Today marks the release of Doris, the major label debut from 19-year-old rap phenom Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, BKA Earl Sweatshirt. It was the Kids-esque OD fantasy of "Earl," the title track of Sweatshirt's debut mixtape from 2010, that first got his Odd Future collective a lot of concerned looks and foamy-fingered jock-groping, of which neither has let up too much since.
Earl's obvious virtuosity on the mic was monstrous; here was a high-browed African kid with the below-lowbrow humor and top-shelf word-drunkenness of Slim Shady LP Eminem and vintage Metal Face Doom. What followed was well-publicized drama deeper than rap, rife with familial strife, a suddenly missing rapper, and more investigative reports than the GZA. By the time Earl washed back up on our shores, he was more haunted than ever, daunted by "expectations raising because daddy was a poet, right?" Doris does a number on those expectations—number two to be specific, as Earl duly shits from those oft-invoked lofty heights upon them, though he'd probably just plead to being blacked out at the time, then change the subject, eyes glassy.
Doris is as raw as anything Odd Future's produced to date, and possibly the sharpest of the catalog—which isn't even properly doing it justice, as OF's penchant for weirdo looseness is not matched by any great standard of quality control. This album comes out, blades scraping like Freddy Krueger, with a menace-mouth intro verse from rapper SK La' Flare; this is one of my favorite ways rappers can start off albums, as not only does it seem magnanimous to put the homie on first to flex, but cats then sound monstrous when they come on right after. "In the midst of a tornado" of those pesky expectations, with a thick support cast (La' Flare, Domo Genesis, a rapping Frank Ocean, Casey Veggies, Tyler, the Creator, Mac Miller, the RZA and frequent guest Vince Staples), slumlord Earl absentmindedly owns the building, strutting "new patterin's," reveling in sewing syllables to one another, stretching that old soul over the canvas. If there's a bunch of cats crammed into this particular smoky-ass basement, it never feels like Earl is hiding there among them—this is a concise tour of his chamber, where he's most himself, his voice loudest, standing "on the couch where that loud is burning, shouting, 'I don't fuck with you.'"
What we have here is one of the best rap albums we're going to hear all year, as dense, dank, and weird as anything you could name, with the occasional Swisher-run sunbreak; the production from Christian Rich and randomblackdude (AKA Sweatshirt himself), with assists from The Internet's Matt Martians, The Neptunes, RZA, Samiyam, Frank Ocean, and Tyler, The Creator weave together, seams tucked and firm, off of which Earl and Co. trampoline with gusto.
There aren't too many rap albums I'll buy these days, especially after I've already downloaded them, because I'm a broke and busy freelancer most days—but this is one I've got to have on the shelf. The only other Odd Future-affiliated release I put plastic down on was Frank Ocean's masterful Channel Orange, and like that album, I expect to be banging this for the next year at least. Let's hope Earl's father, poet/pan-African activist/griot Keorapetse Kgositsile takes the time to listen to his estranged boy's words, even though it's certainly the "commercially promoted hiphop" he's derided; a lot of old heads might agree with him that today's rap isn't "anything of relevance, socially, other than young people saying they're hurt," but what's more socially relevant than that? When Earl toasts, "a shout to all the fathers that didn't raise us," even though it's on album closer "Knight"—well, as someone once said, this one feel like the beginning.