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Earl Sweatshirt Doesn’t Disappoint On ‘Doris’

“Free Earl.” That was the motto, the creed and the goal. As Odd Future ascended to hip-hop cult hero status in 2010, fans chanted those two words at sold-out shows and plastered them all over the internet, elevating a prodigiously talented teenager with a self-titled EP and a few gross-out videos into a mysterious hip-hop folk hero. He was the perfect type of enigma—angry, ill-defined and far away—but buried inside the phrase “Free Earl” was a question: What would Earl do with his freedom? The events that came next—the discovery of his location, the New Yorker profile, the tentative return—didn’t answer that question as much as complicate it. His appearances on the OF Tape Vol. 2 and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange were tantalizing but incomplete portraits of a talent in transition. A new question emerged: What comes after freedom?

Reflection, apparently. While Tyler was always Odd Future’s yammering id, Earl often played the role of the meticulous, cautious ego. Even when he was rapping about cutting up bodies, he did it with a widened smirk, his deadpan cadence calling attention to the absurdity of his claims and the intricacy of his rhymes. That reluctant curiosity has only expanded on Doris, Earl’s first full-length for Columbia and his official return to music. Coming after a week that saw one of rap’s most gifted technicians drop a single verse that left his contemporaries reeling, Earl’s verbal pyrotechnics might seem less confrontational and competitive by comparison; that’s because they are. This is not an album that’s concerned with making an argument for its own importance.

Given Earl’s status as an almost mythical figure, it makes sense that his debut full-length would aim to bring him back down to Earth a little bit. It’s a sedentary record, forgoing the violent, kinetic qualities of his early raps for a couch-bound aesthetic that feels both therapeutic and playful. “Sitting on the sofa feeling high and dormant,” he raps on the lush, Neptunes-produced “Burgundy,” and it’s a feeling that he pursues throughout the album like a Dorito caught between the cushions.

For every stoned, tossed-off observation there’s another moment of startling emotional potency. On tracks like “Chum” and the Frank Ocean-assisted “Sunday,” he raps about his troubled relationship with his father and his struggles with fame in an unflinching, wounded manner. Even when describing feelings of ambiguity and confusion, his lyrics are always specific (“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”) and vividly direct (“I don’t know why it’s difficult to admit that I miss you”). He stacks words effortlessly, setting up internal rhymes and double entendres with a shrug-filled nonchalant attitude. The bustling, DOOM-like beats swirl around him, making room for Earl and his guests to say their parts.

Despite the album’s sealed-off, hermetic quality, Earl is welcoming to outside guests and collaborators—maybe too welcoming. Tyler is still playing the petulant man-child on “Sasquatch,” taunting One Direction fans, cracking groan-worthy jokes about Chris Brown and starting shit. His talents are better served as a producer on tracks like “Whoa” where he’s relegated to the role of hook-delivering hype-man, egging on Earl to return to the grisly antics of his youth. Earl obliges to a certain extent (“Still in the business of smacking up little rappers with racquets you play tennis with”), but he doesn’t sound fully invested in revisiting the Jackass-inspired anarchy that made him famous. Invigorating appearances by like-minded wordsmiths like Vince Staples and Domo Genesis on tracks like “20 Wave Caps,” “Hive” and “Centurion” strengthen the album, but the drop-in from Mac Miller (“Guild”) goes on too long, fizzling out in a haze of smoke.

As one might expect from a 19-year-old, this is an album of extremes. It can be poignant and honest in one moment, then cagey and distant in the next. After a bracing opening, the album takes some odd and adventurous detours in its second half, particularly on sinister tracks like “Hoarse,” a post-apocalyptic gunslinger banger, all creaking organs, scratchy guitars and pounding drums. It’s unsettling in its studied minimalism, like the spaghetti western cousin of Ka’s recent noir-rap opus, The Knight’s Gambit. “Molasses,” the album’s RZA collaboration, is similarly unhinged. Taken together, these sketches and mumbles present a portrait of an artist as a young couch potato, drifting in and out of his own twisted day-dreams while struggling to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s not always focused, and it’s not always perfect, but that’s what real freedom feels like.

