Earl Sweatshirt Doris Review: Hip-Hop's Hangover, Its Moral Bankruptcy, Its Virus


Earl Sweatshirt returns with his sophomore album Doris after three years of silence, rumors, and prophecies following his remarkable debut. The 19-year-old prodigy's new album isn’t the hard-hitting, brash, highly quotable, rhythmically infectious album that characterizes most stand-out hip-hop offerings. However, Doris makes a formidable statement about what hip-hop can be. It's more of a psychological thriller than a typical hip-hop album: dense, dark, and as amusical as music can get. It's also extremely intriguing.

When Earl began recording Doris, he tweeted that fans of his past themes — including rape — might be disappointed.That rape stuff was half the reason Odd Future blew up in the first place. The absurd, shocking video "Earl" (off his debut album of the same name), complete with rancorous bass blare and the raunchy first first few lines, set the tone for the whole Odd Future movement.

Earl has since taken his music in a deeply personal direction. Doris is confessional and disturbing, filled with references to addiction and mental illness. The beats are dissonant, skeletal, and challenging.

The track "Hive" is a great place to start. The beat is made up of three loops: a super fuzzed-out bass line, a sketchy-ride cymbal pattern, and a recording of a Gregorian monk chant. The chant is a very appropriate choice, as Earl drones in a similar fashion. He has the most monotone flow of anyone in the game, like that of a man about to nod off into a stupor. Plus, there are ascetic messages to some of his lyrics. 

For what he lacks in energy, Earl makes up for in complex rhyming patterns. He weaves through endless strings of difficult vowel sounds and links it all up in unexpected ways. The hook of "Chum" is a stand-out:

Something sinister to it

pendulum swinging slow, a degenerate moving

through the city with criminals, stealth, welcome to enemy turf

harder than immigrants work, "golf" is stitched into my shirt

get up off the pavement brush the dirt up off my psyche

psyche, psyche

It's hard to tell where the lines break but the lyrics are vivid and thought-provoking. I can imagine Earl pulling himself up off the grimy LA pavement like a zombie trying to shake a hallucinatory daze. The symmetry between the grimy beats, the dangerous monotone of his voice, and the hollows under his eyes (you seen a picture of that dude? He could use some shut-eye) is what is masterful about the album. The result is disturbingly natural; while it doesn’t make for the most attractive music, the honesty is admirable.

Earl’s work is an odd fit in a genre that mostly discusses molly in club, anonymous hoes, and irresponsible purchases. It's refreshing to see a voice emerge to take on the fallout this lifestyle creates. Doris is hip-hop’s hangover; its moral bankruptcy; its virus. As hard as Kanye tried on Yeezus, his efforts will be eclipsed by Earl's Doris as critics seek to name the most dysfunctional and divisive hip-hop album of 2013. His music is organically disturbed, while Kanye’s all artificial.

Bottom line: 8 empty prescription pill bottles, rusty razors, and jay roaches out of 10.