Review Summary: Earl bows down to his producers, but delivers a serious blow to conventional hip-hop
Out of all the young, suburban LA rappers that make up the seemingly ubiquitous Odd Future collective, the teenaged Earl Sweatshirt rises above his peers with his complex rhyme schemes and considerable lyrical prowess that separates him from other OF members that seem content with rapping about bankrolls (Hodgy Beats), bitches (Hodgy Beats again) the miraculous powers of weed (Domo Genesis) and other obviously cliché rap topics that are tired and worn out at this point in hip-hop’s history. Earl’s year-long absence after the release of his acclaimed Earl mixtape garnered tons of hype for the then-mysterious MC, and after his triumphant return on the track “Oldie” in 2012, expectations for Sweatshirt reached astronomical heights and demand for another album was feverish. At last, Odd Future fans can finally uncurl themselves from the fetal position in which they are scratching at their open sores and drooling all over themselves and finally get their fix of a new Earl Sweatshirt album, Doris.
If there’s one thing that Earl proves on Doris it’s how versatile and adaptable he is when he is faced with beats of all kinds. The plethora of producers on this album-who all have radically different styles-create a stylistic smorgasbord of instrumentals for Earl to rap over and he handily gets on top of each of them and sounds great doing it, as if he’s been rapping in that style for his whole career (as short as it has been). Everything from the slow and spooky “Guild” to the MF DOOM inspired “20 Wave Caps” all the way to the trippy “Centurion” with its multi-part, progressive rock-like complexity sees Earl capably taking his flow and shifting it ever so slightly in different directions to accommodate what he’s raping over. Unfortunately, this level of diversity in the instrumentals creates a little problem for Doris. With every successive song on the album, each producer is dragging Earl in an entirely different direction, making Doris feel like a sampler of different styles rather than a cohesive whole, and this may even puzzle listeners and make them wish that Earl should’ve just picked one style and stuck with it through the entire album.
There are plenty of high points on Doris to satisfy all of those who have been waiting, but it still contains plenty of disappointments. SK La’Flare (who takes up the first verse on the opening track “Pre”) is terrible and sets the album off to a bad start. Things start looking up once Earl comes in, though, and he takes center stage on the second track “Burgundy”, a track that contains a sample of a man yelling “Cut that bitch off!”, the inclusion of which is a mystery that modern detective work has yet to investigate. “Sunday” features some interesting synths and jangly guitars, but Frank Ocean’s rapping could’ve hit a little harder than what he did. Similarly, The Wu Tang Clan’s RZA (he’s seriously on this thing!) produces a fine beat on “Molasses” but his only vocal contribution is a fine bit about f***ing the freckles off of a girl’s face which is incredibly disappointing. On some more positive notes, “Uncle Al” is like hip-hop grindcore with earl packing a considerable punch in only 52 seconds flat. “Sasquatch” (featuring Tyler, the Creator) sounds akin to something that could’ve come straight off of Wolf, and the tracks “Knight” and the BADBADNOTGOOD produced “Hoarse” shows off intricacy that demands repeated listens, amounting to the most experimental and chance taking release by an Odd Future member so far.
While Earl’s flow can come across as a little lazy at times, and his producers stretched him out in almost every possible direction, Doris has introduced Earl as the bravest and most skilled member in the OFWGKTA camp. His laid back flow is instantly recognizable and his lyricism boggles the mind, and if he streamlines his approach to a single concentrated blast of hip-hop rather than adjusting to all sorts of production, then Earl has the potential to unleash his true masterwork. Hip-happers, pay attention.