Can you imagine the mindset of Nasir following up Illmatic? Wu-Tang after 36 Chambers? Snoop after Doggystyle? It has to be a psychological battle against hype, one that Earl Sweatshirt has struggled with since returning from Samoa. He returned to a reality where Thebe Kgositsile was overshadowed by the giant of a critically acclaimed album that he created at the age of 16. He went from complaining about blogs to being hunted down by a Complex journalist. He came home to an ovation of strangers that wanted music. I was somewhere in that horde of enthusiasts, it felt like the biggest reappearance since Simba returned to Pride Rock. Vince Staples' skit at the beginning of "Burgundy" vocalizes exactly what was desired:
"What's up, nigga? / Why you so depressed and sad all the time like a little bitch? / What's the problem man? Niggas want to hear you rap / Don't nobody care about how you feel / We want raps, nigga."
Earl’s reintroduction came in the form of Doris. While many claim that it lived up its predecessor, I felt sadly underwhelmed. The music is good, there’s moments where he glows with greatness, but it also feels scatterbrained and unsure. The Earl album gave you a feeling of being knocked windless, his style was voracious and unrelenting. While Doris showed maturity and growth, he seemed to struggle to rediscover that “monster,” as Lucious Lyon would say. His presence faintly disappeared after releasing the long-awaited album, keeping his name alive through a small array of features and touring.
After almost two years of silence, he re-emerged once again through an iTunes pre-order link for a new project with 10 unheard songs. The title is what excited me most, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. It sounded dirty, like the memoirs of a psychopath, or a movie about serial killers that would rather watch Abella Anderson than Kobe Bryant. I’ve always seen Earl as the awkward recluse that worked better in the darkness than the spotlight. He would be hip-hop’s Bane, the kind of artist that would make statements like, “You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding.” It's a quote that perfectly depicts this album.
This album is Earl documenting his journey through the purgatory, draped in a soundscape that’s completely black and gray, his lyrics transparent and confessional. The drugs, the alcohol, coping with the death of his grandmother, his relationship with old friends, his mother, former lovers, it pours out of him like a bleeding vein. Taking the development that was showcased on Doris and blending it with the lyricism he is acclaimed for, he finds a perfect balance of the two. It’s such a short listen, but not a single song is filler, not a single bar ineffective, this is the Earl that I was eagerly waiting for. His voice and cadence sound much more alive, what was showcased on Mac Miller’s New Face’s V2.
In a recent interview with NPR, he describes his music as moments, photographs inspired by his life, and I find that metaphor true as I revisit the album again and again. As a listener, you are flipping through a scrapbook of his highs and lows, all the excessive indulgence of dark liquor and jackknifing women, the feelings of a missing father and the struggle to adjust to fame. Earl is in a whirlwind, one that he didn’t grasp in the making of his comeback album, but can now perfectly articulate. Being in your early 20s is a roller coaster, and he captured every loop, turn, and drop that has come his way in the last few months.
I’m most impressed that he self-produced almost the entire album, only Left Brain is accredited for co-production on "DNA." On Doris he had production from Pharrell, RZA, Christian Rich and The Alchemist, and yet he sounds the most comfortable on his own homemade production. Most of the album has this consistent sound of dirty, low-fi, grimy drum and chords. He’s dragging us through the mud, taking us down into the sewers, bringing us into the dark hole of his innermost feelings. Within the space of this dark and dreary sound, Earl is completely illuminated. The texture of this sound works perfectly with his lyricism, the imagery doesn’t attempt to be poppy and happy, he’s releasing the skeletons hidden in closets and giving them something to dance to. Unfiltered, Earl doesn’t hold anything back. I don’t know many artists who openly admit that rap got the best of them, or that if their popularity gets any bigger they will buy a gun. Ironically most rappers come with their guns already purchased at their most unknown.
This is an album you connect with at the moment. Necking bottles of Hennessy and being an apartment full of roaches, it’s a very early 20s rap album. Not only does it reinforce that Earl is a capable lyricist, but that he’s growing his legs as a producer. It’s also an album where you can tell the artist found his voice, finally overcoming the pressures of expectation. The prodigy that was long awaited has evolved into a different artist, he isn’t the same rapper that appeared unapologetically raunchy and menacing. It’s a coming of age story, a young man that wasn’t prepared for fame but got thrown into the whirlwind. Earl is still a kid, goofy, maturing slowly but surely, like myself. This is the album that I wanted from Doris, something that satisfies my hunger for that old Earl and that mature Sweatshirt. This is the one that will solidify him as an artist of the underground and hopefully will open ears to the tremendous talent that Earl contains.
As I swim through the sewers of adulthood, searching for myself, writing to an audience of passionate rap fans, this Earl album won't be far from my ears. Two kindred spirits searching for understanding and moments within the music. Earl finally seems to be comfortable with himself, I'm working on it.
By Yoh, he doesn't like shit, his Twitter is @Yoh31