Earl Sweatshirt's latest album, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, is an introspective, anti-social and tortured beauty. An unusually self-aware rap album, it's an easy standout, even in a year that's already seen some stellar releases in the genre. Synth half-syllables, Kubrick keys and vivisected trap beats create the murk from which a bleary-eyed and disillusioned Earl Sweatshirt creeps, his focus on sickly syntax and finding the middle road between doing what you want for a living and selling what you love.
When the Odd Future golden boy and horror-core rap laureate returned to LA from Samoan boarding school exile in February 2012, he was a changed man. Or, more precisely, he left as an angry boy, in love with the antagonistic, institution-smashing power of words. He came back a thoughtful young man, determined to seek the good through the power of his obvious gift.
The problem is that, through no small fault of his own (see the oft-disgusting and undeniably brilliant Earl mixtape) the cantankerous and withdrawn Earl also returned a celebrity, his Odd Future compatriots having stormed into the national spotlight.
As Earl focused on finishing high school and patching up his relationship with his mother, who'd been seriously maligned by hordes of rabid Odd Future fans angry at his absence, it took him a year and a half to put out the game-changing Doris, his proper début.
In the meantime, Earl proved through a series of virtuosic guest verses that he was worth the wait and the hype. The best of these guest verses — including his crazy two-minute spot on the Odd Future posse cut "Oldie" and his glowing and gloating jaunt on Domo Genesis' "Gamebreaker" — showed that Earl had returned a more versatile rapper and substantive lyricist.
When Doris finally dropped in August 2013, the hip-hop world had already begun to tire of Odd Future as a whole. It was clearly Earl's moment. Album standouts "Hive," "Chum," "Hoarse," and "Whoa," serve as divergent examples of Earl's uncanny knack for wordplay, hip-hop metrics and uncommonly personal subject matter.
But, as the reluctant rap star expressed in an enlightening recent interview with NPR, he wasn't altogether pleased with how he presented himself on Doris. With I Don't Like Shit, Earl, who also produced nine of the album's ten tracks, is sounding how he wants.
Earl ain't been outside in a minute, but that's just because he's got some shit to figure out. Ours is just to revel in hearing him work through it.
Earl Sweatshirt feat. Remy Banks
$25, 8pm Sat, May 23, Alamo City Music Hall, 1305 E. Houston, alamocitymusichall.com