It doesn't take too long listening to Doris – maybe five minutes – before you look around and realize you’re already light years deep into the rabbit hole with Earl Sweatshirt and his co-conspirators…I mean collaborators. Maybe it takes longer. Maybe you have to get to “Hives,” accosted with a bassline of nothing but ill intentions and a cancerous snare, when you feel those walls closing in. Maybe, at this time, you hear post-pubescent Earl’s grimy, threatening tenor hovering and think, “Should I be here?” And then the beat drops out and what sounds like a group of ominous monks humming in the Vatican smokes in and the hole gets deeper. It’s a drug addled “Drive Slow” for stickup kids with scary things locked in their basements. Those blessed with just a smidgen of the bravery of this teenager and his cronies will make a decision…something like, “Whatever – bring it then.”
Doris is a profoundly insular work of art, the product of young man that it seems is destined to be among a handful (or smaller) of hip-hop’s most celebrated prodigies of all-time. The provocateur of Earl makes appearances here and there, but Doris is mostly the work of a well-worn youngster going grown. It’s an album of emotional transparency that would be at the peril of falling into the trite emo-whining of his peers if it weren’t for Earl’s virtuoso-bars and the sonic maturity of a production team (Earl at the helm under the pseudonym Randomblackdude) that couldn’t have been motivated by anything other than either moving hip-hop’s pylons or changing the rules of the game played on the field.
It’s not the easiest listen, but it’s a rewarding one.
You could compare Doris to a few of the albums considered classics. It conjures Illmatic, Liquid Swords, Tical, the second half of Enta da Stage, The Marshall Mathers LP, Aquemeni, Black Up and Reloaded – all for different reasons. These are precursors for this album, not prototypes. Doris is a prototype. A landmark for this new decade, like Supreme Clientele, Stankonia and Late Registration of the previous one.
Or like good kid, m.A.A.d city from this decade.
Kendrick Lamar didn't mention Earl in the overhyped “moment” that his “Control” verse became (he did, it should be said, mention Tyler, the Creator – RZA to Earl’s GZA). I'm sure that wasn't due to any deference, but then again, I’m not. Regardless, that song has sucked up hip-hop-discussion air like Earl sucks up a room full indo. The Doris leak snuck onto the web tiptoeing. Although released almost a year apart, GKMC and Doris are likely to be linked for a generation. Doris is Illmatic, GKMC is Ready to Die (or Reasonable Doubt). There are no singles on Doris (not that you expected that, nor did he want you to). Nothing on Doris will make a mixed-gender crowd of 30 and 40-somethings lose their minds 20 years from now the way “Money Trees” or “B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe” will in the future. But it’s Doris that is more likely to go down as the signature artistic statement of this generation, the joint that recalibrated the actual sonic parameters of the genre.
The production features songs that toggle between several tempos in one (halt, start, slow up, stop, speed up….do something else…wait, what’s happening?), it brings in new sounds every four bars, plays like different cycles of sleep…if there were a psychedelic shade of black, it’d be this. Over some of the most challenging production to date, the kid Earl is doing a 44-minute set of floor gymnastics under the heat and on the terrain of the Danakil Desert. It’s not the album highlight, but, really, how exactly does that young man pull off that final verse of “Sasquatch.”
Nothing’s a game here. No one’s playing. Not Earl. Not Tyler. Not Vince Staples. Not even Mac Miller. On the real, you might not have much fun listening to this album. That might effect how much time you spend visiting Doris. This was a statement, though. And perhaps the best reaction is to echo, in sincere admiration, the sample on “Centurion”: Well alright. OK. That’s how you truly feel about it then.