Mar 27, 2015, 07:19AM

Earl Sweatshirt Couldn't Care Less About How You Feel

A review of I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (Columbia/Tan Cressida).

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Maybe you found Earl Sweatshirt’s 2013 major-label debut, Doris, a touch too abrupt, disconsolate, and insular. Perhaps you laughed it off, like “next time out, there’ll be hooks and party songs”; surely, pop Earl was imminent. Well, wrong. Pop Earl is nowhere in evidence on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Inside. There are fewer hooks here, fewer guest stars, fewer outside producers. Overall, in easily quantifiable terms, there’s just less: the 10 songs clock in at almost 30 minutes, which makes Doris’ 15-track, 45-minute span seem extravagant in comparison. All that, and I Don’t Like Shit… is notably less carefree. For all the pathos on offer, the digital-thriller movie poster cover art may as well feature the rapper born Thebe Kgositsile donning a miner’s helmet, peering warily from a cavern.

Though Kgositsile turned 21 this past February, he’s experienced an especially tumultuous adolescence: coming up as part of upstart rap collective Odd Future as a teen, being packed off to Samoa with his at-her-wits-end mother, returning to the States, and trying to navigate a Second Act in American Life that he isn’t sure he even really wants. If Doris was Earl considering these issues alone before a mirror, I Don’t Like Shit… is serious therapist’s couch spelunking. Turns out that hip-hop semi-stardom isn’t necessarily as advertised: it’s groupies taking advantage as you take advantage of them, everyone you meet ask favors (“you can talk to Clancy/you need a feature or quote from me”), you toast your friends but your friends are bullshit, there’s a constantly buzzing smartphone but no time to overcome the kind of hang-ups we all struggle with.

Lead single “Grief,” a warped emotional amalgamation of Prodigy’s “Mac 10 Handle” and Drake’s myriad raps about holing up inside to cut records, best encapsulates the tense mood of this album. Earl’s self-production is gothic and chilly, a clanky industrial drone as knotted as his brambling rhyme schemes: “Lately I’ve been panicking a lot/Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob/Scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop/Never getting out of hand.” This fear of losing control pervades every moment, even on a song packed with veiled barbs at Odd Future homies and joyless, carnal asides. “Off Top” ejaculates minor-key piano, sampled voice snippets, and batteries of close-knit percussion, then leads off curt: “How you doin’, but what’s your motive, ho?” “Inside” gleams and glows like proto-R&B, surprisingly vulnerable—but it’s sneaky, insinuating; before your ears, Earl’s looser, conversational cadence—like he’s trying to chat us up, let us in, and switches in mid-stride, coarsening.

There are other voices on I Don’t Like Shit… (all of whom blend in nicely) but this is very clearly Earl’s show. On first listen, there doesn’t seem to be there there; only with time and patience is it possible to unpack and digest the all the internal rhymes, self-contradictions, and landmines embedded. There’s an artistry to this ugliness; depression, blunts, and white wine have hardly dulled his ability to turn a vivid phrase without quite reverting to the full gross-out misogyny he cut his teeth on. A funny thing happened to me. I spent the first handful of listens supremely worried about Earl, the way I would worry about an at-risk son or nephew—will his demons ultimately consume him before he has a chance to figure out who he is?—until I recognized that the exquisite care poured into these songs into these songs demonstrates that, sooner or later, he’ll emerge from the darkness he’s lost in now, stronger.

  • There's an interesting (and wholly welcome) trend in hip-hop right now, and it can be boiled down to Drake's famous (and frequent) declaration, "No new friends, no no no." We're seeing these huge rap stars, who previously made feature heavy albums, release work that's far more insular. If You're Reading This It's Too Late has two guest features, one of whom is a Drake signee. Additionally, Drake is in charge of essentially every hook. I wasn't wowed with If You're Reading This on first listen, but that was most likely because I assumed it was a tossed off project full of unused material from Views From The 6. I thought it was just a way to get out of his Cash Money deal. Really, though, it's his second best release, slotting in right after Take Care. Kendrick Lamar did essentially the same thing, except on a larger scale. The guest features were very, very deliberate. And now Earl releases this album. I also suspect A$AP Rocky's new album will follow this trend, as the only announced guest features are FKA Twigs, Lykke Li, and Clams Casino. Another appropriate Drake quote: "What am I doing/Oh yeah, that's right, I'm doing me." These rappers aren't pandering to the radio or their labels; they're doing what they want. The result? Three of the best albums of 2015.

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  • With Drake I think there's a leftovers/get me outta Cash Money thing going on, BUT: as meticulously crafted as If You're Reading is, it was always meant to be a mixtape. Drake's just one of those artists who overthinks each release, in a good way. I feel like it's half amazing and half just okay, but it's cohesive and strong nonetheless. I hope you're right about this being an anti-radio, inward looking era of rap where every artist is chasing a distinct personal vision; that can only be a good thing for the genre right now.

  • Even if If You're Reading This is a bunch of B-sides, which it probably is, it just shows how much Drake has improved over the last five years. I really do think it's his second-best release. I wasn't sold on the second half of the tape right away, but "6 Man," "You & the 6," "Used To," and "6PM in New York" have grown on me. The only tracks that are throw-aways are the interlude, "Jungle," and "Now and Forever," in my opinion. But we'll see how Views from the 6 is. I bet it'll be great.

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