Those were the first words Earl Sweatshirt, from the hip-hop collective Odd Future, rapped on his song, “Home,” upon his return from a Samoan boarding school after distancing himself from rap for two years. During his absence, the obscene and talented Odd Future gained fame and hype grew to frenzied proportions for Earl Sweatshirt by his collective protesting “Free Earl” at shows, on the Internet and even in songs.
Before leaving, Earl released a mixtape titled “Earl,” which featured lyrics about rape, scat, murder and other obscenities but was also counter-intuitively beautiful. “Earl” flashed moments of brilliance and was rated the 24th best album of 2010 by Complex magazine.
A turning point for Earl in Samoa came when he volunteered at Samoa Victim Support Group, a center for survivors of sexual abuse. He was able to put faces to the concepts he rapped about, and it changed his mind.
Earl reportedly returned to the U.S. on Feb. 8, 2012, and he announced his official debut album with Columbia Records would be titled “Doris.” Leading up to “Doris,” Earl released three singles: “Chum,” “Whoa” and “Hive.” However, he performed other tracks from the album on multiple occasions. Five days before its release, Earl leaked “Doris” to his fans in typical Odd Future style with disregard for formalities.
“Doris” offers minimalist beats, clever word play, introspection and grandiosity. Out are the references to rape and scat, and in are the common motifs of adjusting to fame and living life as if you’d “died twice,” as Earl raps in his track “Centurion.”
Although the beats themselves, which consist of drum samples, are minimalist, he pairs them with interesting combinations. For instance, on the track “Hive,” the beat is relatively pedestrian and laid back; however, the synthesizer used produces a buzzing sensation that sounds like an ominous bee, creating an eerie feeling that meshes with Earl’s typical syrupy, monotone flow.
Two of the most mesmerizing moments sonically comes on the RZA-produced track “Molasses” and the Flying Lotus track that concludes the album “Knight.”
“Knight” specifically stands out with its combination of drums, organ, piano, harp and soul croon loop that swirls together to produce something that Kanye West might rap over in his “Late Registration” days.
“Doris” is filled with features from his rap collective Odd Future along with weed rapper Mac Miller and Frank Ocean’s cousin, up-and-coming rapper Sk La’Flare. While Odd Future drops a couple of nice verses here and there, there are a couple of disastrous verses that may leave you wanting to hear more of Earl and less of his mediocre collective (besides Frank Ocean, because Frank Ocean is almost mythically good).
The track “Sunday” is the exception, however. It features Frank Ocean, and it is such a melodic song with some great entry ways into the minds and hearts of both rappers. There’s even a priceless diss to arguably the biggest douche bag in the world: Chris Brown. The duo delivered on their last track “Super Rich Kids,” and they succeed again.
The most controversial part about Earl Sweatshirt is his voice. Earl has been criticized for being a one-trick pony delivery-wise, as his flow seems to sound the same on every song. This can make the music seem to negatively bleed together. It’s this tendency that makes the album “Earl” a bit one-dimensional.
However, Earl’s lyrical prowess is able to make up for that blemish. He especially shines when he’s dealing in abstraction and absurdity. The best example of this is seen in his track “Whoa“ where Earl raps, “Yeah, the misadventures of a shit-talker / Pissed as Rick Ross’s fifth sip off his sixth lager / Known to sit and wash the sins off at the pitch alter.”
According to Missinginfo.tv, Earl, while talking about the production of “Doris, said, “I’m just trying to make pretty music. … I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you can hear the progression. I hope I lose you as a fan if you only f-ck with me because I rapped about raping girls when I was 15.”
“Doris” certainly shows progression sonically and lyrically, but delivery-wise Earl remains consistently groggy, monotone and seemingly apathetic — and it’s beautiful. For a freshman campaign there should be room to grow, yet Earl’s feet are close to dangling off the bed. Watch out.
Reach the reporter at Demetrius.Burns@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @dgburns20