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Earl Sweatshirt is back with ‘Doris’

Allie Tollaksen | Tuesday, September 3, 2013

For fans of rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), rapper Earl Sweatshirt, aka Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, has always been the longtime standout of the group. Of course, there’s Tyler, the Creator, the loud, outspoken leader of the Odd Future pack, but Earl is easily the better lyricist, casually rattling off lines that blew everyone’s mind in his 2010 mixtape, “Earl,” at the young age of 16.

But then, Kgositsile disappeared for a while. When fans and the media alike started asking about him, his Odd Future friends didn’t give any specifics on his sudden disappearance. Rumors that he was being “held captive” by his mother began circulating, and shirts reading “Free Earl” started appearing at Odd Future concerts. Finally, it was discovered in 2012 that Earl was spending time in a Somoan reform school (yes, you read that correctly) at the request of his mother, though the details were sketchy.

No matter the story behind his disappearance, there is no question that Earl kept writing during his time away from the public eye. He returned in early 2012 and has been unleashing impressive verses ever since. After he signed a record deal, released several of his own tracks and appeared on Odd Future albums in the last year, the young rapper finally released his much-anticipated studio debut album, “Doris,” this August.

When listening to “Doris” for the first time, it becomes clear that Earl put plenty of time into the album. Each of the fifteen tracks is considerably more produced than anything else the artist has released himself. But the level of production “Doris” exudes should be no surprise-the album boasts an incredible lineup of producers and guest artists including Frank Ocean, Mac Miller, The Alchemist, RZA and, of course, Tyler, the Creator.

“Doris” is so full of guest artists, however, that at times, Earl gets lost altogether. “Sasquatch” sounds more like a Tyler track as Tyler’s verse drowns out Earl’s. Similarly, the album’s opening track is “Pre,” which functions more as an unimpressive three minute long exhibition of Frank Ocean’s cousin, SK Laflare than anything else. But moving on from this curious choice for track one, “Doris” turns to “Burgundy,” a confessional, self-conscious song characteristic of the majority of the album — Earl is questioning his motives, fame and lifestyle.

The remaining tracks on “Doris” give Earl a chance to analyze his feelings, as in, “And I don’t know why it’s difficult to admit that I miss you … And if I hurt you I’m sorry, the music makes me dismissive” on the track, “Sunday,” and other times cynically dismiss his problems, like when a distorted voice shouts, “Don’t nobody care how you feel, we want raps” in the opening of “Burgundy.”

He is constantly self-conscious and self-deprecating, but in a way that doesn’t sound like a friend fishing for compliments. Each track is poignant and honest, taking on critics, the media and himself. A few standout tracks really make “Doris” exceptional. “Hive” shows off Earl’s lyrical abilities in an impressive second verse and features Vince Staples, a Long Beach native who sounds uncannily like his fellow Long Beach rapper, Snoop Lion. “Chum,” the album’s first single, is a poetic examination of his upbringing and disappearance. “Hoarse” is produced by the hip-hop instrumentalist trio BadBadNotGood and is a subtle highlight on the album, featuring one of my favorite lines, “Eating like the kids when you take them off Ritalin/Throwing temper tantrums at the window of your whip again.”

The critiques of “Doris” I’ve heard the most are that the album moves too slowly or that it all sounds the same. Sure, there are no slow jams, no upbeat singles begging for remixes and no songs you’d ever throw on at a party. This is approaching the album from the wrong way. “Doris” isn’t boring — it’s consistent. Sure, it may be Thebe spitting line after line of verse with his same signature dark, self-reflective angst, but with lyrics as good as Earl’s, why would you want anything else?