January 14, 2013

My Gut Reaction: Earl Sweatshirt - Earl (March 31, 2010)

So because I'm blessed with psychic abilities, I know exactly what you two are thinking.  First, you're wondering just what the hell is going on with these sporadic updates; although I have no plans on addressing that particular topic just yet, I'm sure many of you can come up with valid reasons if you try hard enough.  Secondly, you're thinking, "Wait, did he just post a write-up for an Odd Future album?  But he hated Goblin! He swore he would ignore that group until the end of time!  Are we sure this is really Max?  And where the hell is that sandwich I ordered?"

Well, the blame-slash-praise can be laid at the feet of Ivan over at Hip Hop Is Read.  A few weeks ago, he unleashed his collection of the best hip hop songs released in 2012 (and it's a pretty good list, I must say, even though I was unfamiliar with a lot of it, given my tendency to live in the past like the old man that I am), and there were a few Odd Future choices thrown into the mix, which I looked up and listened to for the hell of it.  Two of them specifically caught my attention: the posse cut "Oldie", which actually has a dope-as-fuck beat, reminded me that Tyler, The Creator's lyrics, delivery, and general sense of existing may turn me away, but his work behind the boards can be interesting; and Earl Sweatshirt's "Chum", which I found to be really fucking good.  Perhaps I was just in a different state of mind when I heard those two tracks (I was on my way to get shitfaced at a New Year's Eve party, so maybe I was just in a good mood or something), but those two songs grabbed me and refused to let go, so I did some digging on my hard drive and found Earl's debut solo album, the conveniently-titled Earl, which I had downloaded from the Odd Future website back when they first broke through and I thought I was going to write more about the California-based collective, before Tyler's sophomore effort Goblin pretty much changed my mind for me.

Now, mind you, I've never written that I was going to ignore Odd Future.  There are just far too many artists out there in our chosen genre for me to pay an equal amount of attention to every single one of them, and I'm resigned to the fact that not everyone will receive the same amount of shine.  I appreciate that the group has brought a new perspective to hip hop, and I salute and appreciate everything that their resident singer-slash-occasional-rapper Frank Ocean has done (even though I'll readily admit that I have yet to listen to his major label debut, Channel Orange, in full as of this writing).  I just didn't like Goblin.  Tyler's writing was off-putting to me in the worst of ways: while I can easily tolerate a rapper talking about horrible, sadistic shit in his rhymes, I just can't bear to listen to it if it doesn't engage me, and that was Goblin's fatal flaw, being boring.  Regardless of whatever critical praise Tyler's project received, I just didn't give much of a shit, and that essentially ended my interest in the Odd Future camp.  

Until now, apparently.

Earl Sweatshirt has been elevated to the status of a mythical unicorn who underwent cross-breeding with a leprechaun-chugging three-headed Cerberus within hip hop circles.  One of the youngest members of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective, the man (kid?) born Thebe Kgositsile has the distinction of being the guy who has contributed the least to the overall movement, but who is held in the highest regard lyrically.  Being as unfamiliar with the group's work as I am, I never really knew exactly why everyone was demanding Earl's return to the United States after his mother mysteriously whisked him away to an undisclosed location overseas (originally rumored to be Africa), allegedly in response to his selection of lyrical content (which Earl later denied upon his return to both the States and to the hip hop game).  Prior to being sent away, he had recorded several cameos (one intended for Tyler's Goblin, which ended up locked in a vault because his mother refused to sign a release for her not-yet-of-legal-age son to appear on the album, which was the first one released for actual purchase by the camp) and a full (if you consider eight songs and two skits to be "full") album, Earl, which is supposed to prove that Earl Sweatshirt is the best lyricist in the Odd Future camp, which hopefully means that he elevates all of their material, versus having everyone else in the crew (mainly, um, Tyler, who I apparently harbor a grudge against, based on my writings thus far) dragging him down to their level.

So, thanks to his work on "Oldie" and "Chum", I decided to give this a shot.  Also, it's really fucking short, which helps me a lot.  Like you don't even know.

An uncredited Tyler and his crew attempt to introduce Earl, then “the newest Wolf Gang member”, to the masses, but he refuses to participate. Kind of funny, if only on the first listen.

Our host makes his first appearance on this title track, which features some obtuse and unstable production from Tyler that doesn't exactly work (it's a bit too awkward and inaccessible for the average hip hop head to get into properly), and a really long verse (and some throwaway bars toward the end) from Earl Sweatshirt that does. Newbies (such as myself) will quickly understand why many consider Earl to be the best actual rapper in the Odd Future camp: he flows with the swagger and confidence of a grizzled veteran at least twice his age, and at this point, the motherfucker was barely old enough to legally drive. This actually wasn't a bad introduction, even with the off-kilter instrumental threatening to turn this car around if you kids don't shut up.

