Earl Sweatshirt ‘Doris’ – Album Review
The trite opening bars of Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album, ‘Doris,’ serve as a warning for what’s to come.
“Pop that mollie / we hard body / glocks hot as kemo sabe / he said that he wanted beef / so we fed em hollows and got it poppin'.”
In fairness, these are not Earl Sweatshirt’s lyrics. West Coast rookie (and cousin to fellow Odd Future crew member Frank Ocean) Sk La’Flare raps the above in his Weezy-esque drawl. Is it permissible to have a record littered with features by lesser-known rappers of inferior talent? Sure, rappers do this all the time to help their friends and make themselves look better. Nonetheless, those opening bars of bland and de rigueur hip-hop fare represent the problem with ‘Doris’: It’s full of missteps.
The most obvious: Earl doesn't open his own album! ‘Doris’ is an admirable first effort by the young MC, but one can’t help but wonder why it’s not of the same caliber as Ocean's ‘Channel Orange.' While it'll likely be bumped in vehicles and played on laptops across the country well into next summer, ‘Doris’ probably won't transcend time, and such missteps are the reasons why.
Finally, at 1:46 into the album’s first track, ‘Pre,’ there’s a bass knock, a pause, then the much-welcomed sound of Earl’s voice. The 19-years-old has mastered the art of flowing over a beat. He’s able to switch his cadence every two bars -- a feat only rap veterans tend to pull off, and even then only late in their careers. If there was any question about whether Earl is a prodigy, he puts it to rest by the end of the first verse on this record. But just because a young man is a capable, even brilliant rapper, it doesn’t mean he can make the kind of production and business decisions that make or break an album.
‘Burgundy’ has a triumphant and sweeping beat and features the kind of self-reflection that's new to this effort. He discuses the pressure behind this debut, his father’s legacy as a poet and the reform-school saga remarked on by countless journalists during Odd Future's rise to fame. Earl promised on ‘Doris’ to stray from the negativity that pervaded his first mixtape ‘Earl,' and yet these songs are riddled with the violent imagery, slurs and drug references of yesteryear. Fortunately the more mature, self-reflective lyrics on this track hold equal, if not greater, weight.
‘Sunday’ features Frank Ocean, who raps alongside Earl and offers the kind of rock-influenced, beach-y feel that made ‘Channel Orange’ a hit. Ocean raps with his signature rasp about his scuffle with Chris Brown, asking the controversial R&B star whether he likes it rough. Unfortunately, Frank’s presence makes for one of the few exciting features on the record.
Others include ‘Guild,’ featuring Mac Miller, and ‘Molasses,’ with RZA. The former makes use of a droning Company Flow-style beat, with Miller’s labyrinthian flow standing nicely beside Earl’s. However, the song gets dragged down by an experimental vocal effect where both rappers' voices are constantly slowed down throughout the song. If this is an effort to transcend hip-hop, perhaps by adding a Mike Patton-ish element to the record, it fails. It feels like another sophomoric art school moment that should have been shot down by a producer that knew better.
‘Molasses,’ meanwhile, boasts the best production on the record. It sounds like RZA channeling DJ Premier, but it falters due to a lack of structure and a hook repeated ad-nauseum. The final time you hear “I’ll f--- the freckles off your face, bitch,” it’s hard not to wince.
There are great songs on this record, namely 'Whoa,' 'Sunday' and 'Sasquatch,' but what is going to keep this ‘Doris’ from reaching the kind of popularity or importance of ‘Channel Orange’ seems to be a lack of supervision. It's a very good hip-hop record, but it falls short of transcending the genre or the moment. And in this digital age, among the morass of musical gigabytes, this is the only criteria that matters.