Inside The Making Of Our Favorite Songs From Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Doris’
At the beginning of the year, Earl Sweatshirt's debut album, Doris, found its way onto almost every single list of anticipated albums. The buzzy younger brother from Odd Future, long hailed as the group's premier lyricist, had led a life shrouded in mystery since he first emerged with his debut mixtape Earl in 2010, disappearing to Samoa when his mother thought he was getting into too much trouble.
But his return has led to a resumption of the hype, and his verse on Frank Ocean's Channel Orange last year, as well as dark, brooding singles like "Whoa" and the emotional "Chum" helped fuel the fire. And now, with Doris streaming online and its release less than 24 hours away, XXL spoke to some of the key people who had a hand in creating the album, from Odd Future cohort Domo Genesis to fellow young rappers Vince Staples and Casey Veggies to The Neptunes' Chad Hugo, digging into the nuts and bolts of the making of Earl's official debut.
Through these conversations, a few things came to light—the album was largely written and recorded immediately after Earl returned from Samoa over a year ago, meaning many songs have been tweaked and touched up for months, leaving a variety of different versions. Many songs were created on the spot, with Earl just hanging out with friends in his living room or coming across beats and hopping on them in the moment. And Earl has emerged from the process with a bit of a reputation for laying down verses in just one take, a skill that left a couple of his producers seriously impressed. "He's real chill in the booth and very serious, but once he’s out he’s just a kid," said Taiwo "Christian" Hassan, who co-produced four tracks on Doris with his twin brother Kehinde, who goes by "Rich." "He’s a 19-year-old kid, playing around, having fun, talking shit, cracking jokes. And then when he gets in the booth it’s a whole different beast."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
Producer: Michael "Uzi" Uzowuru
Uzi: "[I made this] the same way I just make any other beat, in my room, in my boxers, just chilling. I just opened up fruit loops and just made the beat. I usually just make a whole bunch of beats in a day, like a routine, day-to-day beat making, and it's just one of those that just stuck out. The first rapper on it, SK La’ Flare, he was over at the time and he wanted it, and he rapped over it and I let him have it and he was recording it in the studio at my manager Om’Mas' studio, and Earl and Frank [Ocean] came over one day. Earl got on the song, and he just felt like he just wanted to be on a song.
"[The beat] didn’t stand out to me, that’s the thing, I make so many—I kinda go on on binges, and it's kind of like eating to me. I feel like it's something I should doing every single day, so I just make beats very routinely. I made the beat last year. I was listening to a lot of classical [music] and just trying to make grandiose, trying to put you in a mood or like a setting in your mind, kind of cinematic. So basically, [Earl] just walked in and he liked it. He's always over at my house all the time, so he just [was] there when I [was] making beats, and he just liked that one for some reason."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt feat. Vince Staples
Producer: The Neptunes
Kehinde "Rich" Hassan [of Christian Rich]: "We hooked him up with The Neptunes. We wanted the session to be like the first Neptunes session with Chad and Pharrell since whenever, I think a few years ago, they last done something together. And Pharrell made that beat in [Snaps] 20 minutes."
Chad Hugo: "[The studio] was all this wood paneling on the walls and all these rocks and stuff. My boys Christian Rich came through, [and] we had this jam session, and that’s where it came from. Kinda just vibing out in this kind of cave-like vibe. We’re in this cave and there’s rocks on the wall. It was really primitive, like back in the Neanderthals era. We didn’t give a fuck about shit, we hooked up our laptops and it was magical.
"In that cave-like dwelling, it was kinda like James Bond meats Jacques Cousteau. It has this kinda submersive effect to when we were making the music. All the samples and melodies, it was like if you was suspended, floating in fluid. That’s what we tried to capture with the record—the sample and the screaming was like we were trapped below but at the same time, we were suspended in a euphoric experience. And Earl just bodied it."
Vince Staples: "On the 2nd verse, that’s not me. He just changed his voice. Everybody thinks that that’s me but it’s him. I just did the talking. He did the song first, and then he was trying to tie in a concept, misconception and shit. It was supposed to be one of the first songs on the album. He was going through a lot at that, at a serious time in his life, when a lot of shit was going on. He just trying tie it into that—it’s on some reflection-type shit, inner thought shit."
Chad Hugo: "It was a sunny afternoon outside, we found it and we just killed it. Over time, we did some edits, but for the most part we just harnessed that moment. P was on the drum sets and sound. Some kind of shit you get old school midi style, couple laptops, couple midi keyboards and dope engineers. Again man, it was that cave, very 'zoic."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt feat. Vince Staples and Casey Veggies
Producer: randomblackdude/Matt Martians
Casey Veggies: "I was there when he made the beat, and I was just sitting in the room, chilling and working. He had just got back from Samoa—[it was like the] 2nd or 3rd time [seeing] Earl since he got back, and we just chilling in the room and started making this beat. I didn’t expect it from him; he didn’t really make beats before he left. He just started rapping on it. He was writing down that hook and we was coming up with the words for it, and he was like, 'Casey, I want you to say this hook, I feel like you can say this better than me, I feel like your voice is better for the hook.' He just laid it down and it came out like that. I didn’t even know if he was going to use it for his single or do a video, but the record is super dynamic. I knew he was going to have to do something with it, and it definitely caught a lot of people's attention."
