Doris isn’t Bastard, BlackenedWhite, Under The Influence, Ali, Goblin or even Earl. It’s a merger of the 19-year-old who finds solace in his starter apartment and the everyday kid who found himself tracing the thought of calling it quits. If you wanted, you could call Earl Sweatshirt’s label debut his Vaudeville Villain or The Marshall Mathers LP, because while there are impulsive summaries of OF’s 2010 run (“20 Wave Caps”, “Whoa”), the record’s an 8-bit grayscale piece. Frank Ocean’s tender rap admission (“Sunday”) and a full Neptunes opus (“Burgundy”) dissolve into gloom as “Hive” extorts internal rhyming before cueing up “Chum” and its piano chords and reflective skip shots.
Even with a target on his chest, Earl’s water-boarding emotions to find some sort of tranquillity. “From honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks/ I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened, it’s evident,” he raps. On “Sasquatch”, big brother Tyler can’t even derail his train of thought that focuses on his friends, his Mom, and the booth, and it’s why “Centurion” ping-pongs around his dimly-lit past. The album stand-out scrapes the ear with a Christian Rich beat that channels Can and turns David Axelrod’s “Divine Image” into white noise that flickers, shrieks, and taps the spine. The production on Doris rotates and much like the guests (Vince Staples, Domo, Mac Miller), it fits like a snapback, altering itself to make each song feel like a composition and not a concept. “Molasses” dubs out Lennie Hibbert, “Whoa” Golf Wangs Bob Azzam, and even “Knight” jazzes up with The Magictones’ “I’ve Changed”.
To state the obvious, Earl Sweatshirt has changed. The Supreme gear, Starbucks habits and dislocating rhyme schemes will never fade, but his psyche’s hungry. When you hear his self-produced beats, they snap and rumble, and rather than take a commercial route, he adopts BadBadNotGood to spit over a melted skitter of post-modern jazz because he’s aiming to create casualties. His NBA references, modest voice and reminders of his Loiter Squad run cite “Free Earl” but in a motivating Em/Jay/Yeezus sort of way, he’ll always engineer ways to break down the cubicles around him and establish a definitive identity. Lucky for all of us listening, Doris is just the beginning.
Listen: “Sunday”, “Centurion”, “20 Wave Caps”, “Hoarse” || Watch: “Hive” (ft. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies)