Earl Sweatshirt Cover Art

REVIEW: Earl Sweatshirt’s somber sophomore ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’

Chance The Rapper’s debut mixtape was simply titled Acid Rap. Many considered it a fitting title given the album’s buoyant, trippy feel, and its thematic fixation with psychedelic drugs. Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside could have just as easily been titled Xanax Rap. It has a feel that is numbing, languorous and dulled. Further, in a piece of free advertising for pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, the anti-anxiety medication gets a casual 4 shout-outs across a 10 song album.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside details Earl’s relationship with drugs and depression. “Step into the shadows, we can talk addiction” he says ominously on Grief, in his new monotone. At one point, he scarily makes the link with his drug dependency and the depreciating quality of his art on Huey; “My bitch say the spliff take the soul from me.” Is Earl acknowledging that drug use has sapped him of the exuberance that was the trademark of his youth? This new album is certainly his most apathetic. Earl suggests on Grief that he really embodies the creed of his album title “I ain’t been outside in a minute, I been living what I wrote.” His recent breakup with girlfriend Mallory Lewellyn and the death of his grandmother are further causes for Earl’s sadness.

But it’s Earl’s struggle with fame that has always caused him the greatest stress. There are few rappers who have had to deal with the pressure of expectation like Earl. At only 15 Earl was quickly identified as a hip hop prodigy after his merciless freestyle Dat Ass. Pundits recognised Earl as a master of assonance, and a possessing a technical skill unheard of for his age. Anticipation for his debut mounted even higher, when he was prevented from capitalising on the meteoric rise of his crew, Odd Future. Earl finally released Doris, which shocked many fans, but was quickly accepted as a masterpiece. I Don’t’ Like Shit continues to explore Earl’s disdain for the limelight, and in particular, the bitterness he feels for having these expectations placed on him. He doesn’t want to pose for fans photos, but recognizes his obligation, as these are the people who ensure “the paper in your trousers thick.” Earl makes a concerted effort to avoid the mainstream, “trend dodging” as he describes it on Grown Ups. Finally, he is unequivocal on DNA “tell mom I’mma get a gun, if I get too popular.”

The production is handled almost entirely by Sweatshirt’s producer alter-ego RandomBlackDude. This is really, really impressive. On a first listen, I noticed that the beats married up so perfectly with the subject matter of the raps. That was before I realised that Earl himself had crafted virtually every track. Earl has serious producer chops. The beats on Mantra and AM Radio can only be described as ‘cool,’ and the little jazz drum outro on Grief is really charming. The LeftBrain assisted Off Tap is the only sign of any Odd Future sensibilities left in Earl. The beat has the signature aggression and erraticism of his crew. For those playing at home: the voice in the background that may or may not be Tyler the Creator seems like a gesture of solidarity – Earl has not (yet) abandoned the Wolf Gang.

The minimal production and the languid flow means that I Don’t Like Shit is at times, boring. I’ve had to contemplate recently whether boringness is strictly a sin on a rap album. Do they have to be entertaining? Can’t they be appreciated on a purely intellectual level? And whilst Earl’s album is definitely contemplative and introspective, it’s still not Hemingway. It may not necessarily be forgivable to provide fans with so many dull tracks. Unlike the haunting Doris, this one will not stay in car stereos for long.

And maybe this could be more forgivable if I Don’t Like Shit really was the purely experimental concept album that some predicted. Earl’s attempt to buck expectations again, but it isn’t. To a large extent it’s just a weaker version of Doris. Off Top and Wool are the kind of mean, dark cuts that would feel perfectly at home on Doris. But rather than expand on the themes explored in Doris, it aims to do much less. While Doris was a deep, dark and slow affair – I Don’t Like Shit is merely slow. The album feels like it could be Doris’ sadder, little brother. I Don’t Like Shit has a very ‘clipped’ feel. It’s abrupt and limited. I’m well aware that minimalism is the order of the day in hip-hop. But with a run time of 30 minutes, you can’t help but feel shortchanged. All in all it’s an interesting listen. If not for Earl’s rapping, then for his production. Unfortunately (and maybe unfairly) it is not a fulfillment of his potential.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is available for download on iTunes now.