Review: Earl Sweatshirt debuts new album ‘Doris’

Alexander McCall

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Mythic rap prodigy Earl Sweatshirt might be the most impressive and interesting rapper of the controversial hip-hop collective Odd Future.

Odd Future – Earl included – is known for its cartoonish depictions of violence, which were made palatable by idiosyncratic production and no-holds-barred rapping.

Earl’s uncanny command over his rhymes proved that there was more to the group than ultraviolence, but personal problems kept him from recording during the group’s rise to popularity.

Earl returns to the scene from this hiatus weathered by his stint in a Samoan school for troubled kids and with the weight of his own promise on his shoulders.

His major-label debut “Doris” is an appropriately complex listen. Earl spends less time painting dizzying, violent images and more time packing dense verses with serious questions about art, family and time.

He’s helped by the album’s colorful, eclectic production. “Doris” is impressively textured and varied with contributions from The Neptunes, RZA and Tyler, the Creator.

Leaning on moody and stuttering mid-tempo percussion, tracks such as “Burgundy,” “Sunday,” “Hive” and “Knight” serve as excellent backdrops for Earl’s wordplay and as creative departures from Odd Future’s former modus operandi.

The guests are also exceptional. Odd Future affiliates Domo Genesis and Vince Staples have come a long way since their early material and shine here.

Tyler, the Creator takes a backseat role with two productions on which he also raps. “Whoa” is the better offering and a nice foil to “Doris”’ introspective stretches.

Frank Ocean steals the show and shows off his oft-hidden rap chops on album standout “Sunday.”

Still, the album is resolutely Earl’s. Throughout, he displays a remarkable maturity and eloquence in handling more complex, thematic material.

More so than many of his peers, Earl sounds like a true poet, forsaking hooks and clichéd sloganeering for powerful verse after verse. 

It’s as much fun to parse through his lyrics on paper as it is to hear his stunning internal rhymes pour out of the speakers.

Notably, Earl has room to improve when it comes to delivery. His flow is relatively monochromatic and downcast with more focus on diction than charisma.

That said, Earl’s persona isn’t really suited for rap-star posturing, and “Doris” has a vibrant personality regardless.

Overall, it’s a muted but triumphant return for the young rapper. It hopefully serves as a warning shot for a round of multifaceted, mature releases from hip-hop’s former troublemakers.

Rating: Three out of Four stars