Review Summary: Earl steps out of Tyler's shadow to find the outside world ain't all that sunny either.
No longer just Tyler's prodigy, Earl Sweatshirt is stepping out of Odd Future's shadow to find the outside world ain't all that sunny either. But that suits him fine. As he says, he don't go outside, and in the darkest corners of the urban jungle Earl's production festers to reveal the frayed wires and rotting skin of a boy who's been pretending. The EARL power-fantasy posturing has wasted away. It's just Earl now: dark, psychotic, introverted Earl.
These days it shouldn't be a surprise to find Flying Lotus involved. Not directly, but these self-produced beats didn't come from nowhere. Just a couple of sessions, a couple of pointers here and there from the patriarch of contemporary hip-hop, was enough to help Earl's production on its ***ed-up spiral. The album sounds as if it is melting, so stands up to the recent wave of high-brow jazz accompaniment as the extreme, disintegrating alternative. Earl speaks as someone beaten down, unhealthy and lost, there is no cause for hiding it. “***ed up. I looked ***ed up. When I was in my most - when I had the most clarity, I looked ***ed up", he confessed in an interview for NPR. Here the beats speak for him.
And for the whole package comes the characteristic drawl: the vocal reflection of that vacant Earl stare dominating his on-screen appearances. Disinterested, measured and dark, his flow bares the hallmarks of the psychological-thriller psychopath. The same nonchalance to rape and murder which introduced Earl as a teenager is now directed at more personal problems. He's 21 now, living the life of debauchery and fully aware of any long term damage that brings: “I don't know where else to call home lately... / When I run don't chase me.”
There's a fair bit of tension in his rhymes and it works for him. Earl upholds a dangerous, unpredictable presence – when he slurs “step into the shadows, we can talk addiction” in “Grief” there aren't many who would take up the offer – but at times he holds himself wide open. The single moves on: “Lately I've been panicking a lot... All I see is snakes in the eyes of these niggas.”
With this, Earl is setting himself as the anti-hero of the urban catacombs. As his peers conspire to help each other on the way to the perfectly marketable, headphone-empire utopia, Earl cuts up his creations in the subterranean. There is no pretense, he is not trying to prove anything and this is the same messed up kid from EARL, but much wiser and much more aware of his own flaws. Earl is fully conscious of the darkness in his life but unwilling or unable to do much about it.
It will be interesting to see where Earl goes from here. Whether he'll split from Odd Future completely and take on this dark, mutant world solo. All things considered it feels like there's a lot more to come, and as Mike Tyson told him in a mutual interview last year: “you know, you’re only 20; you’re not crushed yet.”