Review Summary: Welcome home, Thebe.
Earl Sweatshirt. The name has been almost gone from hip-hop for about three years now, and for a while it seemed like nothing was going to change that. After a dark and twisted debut mixtape full of buzz and hype (a lot like Bastard had going), he seemed to have disappeared from the music scene entirely. Eventually, it became quite apparent that Earl was gone. A lot of speculation had come up on what had happened to him, but later it was revealed that he had been sent to Samoa by his mother. This wasn't because of his music, but because of him “***ing up”. Earl Sweatshirt had been removed from Odd Future, and hip-hop had for the time lost one of its brighter young talents.
Then all the drama and gimmicks came. Similarly to pretty much every drama filled situation related to Odd Future, this can be credited almost one hundred percent to Earl's "big brother", Tyler, the Creator. Tyler himself is credited with starting the “Free Earl” campaign. The “Free Earl” campaign was quite an abrasive one, and although a lot of its followers didn't have a clue where he was and were just mindlessly repeating what Tyler was throwing out at people, it caused a lot of trouble in Earl's family. His mother dealt with the most problems, getting called out by Tyler on his album “Goblin” and his fans alike.
Then he came back, and it was as if no one even noticed. No one really expected much, as the Odd Future buzz was beginning to die off, so it was going to take a lot to get a buzz back for the kid.
To the surprise of many, this is exactly what Earl did. He put out three releases of great singles clipped with pretty fantastic music videos, and people's ears began perking up to see what Earl had to offer. The buzz was back, and eventually a release date came out. People were gnawing at the limb to get this album leaked, and when it did, Earl did what every smart musician in this situation should do and streamed it. After more than three years of pretty much nothing, we are now here listening to Earl Sweatshirt once again with his project dedicated to his late grandma, “Doris”. You would think that being away from rap for so long would kinda make you lose your steps in rapping, but this is pretty much the opposite of what happened to Earl. Earl has all his steps and then some on this project; the progression in his lyrics and flow is ridiculous, and also everything one could hope for to keep Earl a household name.
What makes Earl such a refreshing part of Odd future is how he stays completely away from the gimmicks and crap that so many other Odd Future members thrive off of. He just cares about making good tracks, or at least tracks he likes. People who come into this project expecting the rape and extreme violence that was in Earl's first mixtape are going to be pretty disappointed, but everyone else should be pretty ecstatic on what they are hearing from Earl. The dizzying word play is still here, and it's even more dense than it was before. He even has put together a few songs with some pretty deep and meaningful lyrics, most of which deal with his grandma's death, broken relationship with his father, and his trip to Samoa. These emotions are mostly put into songs like Chum, Knight, and the epic track Burgundy. There is even a beautiful ode to his girlfriend on the track Sunday, which deals with how his rise in fame is affecting their relationship. Frank Ocean also puts a pretty stellar verse on this song that will generate a lot of talk, mostly because of it dealing with the mishap he had with Chris Brown.
All the other tracks on this album don't have much of a theme though. It's all mostly earl just killing it with his word play over the dark tones on this album. When I say killing it, I really mean it. He doesn't have a bad verse on this album, and neither do most of the features (outside of a pretty lackluster verse by SK La Flare on the opening track Pre). The most notable features on this would have to be Vince Staples on the track Hive and Domo Genesis on both his tracks, and of course RZA with the memorable and hilarious punch line “Ima f*ck the freckles off yo face b*tch” on his track Molasses.
As good as the wordplay and lyricism is on this album, the beats on this album have to be the high point. Anyone who is a fan of Earl knows how much he loves dark and imperfect sounding beats, and there are tons of them on this album. Tracks like Hive, 20 Wave Caps, Centurion, and the fantastically grimy BADBADNOTGOOD produced song Hoarse are perfect examples of the darkness Earl thrives in. A lot of the tracks here Earl has a part in production wise, but some tracks are purely from other producers. This includes the Raekwon-esque RZA beat Molasses, the two tracks (Whoa and Sasquatch) that Tyler adds to his Earlwolf collection, and the short banger of a track Uncle Al that the Alchemist puts out.
The best beat on this entire album has to be the track Burgundy, which is a beat that Earl was given to by The Neptunes. The track is just so layered and epic sounding with tons of horns, loud pianos, and heavy drums that just make this beat so awesome and intense. The closer track also has a pretty fantastic beat that is heavily MF DOOM influenced, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The only track here that is a little all over the place beat wise is the track Guild, which features two pretty great verses from both Earl and Mac Miller. The beat is a different story, it's pretty simplistic and has an extremely obnoxious drum line in it that sounds extremely cheap.
Overall, this is pretty much everything that people needed to hear from Earl Sweatshirt. The beats and lyricism are extreme improvements, and it wouldn't surprise me if it just keeps getting better from here for Earl. Outside of a few lackluster tracks and moments of Earl showing a little too much influence on his sleeves, this is a great hip-hop album.
Favorite Tracks: Burgundy, 20 Wave Caps, Sunday, Hive, Chum, 523, Uncle Al, Centurion, Hoarse, Knight.
Least Favorite Tracks: Sasquatch