***1/2 (out of four)
Listening to Earl Sweatshirt rap sometimes makes it easy to remember all of the garbage that came along with being a teenager. Earl, the youngest member of Odd Future--the one who suddenly disappeared to a Somoan boarding school when he was 16--has always been able to talk [bleep] with the best of them, but since his return early last year his lyrics have often veered toward the personal.
Now 19, Earl has finally released his debut album "Doris," a melancholy collection of 15 songs with mood swings that fit the young emcee. One minute he launches into OF's punky sadism; the next he convinces his mom that he's doing OK and, yes, he's taking this seriously.
Sonically, it might not sound that way: Earl's delivery is slow and slouched, his rhymes somber and his production, mostly done on his own, sounds stilted, uneasy like that of DOOM or Madlib. In that sense, it almost sounds like a mixtape, especially with the way he avoids hooks. But Earl's lurchy boom-bap has never lent itself well to that approach. His growth stays obvious on tracks like "Burgundy," the gorgeous, Pharrell-produced cut that features what Earl has called his favorite verse ever: "Grandma's passing/ But I'm too busy tryna get this f*****' album cracking to see her/ So I apologize in advance if anything should happen/ And my priorities f***** up, I know it, I'm afraid I'm going to blow it."
Other times, when just shooting it with his buddies, like Tyler, the Creator on the screeching "Whoa," or pitched-down stoner raps like "Guild" with Mac Miller, Earl's prodigious rapping talent is flashiest. However, he's never shied away from vivid vignettes of nastiness and can get a little rap-rappity at times for those too twisted by a line like, "The description doesn't fit, if not a synonym of menace, then forget it/ In turn, these critics and interns admitting the [bleep] spit/ It just burn like six furnaces writ it."
"Sunday," a tremendous but lighter cut with Frank Ocean, focuses on the dark side of their L.A. home. Earl's struggling with his work (music), and Frank is slamming Chris Brown, but the song's outro captures "Doris"'s essential attitude--a special kind of youthful, defiance that beautifully struggles with the world around them as much as their place in it: "What good is West Coast weather/ if you're bipolar?/ if I'mma need this sweater, I'd rather be where it's cold."
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