Vince Staples: "To be real, he had done the song and he asked me to get the last verse. It don’t really take me no time to write, I didn’t work on any songs in a minute, so I had a lot to say at the time, that's all it was. It just came together right; through how they produced it and how they really mapped the song out, and I just did what I did. "He was just recording the song, him and Casey, and I walked in. And while they were recording it, I came over, and [Earl] asked if I wanted to get in on the third verse, and I was like, 'Yeah.' Real easy, real natural. Most of his album happened naturally like that. Nothing really plotted out."
Casey Veggies: "Earl had the vision for the hook—he definitely wanted it to be back and forth, and the 'Bruh I don’t fuck with no cops' [part], he wanted to make sure those lines stand out, cause I got this charismatic feel to my vocals that I like to do, and he wanted me to make sure I brought out the elements to the hook that he needed. He always had the vision for the back and forth; he wrote most of the words to the hook and we just put it together. And even that night, we just worked on two songs that night. We were just vibing out, having fun. Vince Staples was there as well, he came with his verse, he bodied it, and it was just one of those moments we put it together, all right there on the spot, in the living room. We did it right when he got back, around the time he got back. It’s been like 8 months since we made that record, at least 5 months.
"The way he was spitting on that—he sounded angry but he sounded intelligent. It was just one of those vibes that it was automatic. 'Hive' is just one of those records, and I’m excited to be a part of it for sure. We just sitting there, catching up, and within the mist of that, we made 'Hive.'"
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
Producer: Christian Rich
Taiwo "Christian" Hassan [of Christian Rich]: "Initially we had three days. It went from three days to literally months, us working with him, 'cause we ended up doing a RZA record with him. 'Chum' was a jam session, but us just going in, having different sounds, and then Earl came up with a piano and then we did the drums, and then Earl threw a baseline on there and then we came out with all these stabs, all the little screaming and stuff, then my vocals—it’s a part of the beat where i'm saying, 'Can I hear the beat louder?’ That’s me, [we] just looped and we screwed it. So we’re playing around for like 2-3 hours talking and he just went in, he just—we were all talking and he just—"
Rich: "In one take."
Christian: "One take, the song."
Rich: "One take Earl."
Christian: "Chad came later and Chad heard these chords we were pressing, and Chad was like, 'Oh, I've got an idea,' and he started pressing all this stuff. And then we added some drums and then that was the outro."
"That was the quickest one, a quick process. We didn’t know it was going to be the single. I personally wanted to get, like, Thom Yorke on the song for the hook, 'cause I figured it would be bigger, but whatever, it worked out the way it did."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt feat. Vince Staples
Producer: Christian Rich
Rich: "It’s dark, it’s very sinister. I played it for Shae [Haley] from N.E.R.D. last week, and he was like, 'Yo, this a movie, just the way it moves.' It goes from one mood and then builds into this sinister—are you familiar with Voltron? I didn’t take [the intro] from Voltron but it’s that feel, like Zarkon’s about to come get you. What he’s talking about on there, it’s funny, he's just telling this funny ass story, but it sounds like he’s just picking big words and putting them together. But when you pay attention to what he’s saying, he’s telling a story in that tone. It took me about twenty listens to realize he was telling a story. I thought he was just spitting. He was telling me the story—"
Christian: “Let me tell you the story about the average night”—
Rich: "He just telling a story about a real concept of something happening, but the track, we built it out. We had one version a certain way, but then we heard his lyrics—Vincent Staples is on the intro, and the beat is different by the time Earl raps—[and] we went back in and then that’s how we made it more cinematic [with] strings and trumpets, crazy, crazy loops. I can’t believe we got half of those samples cleared, but it was crazy. It’s so much going on. It reminds me of kind of what Jay Z was doing [in] 'PSA.'"
Vince Staples: "It was basically like a like a concept song. Like I've known Earl since I was younger, and I was on some stupid shit when we was younger, that was basically just a little bit of that; a little introduction. It’s like you write a book about another nigga, I had a little autobiography piece in the beginning of it basically, speak on myself before he speaks on the situation that we had went through. We just be making songs, creating shit now and worrying about the bullshit later.
