Earl Sweatshirt, 'Doris': Track-By-Track Review

79 Billboard Rating

Odd Future's empire thrives off lifestyle. (The crew carries their apparel  while on tour while hard copies of their music stand as a checkout line item in their stores.) Not beholden to radio (with notable yet light chart success), Odd Future has creative freedom when curating. What follows is "Doris," a slow (rarely rising above 70 bpm), introspective album where Earl Sweatshirt combats pressures when returning to a life of stardom after time spent at a Samoa-based boarding school for troubled youths. 


As with all of Odd Future projects, there's a cast of characters to familiarize yourself with to fully indulge in the music. Vince Staples, a lesser-known name that appears three times on this record, is a Long-Beach California rapper who goes as far back with Earl as 2010. Vince Staples' work was influential on early 2013 mixtape, "Stolen Youth," with Larry Fisherman (a.k.a. Mac Miller, who also appears on "Doris").

Frank Ocean's cousin, Sk La' Flair, and the rest of OF crew is in tow: Frank Ocean hints at his pre-Grammy fight with Chris Brown ("Sunday"), Domo Genesis and Tyler make strong vocal appearances and Syd is recruited as engineer ("Hive").

Check out our track-by-track review of Earl Sweatshirt's sophomore album, "Doris."

1. "Pre" feat. Sk La' Flar
Sk La' Flar's real name is Shakeir Duarte. Google and you'll find that he's currently suing Chris Brown over injuries sustained during a fight, also involving Frank Ocean, that erupted outside of a recording studio in L.A. Knowledge of the altercation, which lpresents itself later on in "Doris," gives context to tough lines like "He said that he wanted beef / so we fed him hollows and got it poppin."
 
At the 1:47 mark, Earl enters in strong form stating that he's a problem to others in the rap game. The intro's slow druggy beat -- first molly reference comes just 29 seconds in -- hints at the darkness  throughout of the album.

2. "Burgundy" feat. Vince Staples
Burgundy's interludes, spoken by Staples, mockingly illustrates the dismissive OF critic who doesn't care for Earl's emotions. Through these interludes, spoken over The Neptunes trumpet fanfare-punctuated beat, Earl struggles with his changing priorities ("Grandma's passing / But I'm too busy tryna get this fuckin' album crackin' to see her").

He also keenly acknowledges his lineage ("expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right"), in one of the only lines on the album that addresses Keorapetse Kgositsile, his South African political figure and poet father who left him when he was six years old.

It's impossible to think about this song without thinking of Mocha Desire, the character that Earl portrays whose life was changed by "Doris."

3. "20 Wave Caps" feat. Domo Genesis
Domo Genesis delivers an even-tempered flow strikingly similar to what listeners heard on Tyler, the Creator's "Rusty." "20 Wave Caps" again visits Earl's insecurities about those around him, while simultaneously revealing that he feels alienated by those he used to be comfortable hanging out with but now treat him like a celebrity ("I'm shaded with the few whom I usually blow cabbage with… they all jaw slacking, all of them star struck").

4. "Sunday" feat. Frank Ocean
Similar to Jay Z and Kanye West apologizing to their future children on "Watch the Throne's" "New Day," on "Sunday" Frank and Earl write an ode to their personal relationships. While on "Burgundy" Earl shyly admits to only being "relatively famous," on "Sunday" Earl strongly claims that he's "fuckin famous" when confronted about being faithful.


Frank Ocean oddly doesn't sing, but instead raps openly about his altercation with Chris Brown, noting the infamous Grammy incident "And why's his mug all bloody, that was a three-on-one? / Standing ovation at Staples I got my Grammy's and gold."

5. "Hive" feat. Vince Staples and Casey Veggies
Intense and slow-tempo, "Hive" is the first track where Earl's rapping style (of trying to cram as many words into a short phrase as possible) starts to feel slightly repetitive. Here he harkens back his emphasis on syllables ("crack ceramic and slap a hand out of cash account") similar to what listeners first heard on "Earl."

"Hive" director, Hiro Murai, also worked on Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino's short film "Clapping for the Wrong Reasons."


6. "Chum"
If you've followed Sweatshirt's narrative from when he first released "Earl" up until now, this was the first track of his that actually addressed his time spent in Samoa and how he felt upon returning. In "Chum," he acknowledges several audience speculations, mainly that he considers Tyler a big brother and speaks (again) of personal boundaries. He's quick to bash Complex magazine, whose 2011 article "We Found Earl Sweatshirt" broke the news that Earl was away at boarding school. An incident, which he says, "made [his] life harder, and the ties between my mom and I strained."

7. "Sasquatch" feat. Tyler, The Creator
Long, drawn-out bass lines over a simple guitar line akin to OF's early work, "Sasquatch" is laden with references that should be all too familiar to those who follow Odd Future across social media. Tyler references One Direction (who they frequently joke about), makes a clever reference to his manager Christian Clancy ("Ku Klux Klan see") and shouts out to Taco, L-Boy, and more. Earl's characterization of OF fans as a "squadron full of some lost souls," speaks to their crew's brand and how they're able to unite such a passionate, young fan base. 


8. "Centurion" feat. Vince Staples
Heavy menacing horns carry Vince Staples' narrative of him and Earl performing a fictional robbery, with obvious analogies to their careers as L.A. rappers. Earl's verse comes with frantic strings that sample American composer David Axelrod's piece "A Divine Image."

9. "523"
"Doris'" only instrumental track contains heavily filtered drums courtesy of randomblackdude, which is yet another one of Earl's many monikers.

10. "Uncle Al"
The up-tempo, "Uncle Al," is "Doris'" hidden moshpit sleeper that has the potential to be looped in a live setting. These types of short and sweet bangers are common within the OF camp: "Domo 23," "Rella." 


11. "Guild" feat. Mac Miller
The dark and druggy cut, similar to the overall feel of Mac Miller's "Watching Movies with the Sound Off" album, features Miller's obsession with Lil B. It comes to no surprise as he's known take time out of his live shows to play "Wonton Soup" in its entirety.

Earl also calls out "Trashwang," a phrase popularized as the title of a track on Tyler's "Wolf" but first used on a Mellowhype (Hodgy Beats and Left Brain) track "Grill."

12. "Molasses" feat. RZA
With RZA on the hook, "Molasses" showcases Earl's wordplay skills, which are interesting yet meaningless in this case. It is worth noting, however, that this song contains a very timely mention of the social network, Snapchat, which might be one of the first in a rap song.

13. "Whoa" feat. Tyler, the Creator
While Earl shows vulnerability in "Chum," "Whoa" works to counter and remind audiences (via Tyler's opening verse of Wolf Gang's finances) that he's still the crazy kid who made the infamous "Earl" video. The song's rumbling bass is a throwback to early Odd Future work.


14. "Hoarse"
"Hoarse," the most menacing song on "Doris," can be used in a soundtrack to a Tarantino film. The opening sounds like a cowboy walking into the sunset. 


15. Knight feat. Domo Genesis
Domo Genesis closes "Doris" with his even flow. "Knight's" distinct J. Dilla vibe slows down the tempo and the pitch of each rapper's verse, giving Earl's final line ("Young, black and jaded, vision hazy strolling through the night") a sense of finality.