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  • jake

    xxl are you scared to review Hear Ye Him?

  • Hugo Stiglitz


  • LuiKang

    i cant fuck with OF…

    • Dwahn Denson

      Then why are you on here making comments ?

      • LuiKang

        how is making comments “FUCKING WITH OF”, smartness?

  • Kristijonas

    This is no doubt my second favorite rap album of the summer next to Killer Mike/El-P’s eponymous debut as Run The Jewels. That album straight devoured fools, and in my mind has no equal. But Earl’s debut… it’s intelligent, self-conscious, pulpy and just plain interesting to try and digest. Not some disposable, superficial, materialistic arena-rap trash. “Yeezus” was a peculiar listen but I refuse to jump on Kanye’s bandwagon… Producers like El have been crafting vicious, post-apocalyptic, industrial beats for over a decade and they’re only cool AFTER Kanye decided to incorporate them into his collage of a musical vision? Nah man. Still holding on for Danny Brown’s “Old” before I make any claims to Rap album of the Year. And a shout out to Chance the Rapper’s “Acid Rap” and Prodigy’s “Albert Einstein.” Solid albums in their own right.

  • nathanael

    more boring, “provocative”-for-the-sake-of-it crap from the most overrated crew of moronic hipsters in hip hop. PASS.

  • Coroner

    The beats are wack and annoying. His lyrics are just some random bullshit. And he’s unoriginal, because he sounds like Tyler. Also the quality of the whole project sounds very poor, I mean he just mumbling on every beat like a kid from first grade.

    TBH I can’t even take anybody seriously who likes this hipter cRap. And I’m not just hating. Man, my ears are bleeding from this shit. Face it, y’all just some bunch of Odd Future bandwagon cunts.

    • Dwahn Denson

      This is art all beats don’t have to be bass heavy to be nice that’s what makes America great everyone is entitled to their own opinion u cant knock someone else for what they like this album though different from all that so call street and gangster rap is a nice change of pace i really enjoyed it !

    • uncleal

      You seem upset. This was a great project. You probably liked Born Sinner, hahahahaha and The Gifted hahahaha.

      • Guest

        Born sinner shits on this album

      • BANGBANG

        born sinner and run the jewel both shit on this album

    • mrmotherfuckin

      ok just pipe down and go back and listen to magna carta holy grail..,

    • HipHopHead999

      Lol Lyrics are “random bullshit” because you’re too dumb to figure out what they mean

  • Cocaine Howie

    Earl’s the only dude from OF I fuck with besides Damier. And the shit he’s doing with Doom and Lotus is dope. This was a great album.

  • Dwahn Denson

    Sweatshirt has a nice flow but i believe Domo Genesis is just a little bit
    better !

  • datboytre

    I agree with coroner 100%. this shit is wack as fuck and straight up GARBAGE!!! (TO THE TENTH POWER BY THE WAY) I cant believe these brain dead motherfuckers @ XXL gave this bullshit(with a capital B) a XL and gave no malice’s HEAR YE HIM a L.. are you fucking kidding me? this nigga sound like he doped up or flying on some fucking LSD on every fucking trak. the only half decent trak and song on the entire album is HIVE,trak 5… you morons at XXL seem to be pushing this hippie back pack non talent bullshit to the forefront of rap….. real niggas know real rap….this shit is garbage!!!!! you want to hear a great album? download HEAR YE HIM from NO MALICE…that’s an album worth listening to… all you clown ass niggas can keep this bullshit,for real!!!!

  • Luke

    too bad Hopsin ended Odd Future’s career


  • Anthony

    His lyrics are there and deserve some great praise. the kid knows how to rhyme and use different styles of poetry, but this flow that he’s got going on now. is garbage and needs to change if he wants good delivery. Words in rap mean nothing if you cannot deliver them out properly.

  • cmack510

    earl is dope rapper but not my favorite of OF just not my taste, album was ok though i didnt hate it like everyone else did, i just wishd he rapped more on beats like “centurion”…but i tell everybody that i only like domo genesis and hodgy beats

  • HipHopHead999

    lyrics are XXL for sure