Earl and Tyler (credited as 'Ace Creator') each take a verse-and-a-half over an oddly relaxing instrumental that, nevertheless, features Tyler unceremoniously pretending to actually murder his host on his own goddamn song. The guest star seems to rhyme for much longer, but Earl walks away having given the better performance, playing around with his bars as if it were as involuntary as breathing. The end spirals into the type of horseshit that made me not give a fuck about Goblin (unsurprisingly, Tyler is, again, responsible for this), but our host escapes unscathed. Except for all of the stab wounds and burned flesh, obviously.

Earl comes back to life over a dope-as-fuck Tyler-crafted instrumental, over which he delivers three solid verses and a truly shitty, simplistic hook in roughly two minutes. The imagery borders on surreal, especially toward the end, where Santa Claus and his family somehow become involved, but Earl has the confidence and, more importantly, the competence required to make it all work. (The beat aids him tremendously in that capacity.) The dipping of the toes into homophobic bullshit at the very end doesn't ruin the song, but, especially post-Frank Ocean, one is left wishing that Earl had come up with another way to convey the mic dominance of his crew. Still, this was pretty good.

Skit. One that could have altered its final line of dialogue and contributed to an entirely different title, too. Odd Future are so casually homophobic, it's like it's the early-to-mid 1990s all over again.  Or like living in a frat house.  Yeah, I'll go with the second joke.

Easily the finest song on Earl, hands down. After that previous ridiculous interlude sets up “Luper”, Earl takes Tyler's beat, which rises and falls alongside our host, and skillfully articulates a bad breakup, with all of the rationalized thoughts and out-of-left-field anger that comes with it. This was actually kind of brilliant: Earl throws the listener for a loop at the very beginning, where he seems to rhyme about a mundane morning spent getting ready for school, before shoehorning in the actual subject matter, and he has more than a few choice lines (my favorite being, “When she left, it didn't break my heart, it broke my torso”). Everyone reading this write-up should switch over to YouTube or something and give it a spin. Now. Do it.

Lest you all think that Earl Sweatshirt is far too sensitive to be a part of Odd Future, he hits the listener with a fairly bleh song that both rationalizes and dismisses the act of rape (which is, conveniently, the title of this song spelled backwards). Left Brain's instrumental is a bit more accessible than the rest of the shit on Earl, which means that more people may find themselves partaking of a tale where our host murders a woman because she keeps fighting off his sexual advances. Appalling, absolutely, but, as with everything Wolf Gang, everything is said for shock value's sake only, and at least Earl says it well enough. Still, I didn't give two fucks about the song as a whole.

Meh, especially all of that “you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight” shit, but, as he also did on “epaR”, I am appreciating how Earl is minimizing the contributions from his guests so that he can stand out. Aside from Tyler, of course.

Speaking of Tyler, the de facto RZA of Odd Future (a comparison I abhor, but it's an easy one to make) dominates “Pidgeons” (under another alias, 'Wolf Haley') to such a degree that the motherfucker stops the song to take a nap, and Earl and company are stuck twiddling their thumbs, at least until The Creator brings back the familiar mantra, “Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck school!” You know, the kind of shit that warms your heartstrings. Anyway, I liked everything on here aside from Tyler, up to and including Tyler's beat (simple and effective), even when it morphs somewhat to announce the guest star's arrival, and our host's actual verses, some of which are amusing. Not bad. And, full disclosure, I actually did like Tyler's callback to the album intro at the very end.

This finale gave me a fucking headache, as BeatBoy's beat was all over the goddamn place, leaving Earl in the dust, although he admirably attempts to make “Stapleton” even remotely interesting. He fails, though. And so.

THE LAST WORD:  So I didn't find Earl Sweatshirt's debut Earl to be this hidden gem or the Holy Grail of underground hip hop that every other blog seems to believe it to be.  There were a couple of songs that pretty much blew donkey dick, and the two interludes were essentially useless.  However, the songs I did like, I fucking loved.  Earl sounds like he learned to rhyme by listening to some of the better lyricists in the game, and although he does succumb to the shock-value tactics championed by his brethren, he actually does have a good-enough flow to force the listener to look past them, for the most part.  Tyler's beats all manage to sound pretty good, in that sparse, universal (in that none of the tracks he produced sound specifically like they were recorded in California) way that I prefer.  (The other two producers fare less well, so I won't focus on them at all, apparently.)  Earl ends up being an enjoyable trifle, one which showcases our host (leaving most of the Odd Future camp off of the album was actually a pretty brilliant move) and a surprising level of promise for his future work.  I'm not back on the bandwagon or anything, because I never jumped on in the first fucking place, but thanks to Earl Sweatshirt, I may or may not be a little bit more willing to see where this OFWGKTA thing goes in the next few years.  Don't hold me to that, though: I still have tons of shit to cycle through in order to meet my self-imposed goal.




  1. Apparently there's not supposed to be as much shock value rap on his next album, Doris. The kid has got skill no doubt and I'm looking forward to the release of that project.

  2. I guess i'll have to listen to this now

    1. Oh and this has nothing to do with Earl Sweatshirt, but Max i think its a travesty that there is no review of Danny Brown's XXX on your site yet.

  3. This mixtape sucked. People were all over this when Odd Future blew up. I look forward to Earl's future work, but it better not be more of this subpar, gimmicky mediocrity.
    Chum is an awesome song, I will admit.

    1. Seems like Michael doesn't enjoy good production and flow. Stop hanging onto the lyrics so much. If every song were lyrical hip-hop would be boring.

    2. i agree with you about lyrical hip hop. I look for beats, voice and flow before i look at lyrical ability, but Michael seems to know his stuff, he just doesn't agree with you

  4. When did I ever write any of that?
    I like SpaceGhostPurrp for fuck's sake.

    1. Then what is there about Earl that is subpar and gimmicky? Cause the production is nice and he flows pretty masterfully considering he was only 16 years old at the time. And Michael you didn't write anything all you said was it sucked and didn't explain why.

    2. I thought the production was boring, although I really liked "Earl," contrary to Max's opinion. What's gimmicky about Odd Future is that they rely too heavily on shock value, which, by now, has become tiring and trite. I never wrote that I thought Earl was a bad rapper, either; I think he is quite good at rapping.

      I just didn't like the mixtape -- if you find teenagers rapping about dumb ass shit amusing, then that's your cup of tea.

      With that being said, I fully acknowledge the fact that Earl has talent, and I look forward to his future work.

    3. lol so horror core is gimmicky and swagg isnt? The content in earl is alot less gimmicky then the trendy songs about swagg and bitches like those of space ghost purp...I personally feel if you dont love lyrics first and foremost the underground (in wich where this album was before hipsters got a hold of it) will not be for you. I am however looking forward to his matured material

  5. Wow, the cover is right there next to Big Bear.


  6. Chum is dope, as well as Frank Oceans verse on 'Oldie"

  7. You should do a review on the complete horrid that is DJ Muggs - Bass For Your Face (which only dropped a few days ago). However I recommend being very drunk as it completely destroys his legacy. It would also keep the anons that say you should post more new stuff on he blog quiet for awhile.

    After the Muggs post you could post another Lord Finesse post (as the last one only took what 4years?!), or just a Finesse post, a less known release (Funky Dope Maneuver EP or Funky Man: The Prequel) would be nice.

    Bit late but hope you & your family/friends had a good Xmas/New Year!

    1. Just read over the reviews for this month & noticed this, God how drunk was I when this was wrote, next to none of it makes sense hahaha.

  8. Looks like we wont see another review now until February. Sigh.

    1. Well, I WAS going to post something else, but now...

    2. Yup. You keep pushing back your reviews. In the meantime, I'll look out for Liquid Swords II: The Return of the Shadowboxer. Well played Maximillion.

  9. I think it's pretty well documented at this point that the Odd Future boys are, as a whole, fairly friendly. And that some have actual emotional issues. These emotional issues don't include being "crazy". It will be interesting to see how they develop as they grow up: adults with emotional issues can be very different from their teenage selves - I should know!

  10. Epar is by far the best song on the album...

  11. JustinbeberchristianJanuary 19, 2013

    please review Chino Xl's latest album RICANstruction 2012 let me here what you have to say!!!

  12. I judge him based off his Oldie verse which is mind blowing. He obviously has extreme talent that hasn't been properly showcased due to him being in that dumbass group.

  13. AnonymousMay 08, 2013

    Odd Future is fucking horrible. And the only song I like on this album is the 8-bit-by-way-of-fucking-Fruity-Loops "Epar" [LAWL RAPE BACKWORDZZZ OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!].

    Am I alone in thinking the song "Earl" is unlistenable? Tyler the Creator's production is consistently cold and horrible, it feels lifeless like the worst of Kool Keith's self-produced shit (see "Matthew"). In fact, Tyler frequently reminds me of smeone who wants to be Kool Keith but isn't as funny or clever.