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The Greyhound

Earl’s newest album modern hip-hop visionaries

Author: Anthony Landi

If the public’s reaction to Kendrick’s infamous “Control” verse proved anything, it’s that America craves lyric-heavy, intelligent rap over the dumbed-down fodder that had been fed to us for so long. So, while “artists” like Soulja Boy and Chief Keef have reason to worry, lyrically dexterous hip-hop artists are experiencing a renaissance. Spearheading this movement of talent-first rappers is Earl Sweatshirt of the Odd Future crew, underground rap’s greatest talent and secret weapon.

Earl (Thebe Kgositsile) just released his debut studio album Doris, his first substantial work since his return to the spotlight. At the tender age of 16, the L.A. native released his eponymous mix-tape that turned quite a few heads—first due to his immense talent and young age, then due to his lyrics rife with stomach-churning violence. Upon its release, Earl virtually vanished—his mother sent him to an at-risk youth camp in Samoa, which left crowds shouting “Free Earl” at concerts, building the towering hype and mystery that his mix-tape had garnered. Since his return a year ago, he’s had a few excellent guest spots–a verse on Frank Ocean’s Grammy-winning “Channel Orange,” a verse on the posse track “Oldie,” and a verse on Captain Murphy’s (a.k.a. Flying Lotus) track “Between Friends”–but nothing substantial.

Unlike his debut mix-tape, Doris strips away the shock tactics, landing cleanly in rap-as-art territory. It’s a dark, heady and largely hook-free album with a focus on Earl’s rapping ability, his career pressures, apathy and depression. His effortless flow and incredibly witty wordplay help craft the claustrophobic world of a fawned-over wunderkind on his album that exceeds all expectations.

The stress Earl feels and relates through his songs is tangible, and adds all the more weight to each verse. The three lead singles off Doris provide an appropriate thematic backdrop for the album as a whole. Glum piano and stuttering drums color Earl’s languid flow on “Chum” as he laments the absence of his father from his life: “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/When honestly I miss this ***** like when I was six.” “Whoa,” a track featuring Odd Future firebrand Tyler, the Creator, finds Earl in a more boastful mood, going for the throat through his tongue-twisting rhymes over a crackling synthesizer. “Hive” finds Earl rapping about inner city struggles during economic hardship over a staggering, low-end beat: “From a city that’s recession hit/ Where stressed ****** could flex metal with pedals to rake pennies in.”

One of the strongest verses on the album comes on the track “Burgundy.” Over the course of the track, Earl sounds despondent, focusing on the way his ascent has taken away time from doting on his sick grandmother and how pressure has been mounting with “them expectations raising because daddy was a poet,” referring to his largely absent father and South African poet laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile. It’s another example of Earl’s achingly sincere approach on Doris—rather than hide behind empty showboating and make-believe violence, he bears all, and it’s enthralling.

The guest verses on Doris don’t disappoint either. Vince Staples’ drawling verse on “Hive” is sure to jumpstart his career, nearly stealing Earl’s thunder. Frank Ocean, Odd Future’s resident crooner, takes to rapping on “Sunday,” a track about broken relationships with perhaps the most resonant line on the album, “What good is West Coast weather if you’re bi-polar?” The lyric perfectly captures the ambivalent mood Earl maintains towards his fame–halfway between accepting his due acclaim and retreating back into the shadows.

While most of the big-budget hip-hop albums of the summer underwhelmed—Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Born Sinner to name a few—Doris is much stronger. It’s an excellent hip-hop album by technical standards—internal rhyming and sheer lyrical brilliance are proudly displayed—and one rife with some very real adult topics. Though the album lacks the immediacy of more mainstream rap, Earl has cemented his spot amongst the modern hip-hop visionaries of our day.


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Earl’s newest album modern hip-hop visionaries