Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Earl Sweatshirt's Doris delivers a dreamlike and introspective effort

Earl Sweatshirt may be aligned with hip hop supergroup Odd Future, but he's doing his damage in markedly different ways from the group's stalwarts. His 2010 mixtape, Earl, may have been heavily influenced by Odd Future's tropes at the time, yet deep down were core ideas that would compose his identity. Now with his major label debut, Doris, he has finally unveiled his first presentation of a full fledged mission statement.

On many albums, the beats are subdued so as to give the rapper the chance to take the spotlight. Yet Doris is in a minority of rap albums that actually presents its own distinctive sonic footprint. It goes beyond being simply a rap album, to being a legitimate artistic statement in itself. Much of it is low key and dreamlike, much like Cunninlynguists's 2011 release Oneirology.

The Odd Future guest spots, Frank Ocean's included, are confident and capable, but not extraordinary. The philosophy seems to be focused on not attracting attention away from Earl. RZA of Wu Tang Clan fame has a guest spot on "Molasses," but is confined to a spoken word hook. The lone exception being Tyler's is the only one that doesn't tend to fade into the patchwork. But in some way it feels like it is that way by design.

Earl lets us see what's on his mind straight off the get go. Problems with family, grandparents, and the general rough and tumble nature of his existence come together to allow Earl to weave very effective poetry. It's not really street poetry, but you can tell Earl has been through some rough environments without making it sound like stereotypical street poetry. Many songs are often esoteric lyrically, but contain lots of snippets of getting in fights, dealing with rough stuff and struggling to make it. On "Burgundy," he showcases his struggle to keep up with the fast paced nature of the music industry while balancing it with family life: "Grandma's passing/But I'm too busy tryna get this fuckin' album cracking to see her."

Later cuts, such as "Guild" and "Whoa" boast beats that sound a little more sinister and Odd Future like. "Guild" sees Mac Miller drop a totally stoned out verse, before allowing Earl to dive into some of the most sinister imagery found on the album. It's an effort not unlike the works of Memphis rapper Cities Aviv, or even Tyler himself.

"Chum" has some of his most interpersonal lyrics yet, talking about his relationship with his parents and how he looks to Tyler as a big brother figure, while the beat on "Sunday" hits with a heavy blast of nostalgia. Frank Ocean lays down a verse on this one, sort of mellow, almost more spoken word than rap, reminiscing and talking about things from past, schools, fights, but it's all done in a very poetic and lyrical way. Both guys prove themselves as great street poets.

The other main fact of Earl is that unlike Odd Future cohort Tyler, he doesn't have that powerful of a voice, and lacks a commanding presence. So he tailors his game to work with his strengths, leading Doris to have a very introspective and subdued nature, but still a very effective one.

Score: 89/100
Related posts:  

Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE review 
Tyler, the Creator - Goblin review 

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