I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt, Earl Sweatshirt
“Foot and hand on the gates / We was jumpin ’em, fuck, I’m like quicksand in my ways / Was always stuck and I’m stuck until an ambulance came / The first time I changed fast in Los Angeles waves.”
These lyrics open Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt’s newest album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt, with a clear testament to his start-stop career. In 2010, Sweatshirt released his first mixtape, Earl, prompting immediate notoriety. Despite its horrifically violent, vulgar and misogynistic lyrics and frequent allusions to rape and murder, Sweatshirt’s talent, flow and frighteningly charismatic personality on the tape placed him firmly on more than a few top album lists of 2010. However, in the midst of riding the Odd Future hype, he abruptly disappeared. “Free Earl” became a common slogan among fans and a public that was ignorant to what had happened. Over a year later, Complex Magazine found out that 16-year-old Sweatshirt’s mother had heard his mixtape and, unlike many critics and fans, was not too pleased with it. In response she sent him off to a school for at-risk boys in Samoa, where he remained until 2012.
Soon after his return, accompanied by heavy scrutiny and hype, Sweatshirt released his first album, Doris, notably devoid of the antics and vulgarity that marked Earl, but still full of the complex rhyme schemes and wordplay that put him at the top of the game. The first single released off the album, “Chum,” was jaw-droppingly different from anything in Earl, its first lines exposing Sweatshirt’s vulnerability: “It’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless / And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest / When honestly I miss this n****, like when I was six / And every time I got the chance to say it I would swallow it.” Doris is dark, intense and intimate, playing with haunting sounds and jarring beats. It deals with Sweatshirt’s father’s absence, his grandmother’s illness, his growing fame and decaying personal relationships, contents that stand in stark contrast to the outrageous, almost cartoonish, murderous fantasies of Earl. The album has been critically acclaimed – and is one of my personal favorites – but Sweatshirt still found himself “stuck.” He rapped in a drone, and felt cornered and limited by fans’ expectations and the music industry’s involvement. As he told Pitchfork in a recent interview, “Doris … was almost like me performing someone else’s songs.”
If Sweatshirt was still stuck in traffic during Doris, then I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is the proverbial ambulance that gets him out. He forgoes the monotone of Doris and works more naturally with inflection and tone in ways that feel more personal and real. On the whole, the album is more centered on Sweatshirt, with far less collaboration than Doris and with randomblackdude, Sweatshirt’s producer alter ego, billed as the producer for every track besides “Off Top.” The result is a raw intimacy that makes Doris feel ever more distant.
Nowhere is that intimacy more apparent than the second-to-last track, “DNA.” Sweatshirt starts off with the half-speed rapping characteristic of the album, candidly discussing his problems with addiction, when he transitions suddenly into quick triplets about his strained personal relationships, notably with his mother, because of his fame. After the bravado-bearing chorus, Na’kel Smith, one of Sweatshirt’s close friends and admittedly not a rapper, comes on the track. According to an NPR interview with Sweatshirt, Smith had come into the studio to write the verse, and 15 minutes after dropping acid, learned that one of his close friends had just died. Sweatshirt encouraged Smith, reeling and unsure what to do, to write down his thoughts and feelings in the verse. The outcome is beautiful, and as Sweatshirt points out, “fresh. The scar was right then. Like, he just found out. You can hear it in his voice.”
Overall, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, is Earl Sweatshirt, one of the biggest talents in hip-hop right now, unfiltered and in total control of his artistic vision, both in writing and production. As he raps in “Grown Up,” he “came up off of work that my conscience wasn’t in,” but he’s finally created something he can stand behind. Sweatshirt has clearly reached a point of clarity and a new ability to speak with his own voice, an exhilarating development for hip-hop both in this album and those coming in the future. His bold irreverence is still apparent (check out the intro to “Inside,” where he openly mocks Jay-Z), and his lyrics are still full of double entendres, complex wordplay and obscure references that will have you replaying the album with Google on tap. I’ll leave you with some advice from Sweatshirt’s Twitter: “WHEN YOU GET DONE LISTENING TO IT, LISTEN TO IT AGAIN, THAT’S WHY ITS THIRTY MINUTES NUMBNUTS.”