-less. Unlike many modern hip-hop albums, there are no lengthy R&B hooks and bridges – at most there will be a short three line hook to separate verses. There are also plenty of guest appearances on the album but they rarely appear on actual verses, resigning themselves instead to hooks and random ad-lib comments during the songs. This is not necessarily a bad thing since Sweatshirt can hold his own on most of the tracks rather effortlessly but it seems like a waste on the few tracks where he seems to struggle to hold the beat above his head.
In the end, where Earl was about creating a reaction, Doris is more about Earl’s reaction to the reaction he’s created. There are frequent, unhappy mentions to fame, money and their trappings though it is combined with an acknowledgement that Sweatshirt does not truly hate these things but rather dislikes the effect they have on those around him. In any case, despite all its attempts at creating a thematically consistent album, there is plenty of Odd Future on display, both in terms of the residual crassness in the lyrics and the childishness of some of the content but also in terms of the album’s personnel. In a decade, if we look back to when Odd Future finally made the transition from a group of rowdy children acting out to serious musicians, we will probably consider Doris to be the harbinger of that change.
|20 Wave Caps||randomblackdude||3.5|
|Sasquatch||Tyler, the Creator||4.3|
|Whoa||Tyler, the Creator||3.5|