Earl Sweatshirt's album is now streaming on the Odd Future website; the reaction, at least from this writer's anecdotal perusal of various social media, is really positive. Folks think the album is pretty fuckin' dope.
For the most part, then, Earl has lived up to the expectations. He's already received a positive write-up in the New York Times, as Jon Caramanica celebrated the record's "dazzling" rapping, and called the record both "fascinating" and "daunting." There's an ambiguity to his qualitative descriptions of the record, although he's largely enthusiastic. For the most part, critics have celebrated Odd Future's releases. In the case of Tyler, The Creator's Goblin, it was often tempered by descriptions like "dark" and "insular." There's a very good reason for this: although most hip-hop fans online seem very enamored of their music, it really isn't for everybody.
And I'm one of the people who it really ain't for. To set this up, first: I don't have anything against Earl, personally. The Odd Future sound, in 2013, is definitely novel; it makes sense to me that the group has developed such a huge following. And while some folks might argue that their image has helped sell their music, that goes for pretty much any artist. Ask any true school rapper who has ever advertised the fact that they don't wear skinny jeans.
To some degree, it's generational; when I was 18 or 19, I listened to a lot of underground hip-hop, from Anti-Pop Consortium, Def Jux, and MF Doom. I also went to local freestyle battles for guys with names like Verbal Kent and Encyclopedia Brown. I went to shows, although I was somewhat surprised to find they could be upwards of 80% male. But the stuff served a social role for me, at the time. Not that I didn't care about the music. I knew a lot of it backwards and forwards. But it was as much about feeling like you belonged to a group of like-minded people, to something larger than yourself.
The standard argument is that this is something only teenagers do. I don't believe that this is really true. As people age, their taste often solidifies around different prejudices, different politics. But I would say that as I got older, I started become more open-minded about what could constitute good music. I wanted to figure out why so few women seemed to come to the shows for the artists I liked, and why it was that clubs playing house music were so much more diverse. And then I started to think about what house music did that hip-hop didn't. And why hip-hop from the South seemed so much more gripping.
Ironically, in some ways, this made me more closed-minded about a lot of the music that might have appealed to me when I was nineteen. What makes it harder for to jump on board with Earl's Doris now is that—for all its strengths—it really does remind me of the closed, intentionally-abrasive, all-or-nothing aesthetic of the music I was into at that age. It plays the same role, aesthetically, for me. Doris is definitely reminiscient, in particular, of MF Doom's records from that era—records I still listen to. I don't doubt that for some old heads at the time, Doom's stuff felt like it wasn't quite as hot as Kool Keith's "Housing Things." The more things change....
This isn't to suggest that Odd Future don't have female fans (they certainly do), or that these guys aren't doing something creative in the—yes—insular world they inhabit. It's still rewarding to keep up with what's hot in hip-hop, on radio, through friends, or in whatever other channel music floats upstream; I'm not sitting in my room listening to jazz or classical music, and there are plenty of younger rappers doing dumb, teenage shit, that I still find musically appealing. (If anything, I listened to more jazz as a teenager than I do now.) But Doris does remind me of a worldview that I once held, one that feels less and less true to my own experience. Music can reflect a multitude of feelings, and Earl's are as legitimate as any. But these days, it feels like it's on another wavelength.
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