Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Earl Sweatshirt – Doris [Album Review]


Earl Sweatshirt blew up along with the rest of the Odd Future crew back in 2010, with the release of his mixtape, EARL.  It was met with mixed reviews; some people loved it, a lot of people liked it, some people were indifferent about it, and a few people hated it.  One thing, though, that could almost universally be agreed upon was that he had a great skill set for a 16 year old rapper and that he had a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, the whole debacle involving his mother sending him to a boarding school occurred and he wasn’t able to follow up EARL as soon as he, or all of his fans, would’ve liked him to.  It wasn’t long before the hype surrounding him died off.  A little bit further down the road, the hype surrounding the entire Odd Future crew died down, not completely, but very far below the peak of their fame, which had been reached in 2011.  Fortunately for the crew, Frank Ocean’s album, Channel Orange was highly critically acclaimed and was even nominated for several Grammy Awards.  While he didn’t play a major role in the initial uprising of Odd Future, his success brought the crew’s name back into the limelight.  Then, earlier this year, Tyler, the Creator, the group’s front man, released his third album, Wolf.  The release of this album was important because it brought the core of Odd Future back into relevance.  Not too much later, Doris, Earl Sweatshirt’s official debut album, was announced to be released this August.  Many people were very excited for it.  I, however, despite being a big fan of his debut release, wasn’t very excited.  I think the reason for that was that Earl himself had not been relevant for quite some time.  I was also worried that he would do what Tyler did with Goblin and release an album that’s far inferior to his first release.  Regardless of my apprehension, this album was a mandatory listen for me.  So, here are my thoughts.

On my first listen, I wasn’t quite sure what to think about the album as a whole.  I thought that it started out very well from “Pre” to “Hive,” but that it significantly dropped in quality after that point and became increasingly monotonous as it went on.  On my second listen, I began to realize that a lot of those songs in the second half of the album that I had formerly believed to be boring actually weren’t bad at all.  The album also flowed a little bit better and was a more enjoyable experience for me.  The third time I listened to it, I started to think that this is actually a pretty good album.  Very few songs came off to me as boring at all and I had no problems making it through the whole album in one sitting.  My fourth listen solidified the opinions that I had formed with my third listen and then I was ready to write my review.

Perhaps the most important thing to mention about this album is its vibe.  It’s one of those albums that’s built on a central atmospheric sound.  That sound that I speak of is one that is dark and hazy.  Imagine a group of teenagers smoking weed in a dark, dingy cave.  This album sounds to me like the musical equivalent to that scenario.  If that’s not the type of vibe that appeals to you, turn away right now because there’s no chance of this album appealing to you.  If you’re a fan of the gritty, early to mid nineties, east coast sound, however, and you would be interested to hear the Odd Future twist on that sound, which is actually very different in every aspect except for the vibe, then then I would definitely recommend that you listen to this album.

The dark, hazy vibe is dominantly manifested through the production on this album.  These beats are provided by a bunch of different producers.  Ones that Odd Future fans should be familiar with include Tyler, the Creator, BadBadNotGood, and Frank Ocean.  Also, Earl produces a bunch of the beats himself under the alias randomblackdude.  Contributing producers that hip hop fans in general should be familiar with include The Neptunes and RZA, who provide one beat each.  Other producers include Michael “Uzi” Uzowuru, Samiyam, Matt Martians, and Christian Rich.  All of these producers come together to create a cohesive, fairly well produced album.  These beats aren’t as good, in my opinion, as the ones on EARL, but they’re still pretty good.  All of them are very minimalistic, dark, and lo-fi.  There’s no masterful production work at hand here, although the beats for “Burgundy” and “Sunday,” my two favorite songs on the album, are quite impressive.  Despite that, perhaps not a ton of skill was put into the creation of these beats, they sound good to my ears, which is what matters more than anything else.  These beats might seem somewhat disappointing in comparison to the beats on some of the other Odd Future releases, but just remember what the beats on Goblin sounded like and be happy that these are as good as they are.

Earl Sweatshirt’s rapping is probably the best feature of this album.  He hasn’t lost any of his skills.  His multi-syllabic flow is still on point and his wordplay is still sharp.  One noticeable difference between his rapping on EARL and on this album, is that he’s less energetic on this album.  On EARL, he was hungry.  He was rapping like he had something to prove, which he did.  This time around, he kicks some blunted, lethargic raps.  He raps with very little emotion in his voice, and at times, he’s practically mumbling into the mic.  Many people have criticized this album because of that, claiming that it’s boring to listen to.  Normally, I would agree that emotionless, lethargic rapping is boring, but in this case, I actually like it.  It fits very well with the vibe of these beats.  Could a little bit more energy have made his rapping on this album even better?  It probably could’ve.  However, I’m perfectly satisfied with his rapping on this album.  As far as lyrical topic selection goes, he’s a little bit different now than he was on EARL.  He no longer raps about rape and he generally avoids vile topics in general.  That’s not to say that he’s lost his ability to use vivid imagery to depict what he’s rapping about; it just means that he chooses not to delve into graphic topics as often as he once did.  Most of the rapping on this album revolves around Earl showing off his skills.  Most of the time, honestly, he doesn’t have much of anything to say.  He’s sort of just rambling on, showing off his flows, and spitting some dope wordplay.  Fortunately for him, he’s very good at rapping in that manner.  Most rappers wouldn’t be able to do it as well as he does, but he manages to pull it off surprisingly well.  There are a few songs, however, in which he decides to rap about personal issues, namely “Burgundy,” “Sunday,” and “Chum.”  He’s not quite as good at tackling these topics as Tyler is, due to expression of emotion not being his strong suit like it is for Tyler, but he’s still very good at it.  It allows him to focus and show off how good of a lyricist he truly is.  In the future, I would like to see him tackle emotional topics more often.  On this album, however, you shouldn’t expect too much of that type of rapping from him.  “Hive” is a much more accurate representation of what the album is like as a whole.  Earl’s rapping on this album is very good.  I can still see room for improvement, but once again, he doesn’t fail to impress me.

As a whole, this album has its ups and downs.  “Burgundy” and “Sunday” are the the highest points and “Chum” (only due to this headache-inducing buzzing noise in the beat), “523,” and “Whoa” the lowest points.  Fortunately, there are no bad songs and most of the songs are quite good.  A lot of people have been comparing this album to Wolf, even though they sound practically nothing alike.  If I were to compare them, though, I would say that Wolf is easily the better album of the two.  This album is better in that it’s more concise (only 44 minutes long), but there are at least six songs on Wolf that I prefer over every song on this album.  A more relevant comparison, though, is between this album and EARL.  In my opinion, EARL is easily better.  It was more consistent and the beats were a little bit better.  All comparisons aside, this is quite a good album.  It may not seem like it at first, but trust me, if you like it at all on your first listen, it’s bound to grow on you with multiple listens.  I know that Earl can do much better than this, but when you ignore his unfulfilled potential, you realize that this is a good album in its own right.  I recommend it to anyone who’s found themselves liking a good chunk of the Odd Future discography.  It certainly isn’t one of the best releases of the year, but it’s absolutely worth checking out.

Rating: 3.5/5

The thoughts of this article resonates the authors thoughts, not a general consensus of the website (unless otherwise stated).


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