Earl Sweatshirt has always been misunderstood. When Earl was 16, Odd Future’s Tumblr uploaded his self-titled debut Earl, which advertised his vile lyricism on rape, cocaine and violence. It was unheard of from a rapper his age, but he quickly gained worldwide praise for channeling shock raps with technical poise and eloquence. A few months after Earl dropped, the teenage prodigy was sent off to Coral Reef Academy in Samoa by his mother. During the explosion of the Odd Future phenomenon, Earl’s absence was surely felt and the whole “Free Earl” movement was born. In early 2012, when Earl returned from Samoa, he picked up where he left off — the only difference was his experience at school made him reclusive. At 19, Earl dropped Doris in, where we wrote that he “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 … he now lashes out to become disassociated from old perceptions.” Essentially, Earl’s the type of rapper who is constantly evolving within his insular world, letting his personal moments become the crux of his purpose in Hip Hop.
Two years later, Earl releases a new album called I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Just turning 21 years old this February, he’s seemingly all grown up, using his platform to convey a wide range of emotions: depression, instability, addiction and love loss. Gone are imaginary rhymes about rape and murder in exchange for narratives about how’s he’s coping with the loss of his grandmother, disconnecting with his father, and social anxieties. This is another important stage of Earl’s life and his career too, signified by how confident he sounds addressing the rap game at large. “I don’t act hard, I’m a hard act to follow, nigga / Like it or not, when it drop, bet he gotta listen,” he boasts at one point on “Grief.”
The reason why Earl garners so much praise is his intensity. Later on the same song, he’s complex, but razor sharp with his rhymes to tell us what he’s been going through: “Focus on my chatter, ain’t as frantic as my thoughts / Lately I’ve been panicking a lot / Feeling like I’m stranding in a mob / Scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop.” On “Mantra,” he specifically mentions why his obsessive fanbase is both a gift and a curse: “Now you surrounded with a gaggle of 100 fucking thousand kids / Who you can’t get mad at, when they want a pound a pic / ’Cause they the reason that the traffic on the browser quick / And they the reason that the paper in your trouser’s thick.” Here on “DNA,” he details the pain that comes with fame: “Stomach full of drugs and shit / My niggas on some other cleanse / Sunday binge, Monday / Then another 6 days back to Sunday when it’s done again.” Those are just a few of many deeper thoughts that Earl shares with his listeners, even if he’s trying to hide in the shadows.
At 10 tracks long, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is short. Any fan of Earl Sweatshirt knows that he never conforms to the standards of the industry, and it’s almost like a nod to the length of his first tape that was similarly quick and concise. You couldn’t name an identifiable single for radio, and Earl really doesn’t care about any of that. (He did voice frustrations at his label for the botched rollout though.) There’s no big name features either — not even his Odd Future comrades — in favor of emerging acts Wiki of Ratking (“AM // Radio”), Nakel Smith (“DNA”) and Vince Staples (“Wool”). For an album that’s been received as “sad,” Earl is actually optimistic about where he’s headed, figuring things out just like anyone in their early 20s would. His self-expression is supported by an album mostly produced by him (a.k.a.. randomblackdude) and Left Brain, where the entire production is minimal, dark and contains rare interludes. It’s the glue that holds all his confessions and retrospective bars together.
Earl Sweatshirt may sound like he’s going through some problems, but I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside solves them in a spotlight that he never wanted. While his frequent collaborator Vince Staples, who has shown up on every one of Earl’s projects, is benefiting off the bigger looks, Earl sees his notoriety as something that’ll become useless and irrelevant. What matters to Earl is the music, and he strongly believes being 100 percent authentic and not jumping on trends is what Hip-Hop lacks these days. “That’s why I feel like this one is my first one,” he told NPR Music. “It’s like my dissertation on myself. From the music to the other side of it. Just sitting with myself. That’s what, I guess, not going outside was. Just learning how to do music, learning what I liked.” He’s finally on the right track, and he’s working toward brighter days.