If Hank Hill were a rap fan, he would be upset that Earl Sweatshirt isn’t rapping first on his own album. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it’s just one of those things that isn’t done, dang it. Not rapping first signals a confidence vacuum, an unbecoming lack of drive. If it’s your own album, you damn well should want to be the star of it, and that involves rapping first. Anything else is just, well, BWAAA!
Before settling on his current moniker, Earl Sweatshirt—a name equal parts ridiculous and regal, basically the lord of a fucking piece of clothing—was known as Sly Tendencies. And that’s just what Doris is, really. Sly. It’s not going to do backflips to prove its brilliance, it’s not stuffed with hooks and drunken sing-alongs, it’s not going to make its case for inclusion in any narrative or canon, and it’s not interested in those who merely deign it with a cursory listen or two. Doris casts no eye towards anyone’s year-end list, and it’s a record that damn sure wasn't recorded with you or me in mind. Instead, Doris just is. You can take it or leave it, but if do you choose to take the ride, its subtle, shimmering brilliance invariably reveals itself.
There are songs that are brutally honest; elsewhere, Earl gets slick, lacing words together with Inspectah Deck levels of internal rhyme profligacy. For the first seven songs of the record, Earl alternates between hollow tough-talk and a direct, open approach that should be applauded coming from someone so young. The thoughtful songs are more direct, all raw insecurities and open wounds, while the shit-talk seems thoughtful in its own way—though he may not be saying anything particularly new, Earl manages to show you he cares about something, even if that something is simply his craft.
Though coming up (albeit mostly in exile) as the most mysterious member of the cottage industry of rap-n-mayhem that is Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All plays a huge part in Sweatshirt’s story, Doris lacks the kinetic energy and demented-drama-kid theatrics of the group’s best work. Instead, the record sounds like a fever dream, a tight-knit group of friends freestyling to each other in a basement somewhere, removed from time, space, or whim of the market. It’s insular, in its own way bearing the stamp of Los Angeles’ new weird underground, which, as it’s led by guys like Mac Miller, Ab-Soul, and Earl himself, is becoming so ubiquitous that it’s threatening to become neither weird nor underground, instead subsuming a corner of the popular rap landscape and reshaping it in its own image. But just because a record bucks your expectations doesn’t mean that it is without worth. It is, simply, of different value. Doris is a tangled document; it takes time and effort on the listener’s part to unfurl. By the time you’re done, it’s nearly a part of you.
The trajectory of Doris becomes clear with its last line. “Young, black, and jaded / Vision hazy, strolling through the night.” Doris is, more than anything else, a record about trying to make sense of things: of one’s talents, of one’s goals, of one’s voice, of one’s place in the world, of one’s relationships—professional, romantic, platonic, and familial—and of one’s very self. Right now, Earl—an astonishing, prodigal talent on both a technical and lyrical level—is still a work in progress. And that, ultimately, is why Doris sounds the way it does. It’s a reflection of him in the truest sense, a measured and impactful snapshot of him as a work in progress, beholden to no rules other than the parameters that Earl has set for himself.
Everything is deliberate with Earl, even letting someone else rap first on the record. So, yeah. Earl Sweatshirt doesn't rap first on his own debut album. But, if you recall, neither did Ghostface Killah on Iron Man. And things worked out fine for him.
I have Doris on repeat rn, Earl is lyrically 10 times more mature and interesting then Tyler