Could Earl Sweatshirt make it any clearer that he has no interest in being a chart-topping rap-star?
With the release of his sophomore album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, it’s pretty obvious the only right answer is no.
An entirely self-produced effort – under the alias randomblackdude – the barely 21-year-old SoCal rapper pushes the restrained minimalism of his debut, Doris, to even further extremes. The beats are weirder and more abrasive; his flow is even more down-tempo and heavy-handed; his lyrics are intensely personal and dark, at times suffocatingly gloomy.
Rap braggadocio this is certainly not, though he and his stolid-voiced guests do manage to cram a few disses and kiss-offs in with all this introspective ruminating. “Fingertips to tapers, now, salute us when you face us / give a fuck about the moves all these loser niggas making now,” he raps over eerie keys on “Wool” – the lone track with frequent Doris collaborator Vince Staples.
But mostly it’s dark, depressing, and deeply personal. He reminisces of the dying days of a relationship in “Mantra,” grimly telling himself that she wasn’t worth it, ending off on the question “What the fuck you offering here?” Of course, like on Doris, he goes much deeper than that. He talks parental disappointment on “Faucet,” noting his years spent at a school for at-risk boys in Samoa, and vents the pain caused by his grandmother’s death in “Grief.”
His producing skills, meanwhile, are completely up to par, and the perfect match to his trademark sneering deadpan. Disjointed, trippy and breathtakingly stark, this is music that shares more in common with 90s trip-hop acts, like Portishead and Massive Attack, than anything in modern hip hop.
With just 10 bare-bones tracks, clocking in at just over 30 minutes, there’s hardly time or space for a dull moment. Earl comes close near the end of “Grief,” the beat fading to ambience and his voice reaching glacial pace, but then chopped horns enter and the end result is magic.
Just don’t tell that to Earl, who can come across as viciously self-critical. “Critics pretend to get it and bitches just don’t fuck with him / I spent the day drinking and missing my grandmother,” he drones on “Huey.”
It may be dark in Earl Sweatshirt’s world, but he’s sure found a good way to cope with it.