Earl Sweatshirt has always seemed like the smartest smartass in Odd Future, but for a long time, it was hard to say for sure. By the time most people heard his gory cult-classic 2010 mixtape, Earl, the teen MC had already been shipped off to Samoa; since returning from boarding-school exile in 2012, he has remained relatively elusive. That makes this, his first full-length release since becoming famous, feel like a moment of truth: Was he really that great, or was it all some kind of mass hallucination?
Actually, he’s even better. His rhyme schemes are as complex as ever, and these resolutely unpop beats – sticky-icky sample collages from producers including Pharrell, RZA and himself – are an ideal canvas. But his subject matter has undergone a drastic overhaul. Unlike some peers, Earl has figured out that shock value only goes so far. Doris‘ themes are way less cartoonish – getting stoned, shrugging off career pressures, staring down his least-favorite feelings. On “Chum,” Earl admits to missing his estranged dad: “It’s probably been 12 years since my father left/Left me fatherless/And I just used to say ‘I hate him’ in dishonest jest.” It’s one of many moments that hit harder than the imaginary violence that got the world’s attention three years ago.