By Jennifer McDonell
Earl Sweatshirt’s website wordlessly directs you to an inverted color video for the track “Grief”. It starts out with the flame of Earl’s blunt gleaming like a bright star in a dark sky. Similarly, Earl has shined through a vast group of rappers who are dropping albums in 2015. Instead of trying to get on the “most popular” list on SoundCloud, Sweatshirt is reaching out to a specific audience who is looking for innovative beats and dark, vibe-driven lyrics. He dismisses singles that record labels tout to make profit and garner fame—giving people what they want to hear but not what they need to hear. Having lost a year of time in the rap game to boarding school in Samoa, Earl made his way back to the U.S. and into the recording studio upon turning eighteen in 2012. His second album, Doris, was a step towards releasing a self-driven album, but Sweatshirt still wasn’t one hundred that it was the best medium for him. Thus, he made “I Don’t like Shit, I Don’t go Outside.” It’s an addling album, mostly mashed up with hushed drums and soft tones—an industrial color scheme mixed with a dash of L.A. heat.You can almost feel the humidity sticking on your phone screen– hear the mugginess in his voice, the stickiness of lyrics in your ears like the smog that coats the skies above L.A.
Odd Future was (is) known for their saucy, vulgar lyrics that shocked parents and enticed teenagers. Instead of pervading a gangster image, OF was more about glorifying the average millennial life: obsession with pop culture, the internet, skating, and street-fashion. In his solo work, Earl tones down the ironic misogyny and drug-glorification and sticks to a more intimate look at a young person’s life—from losing family members to struggling with overbearing fans. In “Huey”, the first track on the album, he says that the average critic doesn’t get his lyrics, likely because they are too old and too withdrawn from the loop to understand the allusions; the average girl won’t get it because she may be too offended by his obtuse ideas. As a female who has been an Earl Sweatshirt fan since 2010, that is only eight months younger than Earl; I find that Earl may not be corresponding with the right fans. Social media comments can get pretty petty these days, and hopefully he isn’t letting them make him bitter. In an interview with NPR’s Microphone Check, Earl says that he didn’t want to channel his video through something detached from the public like VEVO. Instead, he wanted to show that he is directly involved in his music, and he is the sole medium for it. Earl also mentions that fans on twitter knew about the album release before he did.
In 2010, the single “Earl” was released. The video featured Sweatshirt in a beautician’s chair while his friends mix up a concoction in the blender. In the past five years, Earl has gone from being part of the gang to showing a reclusive edge to his personality. “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” was almost entirely self-produced by Earl under the pseudonym “RandomBlackDude”. Sweatshirt isn’t looking for attention and is simply trying to make art for his own pleasure, not that of a salivating crowd. In track two on the album, “Mantra,” Earl talks about the downsides of fame and the effect it can have on your personal life. The concept of making friends has become sketchy to Earl because he no longer knows who just wants to use him. “And you ain’t ask for this” is a culminating line that shows the downsides to living a cushy lifestyle by selling yourself through the entertainment industry. He didn’t ask for obsessive fans and fake friends, but it comes with the territory.
In an interview with Clash Magazine in 2013, Earl said the internet has made people stupid and they have personalities online that they can’t back up in real life. He not only doesn’t fuck with the internet, he has made a point to be a straight up and consistent personality in all his tapes, albums, and interviews. When Columbia Records put out his album earlier than he scheduled, it made him angry. It isn’t like those things can easily be looked over, but he has made do with it and it definitely does not take any credibility away from the art of his newest album. Instead of focusing on controversy or how cool Sweatshirt and OF are, fans should talk about their work and the bigger picture. “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” is a mature album that speaks to fans outside of the OFWGKTA arena. If you are a dedicated Earl fan, this album will spark your interest and keep you interested. Featuring a similar dark side to emerging rapper, ILoveMakonnen, Earl Sweatshirt is emerging as a man with a voracity that is kept indoors for now–not to say it doesn’t exist though. Earl still has a split-second syllable capacity with biting lyrics that will satisfy even the biggest hip hop snob.
If you like the album, you may want to check Earl out live on April 1, 2015 at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit. Tickets are $25 at the door and $35 online.