After a yearlong hiatus, cult hero Earl Sweatshirt has supposedly unveiled the first track off his upcoming album, Quest/Power.
Sweatshirt began his career as the far more brilliant prodigy of Tyler, the Creator. His wicked flows had a level of complexity that was absolutely shocking for someone his age. “I’m a hot and bothered astronaut / crashing while jacking off / to buffering vids of Asher Roth eating apple sauce” raps Earl on his debut album. Recorded at the age of 16.
At the height of Odd Future’s success, fans were denied the opportunity to hear from the young genius. At the request of his mother, Earl was made to attend a camp for troubled youths in Samoa. When Earl finally released his first studio album in 2012, fans were expecting more of his fast-paced, deft and assonance heavy flows. Instead, Earl gave us Doris. Doris is dark and heavy. The production is slow and on the offbeat. Nothing like the nimble, boyish flows that made him famous. It’s pretty clear that Earl did this consciously. “Don’t nobody care about how you feel, we want raps” a fan demands of him on the opening track. This was a reaction to the huge pressure placed on him to release an even quicker, smarter follow-up to Earl. He makes a deliberate effort to warp his voice. He makes it sound older and deeper. He does not want any association with his earlier, youthful persona. It’s like whenever you see Daniel Radcliffe smoking. He’s going above and beyond to show us that he’s grown up. Don’t get me wrong, Doris is a masterpiece, and contains some of the best lyrics ever recorded. His use of assonance is unrivalled. On Chum he raps, “advanced apathy / smashing the man cameras up / tan khakis an antagonist dan-dappered up.” The son of a prominent poet, Earl deploys words like T.S. Elliot.
Some hoped that since Earl had proven that he was no one-trick pony, his second album might be a return to his roots. Or something completely different altogether. Instead it seems Earl has gone even deeper into the rabbit hole. On Quest/Power, the beat is even more erratic. It’s a frustrating listen, more outright lazy than laconic. Earl stresses his drawl so much that he’s barely audible – nothing like the crisp pronunciation of his youth. He sounds like a Texan who makes a deliberate effort to talk out of the side of their mouth. It seems he is so bitter at the huge expectation placed on him, that he’s gone and made something deliberately bad to give critics the finger.
But the biggest sin on this track is not just trying to dodge radio play. It’s his complete abandonment of his verbal skills. “Spent nights off the diners at my desk / did time in the tower of spliffs / I’m not like the cowards on the fence / I’m not like lounging on the bench.” None of these words rhyme. The images are simple. This is more Chief Keef than MF Doom. This is disappointing.
We can only hope that Earl will stop trying to be cool. Stop trying to alienate people so that you can remain in the counter-culture. Pull your finger out and start making good raps again.