By John Connor Coulston // Contributing Writer
Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt’s debut studio album, Doris, is a 44-minute display of technical ability, personal reflection and eerie production.
It’s been three years since Earl’s debut mixtape Earl captivated the hip-hop scene with its blend of shock value and tongue twisting flows. Over this period, Earl’s life has dramatically changed. After being sent to a boarding school in Samoa until his 18th birthday, he returned to an amassed fan base that was hungry for more material. He toured the world with the rest of Odd Future, met his idols such as Jay Z and MF DOOM and dealt with strained relations with his mother. Doris shows Earl looking back at all these events and showing how he’s grown as an artist because of them.
The subjects of murder and sexual themes that littered Earl are virtually nonexistent on this project. Sweatshirt instead bounces between personal reflection and intricate rhyme-schemes that are easy to get lost in if the listener isn’t prepared to focus on the content.
While this will be a difficult task for the unseasoned hip-hop listener, keeping up with Sweatshirt’s lyrics is an extremely rewarding experience. He effortlessly ties rhymes together in a way that is somewhat mesmerizing.
Lyrics from the single “Whoa” such as “Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch / Gooey writtens, scoot ’em to a ditch, chewed and booty scented / Too pretentious, do pretend like he could lose with spitting” show Earl flexing his lyrical ability without hesitation.
Another aspect of Doris is the amount of featured verses. His fellow Odd Future members Frank Ocean, Domo Genesis and Tyler, the Creator are featured on the tracks “Sunday,” “20 Wave Caps” and “Whoa,” respectively. There’s also a second Tyler, the Creator collaboration, “Sasquatch,” that harks back to the dark overtones of violence and drug use that were prominent in the early Odd Future catalogue, but with less vulgarity. Earl also welcomes outside collaborators on six of the album’s 15 tracks. “Guild” is a slow-paced, pitch-shifted track that features Mac Miller over an abstractly moody beat. “Hive” teams Earl with rappers Vince Staples and Casey Veggies. Veggies contributes the hook while Staples delivers one of the best verses of his career.
The production of the album is mostly a mix of eerie, murky synthesizers and live instruments – a mix that fits Sweatshirt’s style perfectly. “Chum” features a repetitive piano instrumental produced by Christian Rich and Earl himself that perfectly accompanies Earl’s introspective lyrics. Another production highlight comes with the track “Burgundy.” Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes construct a beat full of live drums, melodic strings and pulsating horns that help convey the emotion in Earl’s verses.
Overall, Doris is an extremely solid debut album. It’s clear to tell that Earl Sweatshirt had a definite vision for this project and followed through with it. While this isn’t a release for the average radio-rap listener, Earl’s lyrical approach paired with darker production can easily turn Doris into a favorite for a fan of straight-forward hip-hop. Be sure to check out “Hive,” “Burgundy” and “Chum” to hear the mix of wordplay and personal reflection that makes Doris one of the best hip-hop releases this year.
Follow John Connor Coulston on Twitter at @JCCoulston.