Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (Columbia) CD REVIEW

5f3e7e9971700fa88274744dd623553e6THE NAME THEBE Kgositsile was never going to fly, so the powers that be clearly brainstormed till the cows came home, finally to apply the magic touch leading to commercial success that the capitalist nom-de-plume of Earl Sweatshirt was so obviously going to provide.

And provide it has, if you call reaching number one on the US hip-hop chart by selling a mere 49,000 units in the first week ‘the magic touch’. It’s small bikkies really, compared to the past, but that’s how it is these days. And both Earl Sweatshirt’s sales figures and his rap art are a reflection of the times we live in: lyrics and news reports, stark but with potentially shocking aspects so numerous and frequent as to have lost their power. Backing tracks and social media, rhythmic but harmonically stilted.

Taking centre-stage is the sound, which clearly was as important an aspect as anything in the making of Doris. The mixes pack a wallop – best heard loud with a sub. The voices are clear and in your face and the drums and percussion, though sometimes lo-fi, are often rich and harmonically detailed. A few international reviews I skimmed over spoke of the album’s predominantly gritty sound, which is simply not the case.

They were also in high praise of Earl’s ‘rhyme schemes’ – a lyrical term too easily thrown around and an all too obvious grab-all reference for rap. Example: four lines where the second and fourth lines rhyme. The idea then is to continue in that pattern. But if you break it, you better have a damn good artistic reason for it. That was the original premise back in the day anyway, but its importance in purely pop lyrics has progressively died off since the ‘70s.

So I decided to examine this very aspect of Doris, and took it upon myself to put the first two songs under the microscope in the hope of reaping the rich rewards of rhyme these writers were recommending to me.

homepage_large.3ba307f9In the first song, ‘Pre’, I found very little in the way of scheme uniformity. In fact, very early on I found an identity rhyme, which are rhyming words that start with the same consonant – traditionally a no-no and considered to be in poor taste.

I liked the use of the word ‘beef’ which introduced a new vowel sound at the end of line 7. This nicely pre-empted the ‘ee’ sound which continued from line 9. At line 15 (where 7 was last time) another fresh vowel sound was introduced with the word ‘time’. Eureka! A pattern! But no, he didn’t follow the established pattern like I expected. So it became a mess and I can only deduce that my detected rhyme scheme was an illusion – the positive attitude of a naïve reviewer searching for and apparently finding quality in an oasis that wasn’t actually there.

So, having established a lack of form, I was reduced to searching the song for fresh and original rhymes. The second verse yielded only ‘Aristocrat/System slaps’. But towards the end it suddenly broke into a stream-of-consciousness with the following tightly-packed verse.

‘Dealt with addiction, fell for the bitch with the
Pale butter skin who just packed up and dipped
In the land of the rent-less, stand with my chips
In a stack and a grin…’

But then it was over, with the exception of a two-word recommendation we all know and love. Classy.

Examination of track two, ‘Burgundy’, one of the most interesting music tracks here, revealed little more of lyrical worth with the exception of some groups of triple rhymes such as the following. ‘And I’m stressing over payment, So don’t tell me that I made it, Only relatively famous, In the midst of a tornado..’. I think he tried to slip that ‘tornado’ in there to make it four, but no dice, Mr Sweatshirt.

Someone desperate to find intellectual content in this music could possibly tout the word ‘existential’ in reference to the ‘Burgundy’ lyric, which mainly refers to the fact that Earl’s grandma is dying but he can’t be there because he’s doing an album and he’s feeling the pressure of delivering verse under raised expectations due to the fact that daddy was a poet. And then the lines ‘Sitting on the sofa feeling high and dormant, If we could smoke another while the mic records it’. Granted, he’s busy, but why didn’t he save that for a tweet?

To be fair, it is pretty much his debut other than a mixtape in 2010, so I guess I can’t be too harsh. For it is after all only the pundits of esteemed international publications raising the guy to a pedestal of God-like proportions, and not Mr Sweatshirt himself. Although, hiding in the cracks of Doris, there are the obligatory NPD symptoms poking their noses around corners here and there, waiting to be let loose in a Tupac tyrade of phony dismissal of challenge, and theatrical anger borne of said pedestal being over-sized in the first place. PETER KEARNS

Sound = 3.5/5
Music = 2.5/5

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