When Odd Future first exploded onto the scene back in 2011, seeing its members revel in all of the post-Yonkers hype, Earl’s absence and the shrouded mystery behind his disappearance resulted in the “Free Earl” slogan that came to define their early offerings. “Free Earl” slowly began to gain traction not only because it marked the battle cry of a seemingly overtly rebellious group of angst-filled MC’s, it was the vindication of a young man’s rapping whose potential was being whisked away as a generation of fans stood by helpless. We needed Earl free just to see exactly what we were dealing with and had to look forward to.
Earl’s minute collection of songs available back then were filled with such promise and intrigue, he soon became the victim of looming expectations and premature hyperbole, leading to a bevy of hate and confusion. The most prominent detraction of these early recordings was the seemingly vapid nature of the raps; that despite his technical proficiencies, the music lacked substance. Sweatshirt’s early raps functioned as poetically sound verses filled with alliteration, internal rhyme schemes, and synonymous callbacks but were understandably lacking in the emotional depth of his older colleagues. Regardless, the fact that most of these recordings were between his 15th and 16th years of life, it was easy to see why expectations rose to insurmountable heights; the possibilities were endless, despite his alleged immaturity. But given his age and his time spent in Samoa, conversations about his legacy could not become tangible until his album came into play.
Enter “Burgundy”, the leading track off of Doris. Whereas “Chum” saw Earl addressing his familial relationships and the consequences of return, “Burgundy” finds Earl lamenting on the consequences of his absence and what it means for his legacy. It’s telling that the first lyrics off the track, and in turn the album, are:
“My grandma’s passin’/ But I’m too busy tryin’ to get this fuckin’ album crackin’ to see her
So I apologize in advance if anything should happen
And my priorities fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m gonna blow it”
The fact that the album will open with these lyrics is a testament to both Earl’s maturation as an artist and his deft understanding on how to handle ominous expectations. It’s hard to imagine these lines coming from Earl a couple of years ago given the environment the rapper is in now versus then. Whereas his early raps teemed with a competitive edge suited for freestyle battles at the lunch table, his current approach and cadence reflect the enormity of the opportunity to turn those freestyles into a legacy in the hip-hop game. Man of the summer Pharrell provides Earl with a lush background with sporadic drums, devastating horns, and unbelievably slick synths. Listen to it here. Doris is out August 20th.