With an excess of the Digital Age’s youth using their Rap aspirations to pollute bandwidth, in 2010, a then 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt took Hip Hop’s corner of the Internet by storm with advanced lyrical skill and cunning charm. Shortly thereafter, his juvenile delinquent behavior had him forcibly removed from celebrating Odd Future’s newfound success, leaving behind an enigmatic myth regarding his disappearance that wouldn’t be quelled until his 2012 return from a therapeutic facility in Samoa. As if finishing high school and readjusting to normalcy under the spotlight weren’t enough to accomplish once back stateside, Earl was greeted with an overbearing media and impossible expectations that have leveled artists far more accustomed to the perils of stardom. Finally reaching out to an impatient audience clamoring for mere flashes of his brilliance (many hoping he’ll live out the Herculean mission of crafting the rarely achieved “classic” album), Earl Sweatshirt has been equally confident and reluctant in presenting his retail debut, Doris to the world.
Where obsessing on the strength of each creative decision could spiral into insanity, Doris contains little calculation and false pretense on the part of Earl Sweatshirt. Having rid himself of the once unbridled psychosis and violent fantasies that paid homage to Eminem’s most deranged moments, Earl invites listeners to accept an honest and vulnerable epiphany: his current instinct isn’t to be a fabled Hip Hop savior or to even necessarily make good on his prior potential. This nonchalance is a drastic change from his initial concerted effort to win attention, as he now lashes out to become disassociated from old perceptions.
The opener, “Pre” sets the album’s wonky tone with Earl hurdling out the gate over a slow trap-inflected tempo, dead set against fitting into a neat box with the stubbornly prideful boast, “Not with the grain and these bitch niggas wishes.” Determined to make the most of his moment, “Burgundy” is a transparent and emotionally charged manifesto explaining his aversion towards massive popularity. As Vince Staples imitates his comrade’s countless pesky intruders, telling him, “Niggas wanna hear you rap, dont nobody care about how you feel,” Earl answers with, “I’m about to relish in this anguish, and I’m stressing over payment / So don’t tell me that I made it / Only relatively famous…” One of Doris‘ most anticipated moments, “Hive” could be considered a subconscious escape from pressure, as OF’s arguably most competitive spitter passes the baton off for Vince to run the victory lap.
Though Doris excels in every technical aspect, its primary weakness is a lack of cohesion when compared with Earl Sweatshirt’s first, self-titled release done under the tutelage of his big brother figure Tyler, the Creator. With it no longer feasible to attempt the rebellious gimmick that put their crew on the map, their collaboration on “Sasquatch” comes off as but a half-hearted concession to day one fans. Nearly left to his own devices as Tyler’s music has departed from darkness, Earl aimlessly throws ideas at the wall such as linking up with Mac Miller for “Guild,” a low-pitched stoner anthem on a project already littered with numerous marijuana references. This blatant tactic to avoid commercial accessibility likely stems from a need to diverge from the sensationalism that surrounded his name while he was gone.
Preliminary speculation suggested Earl Sweatshirt would use Doris to channel introspection thanks to “Chum,” which details his troubled adolescence, issues with obedience and a hesitance to resurface within Rap. This courageous act was followed up by the more familiar straightforward barrage of the second single “Whoa,” furthering the intrigue and overall hype for what was in store. As it turns out, neither fully convey Earl’s ambition which is torn between bearing his soul and maintaining an impressive bravado. Evidently the approach taken has become serious as the Frank Ocean accompanied “Sunday” deals with matters of the heart, but demented fun is wedged in with “Molasses” as RZA chants, “I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch.”
At times difficult and avant-garde, Doris rejects any clear concept of how Earl Sweatshirt’s character (previously posturing as Satanic for shock value) should be received at this point. Where he has yet to master the art of making complete songs (“Uncle Al” clocks in under a minute long) and his diction tends to lacks clarity, Earl paints pictures in a manner more poetic than just about all within his peer group. The hectic journey towards this moment has played the biggest role in both his ingenuity and uncertainty, producing the carefree attitude sure to alienate inconsiderate onlookers, while others cheer him on. Whether selfish or smart to persist on remaining a standoffish mystery, Earl prospers in establishing himself as a 19-year-old with an unusually high standard for rhyming that should be separated from urban legend.