Very few artists are as good at dismissing fame as Earl Sweatshirt. He spent the prime years of Odd Future’s unlikely ascent in a therapeutic retreat school for at-risk boys because he kept fucking up at home. He was unable to enjoy the success of the crew as well as his own personal success after the release of his first album Earl in 2010. In a 2013 interview with GQ, Earl talked about life in the skill and the hopelessness that he felt for that first year and how ultimately, he had to work his issues out from within:
“After that year happened, I convinced myself that home wasn’t real, that it was a figment of my imagination – that I was going to die there. Because as far as I was concerned, I was like, “What the fuck can you show me of home?” When I closed my eyes and opened them, all I see is the palm trees.”
This sort of pushing away of reality informed a lot of Earl’s follow-up record Doris, and now, his latest record: I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. I Don’t Like Shit is very good, very small record that feels very labored over, obsessed about, planned thoroughly but still rushed through. It’s a special kind of underground hip-hop that somehow accidentally got thrusted into the limelight. The first three times I listened to it, I felt yanked into its embrace only to be let go before I had a chance to fully get comfortable. In some ways, this is probably the intention: what made Doris so great (and so underappreciated) is it diverted away from the shock-Rap of Earl that brought so much attention to him and Odd Future in general, and instead made an insular, abandoned-basement grimey, rap album full of self-loathing, introspection and blasé attitudes towards fame.
I Don’t Like Shit doubles down on this while showing a growth in his writing and production (Earl produced all but one song under the pseudonym randomblackdude). Earl seems to be diving into this zone of purely idiosyncratic rap music that feels hopeless and depressing on the surface, but is always undercut with a irreverent attitude towards everything including his own sadness. I don’t find this album as bleak as others have claimed. There is a lot of the record that is about the loss of his grandmother and a recent breakup, but it does stand as more proof that Earl would rather make rap music for himself than for anyone else –even his own friends.
The music feels closed-off and uninviting: the rambles of a young man annoyingly navigating through fame like it’s rush hour at the train station. I think Earl Sweatshirt is the most fascinating rapper to me at the moment because he genuinely seems to resent the popularity he’s gotten and looks at maintaining it as a burden: “they the reason that the traffic on the browser quick, and they the reason that the paper in your trouser’s thick”, he raps on “Mantra”.
It’s not any real disdain but a feeling of weariness at having to always be on whenever he’s in public. The introvertedness of the record almost works in inverse relationship with his responsibilities as a public figure, and allow him the opportunity to pick at his own psyche and make sense of the things around him. He also seems to find the whole experience dull and unfulfilling. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside could be evaluated as both serious depression or just jaded eye-glazing at a shallow industry; for sure, it’s the musings of a young man looking for home.