No Future: Earl Sweatshirt is On His Own

The world’s introduction to Earl Sweatshirt came in a music video.

“Earl,” released in 2010, presaged teenage rap collective Odd Future’s rapid, Internet-based rise in 2011, and helped to establish the group’s penchant for attention-grabbing antics. It features a 16-year-old Sweatshirt enacting a bizarre drug-overdose fever dream with the rest of the Odd Future crew. They blend a plethora of toxic and illicit substances, drink their concoction, then hit the skate park. The whole thing has a snuff-film quality to it, and Sweatshirt’s sadistic lyrics—touching on rape, murder, and cannibalism—stand out more than his rapping.

Fast-forward three years, and the opposite is true: Earl Sweatshirt is known as one of hip-hop’s most promising young artists, largely because he’s a very, very good rapper. But now there’s some distance between him and Odd Future—at the insistence of his mother, a university professor—and by the time the group reached the apex of its popularity, he was attending a boarding school in American Samoa.

The rapper’s newfound stature as a solo artist holds true on Doris. (It was in fact released on Columbia rather than on Odd Future’s own record label.) And though it features constant guest spots from Odd Future members, it speaks to his talent and artistic maturity. His rhymes are deliberate and labyrinthine, delivered in a lackadaisical drawl that belies their density. The beats are stark and raw-sounding, typically little more than a bass line and a drum machine. Most impressive, however, is Sweatshirt’s growth as a lyricist. He’s moved on from juvenile shock-value fantasies to more autobiographical material, his honesty more hard-earned than trite.

Doris amounts to one of 2013’s best rap albums, and maybe one of its best albums period. (If anything, it will make whatever you were doing at age 19 feel seriously inadequate.) Tonight marks the MC’s second visit to Washington this year, and, based on the largely positive reviews of his Sasquatch! set in May, his album’s excellence extends to the stage.

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