Saturday, November 18, 2017

Album review: Earl Sweatshirt's return is sweet storytelling

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Rappers have moms, too. Apparently Earl Sweatshirt is just now breaking free of his.

In 2010, when Tyler the Creator's crew — Odd Future — came into the spotlight, it was 15-year-old Earl Sweatshirt who triggered a large chunk of the buzz. Yet right when the group started gaining momentum, Sweatshirt was absent from the stage. Odd Future was extremely vague about his absence. Then, Complex magazine tracked the underage rapper down. His mom Cheryl (not Doris), a UCLA law professor and civil rights activist, had sent him to a boarding school for at-risk teen boys in Samoa. Not where one would think an up and coming musician affiliated with one of the most promising and notorious rap groups in the industry would belong. But he's back in America now and has just released his new album, Doris, a truly defining moment for him.

His music is centered on his writing. The meticulously delivered lyrics are thought provoking, arresting stories of family relationships, growing up and simply figuring it all out. Chum, his first single since his return, is a story mesmerizingly wrapped around a basic piano riff. The instrumentals are memorable but only to heighten our focus on the lyrics. He raps of his absent father: "And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest/ When honestly I miss this n****, like when I was six." Though being fatherless isn't necessarily rare subject matter, the humble, genuine delivery by his youthful voice results in a uniquely pensive melancholy. The careful consciousness of his lyrics is explained in Burgundy when he again mentions his estranged father: "And all them expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right?" His way with words wastes no time, each line immediately meaningful.

Doris oozes with wisdom and sophistication many rappers fail to come close to, ever. Sweatshirt's perspective, combined with clean production, creates an album that establishes his identity in a clearer light, as a man who tells stories not for profit, but for the sake of telling.

HANNAH ELLIOTT Robinson High

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