You’ll notice when Kendrick Lamar dropped his now infamous verse on “Control,” Tyler the Creator was one of the names he called out as his competition. Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler’s supposedly more lyrically potent running mate, was left off the list.
Multiple listens to his debut, Doris, confirms that Kendrick has nothing to worry about from Earl.
“Burgundy” featuring Vince Staples seems to sum up what may have been the problem with Doris’ creation. Earl’s troubled rhymes seem to indicate he just wasn’t ready for this: “Grandma’s passing/But I’m too busy tryna get this f**ckin’ album cracking to see her/So I apologize in advance if anything should happen/And my priorities f***ed up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m going to blow it/And when them expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right?”
Much of Earl’s output on Doris sounds like that of a kid overwhelmed by the moment.
The 19-year-old member of the cult favorite group Odd Future has garnered almost mythical buzz with his mixtape, Earl, and his subsequent disappearance having been sent to a boarding school in Samoa by his mother. He re-emerged notably with a memorable verse on “Super Rich Kids” off Frank Ocean’s (another Odd Future member) seminal channel ORANGE album.
There’s nothing on Doris, though, to match the high of that star guest appearance. At times he sounds completely lost – with the laughable braggadocio on “Pre” (“Pop artillery…Just watch, I’ma kill ‘em all in a minute”) or the utterly morose “Guild,” which sounds like sludge and features tired lyrics from Mac Miller (“Marilyn Manson channeling, panicking, spar with Anakin”) and Earl (“We could play doctor, ma/open wide for the thermometer”).
On “Sunday,” one of the album’s better cuts, he’s out-rhymed by Ocean, who seemingly has some things to say to Chris Brown:
“They thought me soft in high school, thank God I’m jagged/Forgot you don’t like it rough, I mean he called me a fa**ot/I was just calling his bluff I mean how anal am I gon’ be/When I’m aiming my gun/And why’s his mug all bloody, that was a three on one?”
Earl does have a unique and complex flow, able to topple one rhyme on top of another with no space in between. But it’s a fine line between complicated, like the wordplay on “Chum” (“Sixteen, I’m hollow, intolerant, skip shots, I storm that whole bottle, I’ll show you a role model, I’m drunk, pissy, pissing on somebody front lawn/Trying to figure out how and when the f**k I missed moderate”) and gibberish like on “Hive” (“…these critics and interns admitting the s*it spit/It just burn like six furnaces writ it/I affixed learning them digits and simultaneously/Dispelling one-trick pony myths, isn’t he?”).
Earl is the type of rapper you have to listen to hard, paying attention to every word. Unfortunately, there’s nothing about the music here that deserves that kind of respect.
From a production standpoint, Doris feels like it’s in slow motion. It never gets going. Instead it plods at the same tempo with the same depressing style of beats that glumly slur along.
He gets a little help from The Neptunes on “Burgundy,” but even that is downbeat for them. RZA lends his voice and production experience to “Molasses” and it’s one of the more energized efforts musically, but RZA’s chorus isn’t even worth repeating.
Earl also doesn’t differentiate himself from his mentor Tyler, whose album Wolf that came out earlier this year is a much better, more fully realized version of what Doris aspires to be, and it wasn’t even that good.
Doris is cluttered with guest spots, many of which outshine Earl, including the not exactly household names Domo Genesis and Vince Staples.
Whatever the opposite of a crowning achievement is, that’s what this is for the Odd Future collective. Sort of the epitome of this scattered, overhyped movement. Maybe Earl still has a future. Perhaps his brilliance is yet to be untapped. Right now he’s just an amateur who’s nowhere near close to being on Kendrick’s list.
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