Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
It says something of the high regard Earl Sweatshirt is held in that, in a year that has seen big new albums from Kanye and Jay Z, his debut album proper Doris is still seen as one of the most highly anticipated hip-hop LPs 2013.
His association with the counter-culture crossover collective Odd Future helps his appeal, as does the mystery and ‘back-story’ of his disappearance from the scene to attend a rehab clinic in Samoa – inspiring Odd Future’s ‘Free Earl’ movement in the process. The company he keeps, outside of the Odd Future regulars like Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean, also helps Earl seem a little bit more prominent and ‘important’ in the hip-hop world – he has been collaborating with producer-du-jour Flying Lotus and rapper DOOM recently, and Doris features production contributions from the likes of RZA and Pharrell.
Basically the kid is a big deal, and Doris will only serve to heighten his reputation further. It’s a laidback, introverted album that glides along with Earl’s drawled flow – which disguises some impressively complex rhyme schemes.
In terms of highlights, Doris has many. Album opener ‘Pre’ features a Dr Dre-esque low slung beat and a serviceable opening verse from SK La’Flare before a scene-setting verse from Earl about being back from rehab and ready to impress. It’s no Kendrick-style show of braggadocio though, Earl is more considered and cerebral than that. ‘Burgundy’ features a brilliantly soulful production from Pharrell and more great delivery from Earl, this time about his dead grandma (who the album is named after) and his anxieties around the hype that surrounds him (”I’m afraid I’m going to blow it”).
Frank Ocean pops up on ‘Sunday’, which sees the two Odd Future cohorts reminisce and reflect on drug abuse and bad relationships. ‘Hive’ features probably Earl’s best complex rhyming and delivery on Doris, which is backed up by Vince Staples and Casey Veggies, while ‘Chum’ is the most introspective and personal: ”It’s probably been 12 years since my father left / Left me fatherless / And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest”.
Elsewhere ‘Molasses’ features a great retro-soul backing courtesy of RZA and ‘Whoa’ has Tyler, The Creator’s best contribution to the album. Doris finishes with another retro-soul backing on ‘Hoarse’, which features a scene stealing verse from Odd Future member Domo Genesis and a poignant last line from Earl revealing his troubled state of mind as he signs off and walks away from Doris: “Young, black and jaded / Vision hazy strolling through the night”.
The marrying of great production and at times awe-inspiring poetry and vocal delivery make Doris one of the best hip-hop albums I’ve heard in a long time – which tellingly focuses more on Earl’s internal dialogue rather than the showboating and shock-value prevalent in a lot his peer’s work. Earl has the perfect mix of talent and modesty to make an album that envelopes the listener and pulls them into his murky, troubling world. Not quite a ‘classic’, but scarily good when compared with the lazy and sterile stuff the big hitters of hip-hop have released over the past year.