"Once I figure out how to start [a verse], everything else is easy, and I just go from there. I don’t really rap about bullshit. Niggas be rapping just for the sake of rapping. If it starts a certain way it’s going to end on that same type of tone. Trying to get a clear message off in a verse is basically all it is. So I just figure what I’m going to rap about, get it started, 10-15 minutes I’ll be good."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt feat. The RZA
Producer: The RZA / Christian Rich
Christian: "We get there and RZA, you know, he was actually on time. He came with his entourage, and then we played him our songs, we was playing some other songs from Earl’s album, and he was like, 'Y’all don’t need no beats from me.' And we were like nah, we need beats. So he started playing beats, but he was playing, like, movie soundtrack beats or something. It wasn’t no stuff he used to do with Mathematics, it wasn’t that old Wu-Tang shit I grew up on. And us being older than Earl, I was like, 'Yo, I know what type of beat you need.' So RZA steps out the room and I just go on his fucking Roland and pick something, this crazy loop he had just sitting there, and then didn’t add no drums or nothing to it, just kept it like that. I was like RZA, we need a freestyle from you. This nigga did an eight minute freestyle, and then Earl heard the part and was like, 'Yo we need to make that the hook.' So I chopped it up and made it the hook. I took his voice and panned it left and right saying some shit."
Rich: "So RZA goes, 'I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch,' and we all just looked at each other like, that’s the hook. And that’s the hook, literally. This shit is crazy. I’ve got a video of it. RZA was going in and it was dope. Because at first he was just like y’all are good, you don’t need nothing from me, this shit is dope. And it was like nah. So once he understood that his sound was like the one thing missing from it he went in. Really dope."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt feat. Frank Ocean
Alex Sowinski [of BADBADNOTGOOD]: "My girlfriend rides horses, so we went up to the barn, which is like an hour drive from Toronto, and I brought my sampler one day. And I was just fooling around; I hadn't had the sampler for very long, just trying to figure it out. And I brought a ukulele and was trying to [play] the ukulele, chords and stuff. Then a hoarse 'nahh’d' when I was doing it, and I got the sample and I just kinda made a little beat out of it. And then we got in contact with Earl like, right when he got back, through Twitter. And he was like, 'Oh, send me some beats, I just want to try writing to some stuff.'"
Matt Tavares [of BADBADNOTGOOD]: "We basically took what Alex did—we were all together—we took the most basic part of the beat, that horse sample that made it super cool, and then basically totally restructured the song around that one key part. Alex replayed drums on it, and then we were kinda getting into punk rock and really weird music, so that’s why there’s weird synths and awesome drumming bass line that Chester [Hansen]. There’s that guitar part that comes in at the end, where it’s like really crazy and open tuning—I don’t even know how that happened."
Chester Hansen [of BADBADNOTGOOD]: "That was like, oh, we should try to like put some kinda shoegaze [into it], and Matt just kinda tuned the [guitar] it into some weird tuning and made it super eerie and distorted, and we were like, oh, now we have a 'C' section."
Matt: "It’s really unconventional chord-wise, there’s a lot of weird shit happening on it. The song was virtually done, with Earl’s verse on it, almost a year and a half ago."
Chester: "There’s like 20 different versions. I think this is one of the first songs he recorded and finished for the album."
Matt: "When we were in L.A., the first time we kinda met Frank Ocean and Earl, shortly after we sent him the beat, he had this idea for Frank to basically do spoken word over the hook. He texted Frank the hook after he did, and asked him to talk over it."
Chester: "I think they actually wrote it together."
Alex: "Also another crazy thing, Earl got the verses in one take. It was phenomenal to see that."
Matt: "Yeah, he was so on his game with those verses that I was just blown away. He was kinda sick and his voice was really raspy and hoarse. His voice was literally hoarse."
Artist: Earl Sweatshirt feat. Domo Genesis
Producer: Christian Rich
Christian: "It’s just very, really dope, like major 7 chords, it’s kind of like a doo-wop band or something. Took a dope loop and then, um, what’s his name suppose to be on this song?"
Christian: "Soon as [Pharrell] heard it, he’s like, 'I’m getting on the third verse,' but just timing-wise he couldn’t do it. Maybe we’ll do a remix and have him on there and have somebody—we’ll see. But anyways, we were playing it for Columbia A&R, and Earl heard it [and] was like, 'Yo, what’s that? I want that.' That’s the one song that people who don’t understand Odd Future or really get into it, that’s the one song they hear like, 'Yo, that’s it. I fuck with that.' Because it’s it’s hip-hop, but it’s still—remember that song Ghostface did withMary J. Blige, 'All That I Got Is You,' where it was just like, wasn’t that a Michael Jackson sample or something? Talking about the roaches in the cereal. It’s like that feel. It’s very melancholy and it’s definitely talking about his personal life on there. Same thing with Domo."
Rich: "Love Domo’s verse on there."
Christian: "Both of their verses. They just went in and was just talking about their life and it’s, it’s kind of emotional."
Domo Genesis: "'Knight' was recorded at this spot in Hollywood that we used to record at after I met Christian Rich on a random day during Earl's album recording process. We recorded two tracks but 'Knight' was the one of two that made it. Both songs were unplanned, just came from us hanging out in the studio.
"I came up with my verse for 'Knight' first—I thought the subject worked well for both of us, seeing how we grew up with kind of similar circumstances. It's easy working with him 'cause we both write 16s pretty quickly, so ideas are laid down in less than 30 minutes, usually."
Rich: "Yesterday, I listened to that whole song for five hours, I had it on repeat. My favorite song on the album."