Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside

On Earl Sweatshirt's otherwise flaring debut Doris in 2013 there was a little minute-and-a-half medley entitled '523.' It was entirely instrumental and came off like just another cog in the wheel of cutting room floor productions, crudely titled with a brazen number identifier. Little did anyone know that this sound, to heinous, to demeaning, to acidic for even Earl to rap over would become the foundation for his follow-up, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside. The album, announced a week before release, wasn't a surprise to those following along to his live performances. The music contained within however is. The cover itself even elicits the same faceless demeanor as '523's' title, with a direct and utter lack of impact or emotion to draw upon, except for the title itself which aggressively proclaims a isolated approach. The draw of his latest merely relies on one's enjoyment of a skeletal frame to music-making, nothing here is excess, fluff, or abundant. And for everything that Earl tried on his debut, still searching for a sound, the one he feared to tackle the most would be the one he'd slowly relish in, resorting to a reclusive state as the outside world crumbled around him.

For everything that Earl has to stay the clearest form of identification with his album's title is the production, and the fact that, apart from Left Brain on 'Off Top' and 'Grown Ups,' it was created entirely on his own. Compare this with Doris and the dissimilarities are obvious. Everyone, from The Neptunes to RZA to BadBadNotGood to Tyler, The Creator, helped form Doris' mass assemblage of styles. There remained but just two tracks Earl produced on his own, the aforementioned '523,' and 'Guild,' a ghastly track with pitch-shifted vocals and a explicitly drawling slog of a beat. On Doris they were erroneously placed, excluding the smoldering 'Hive', on I Don't Like Shit they'd be welcomed. Each track here muddles in a distorted sound, like a grimy swamp in a derelict park on a windy night. The clear example of this is 'Grief' where a poorly mastered track that arguably wouldn't exceed Youtube's 144p limit, strains itself over charcoal drums and ratting chains. It's a haunting beat that best exemplifies I Don't Like Shit's sound. But even then, in similar vein to Kanye West's 'New Slaves,' a juxtaposing beat echoes in towards the end symbolizing Earl's eery, but still alleviating taste in sound structures, where songs like 'Huey' and 'AM/Radio' can fit in this collage of desperation.

The content confined within I Don't Like Shit's walls go accordingly in line with Earl's past few years. The death of his grandma, his love/hate relationship with weed and alcohol, the ongoing struggles with his parents, his break-up with a prominent Ex, and the slow demise of Odd Future, namely him and Tyler, The Creator all play a prominent role in the album's aesthetic. 'Mantra' sees Earl parley with his Ex over providing and laying the groundwork for their troubled couplet, with sex and fighting taking stronghold of the relationship. 'Inside' looks at his distancing from Odd Future through their world tour, leaving him stranded indoors with his non-rapping friends. And 'DNA' struggles with death, accompanied by a startling verse from Na'Kel 15 minutes after discovering his friend had been shot to death, all whilst tripping on acid. These moments of content clarity are the unnatural 'highs' of the album, if you want to call it that, as Earl's sudden negative changes in life have caused intensely personal reflections one would experience whilst looking out the window on a rainy night with nothing but your thoughts to keep you company. The difference here being that the watching world is looking in. 

Unfortunately Earl's lingering depression and constant battles is a double-edged sword sonically. With perpetual sadness, along with a devotion to smoking, comes idleness, a factor that doesn't make music too intriguing. While there's no doubting this is Earl's sound, there seems to be no inspiration to accomplish more as everything seeks to reiterate the moment. There's nothing wrong with this per say, sonically speaking however, unless you're in a similar mood as Earl throughout, the enjoyment that comes from I Don't Like Shit will be minimal. His lines and bars, as always, are skilled and clever, but they lack a certain punch that would be heard on tracks like 'Whoa' or 'Centurion' to make them stand out from the monotony that encompasses some of the verses. Which is where he sometimes stumbles, when he has no clear direction. Tracks like 'Faucet' and 'Grown-Ups' are lost amongst the stronger ones due to this lack of clarity, as the lyrics get needlessly turned into boisterous claims over why Earl's the best and all other emcees aren't, otherwise known as nonsensical bars that every rapper in existence has thrown out. 'Off Top' would have fallen to this same blunder if it weren't saved by Left Brain's production, featuring a wacked-out montage of functioning drum loops and a stuttered vocal addition.

Earl's latest may be a honest reincarnation of a time laced with struggles, but those facts don't alleviate concerns over its simple enjoyment, despite finding success in how to articulate it. Too many tracks here find themselves sluggishly walking along, the spark of Doris a distant memory, even if only for a track or two the energy is all but lost. Earl's talents are still ever-present, where tracks like 'Grief' and 'DNA' shine in their stark realism, but an entire collection of one's that attempt that same feeling remain stagnant in their impact. Often times I found myself losing focus as nothing exciting was happening, thus further more proving that I Don't Like Shit is strictly made to convey an expressed emotion to an audience feeling the same. Overall though, it's a welcomed addition to his catalogue that now seems like it may be cemented in dark, minimalist overtones with startling, vivid undertones. As his career progresses however it'll be interesting to see where he goes, as I Don't Like Shit seems like a debut or a finale, not a defeatist album centered in his jumpstarted career. Doris had a litany of directions it allowed Earl to take, with his decision seemingly cemented the Odd Future emcee seems to have found a path worth embarking on, despite the problematic potholes.

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