Review: I Don’t Do Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
Earl Sweatshirt, 2015
In October of 2012, Earl Sweatshirt was a hip-hop icon who’d barely had room to stretch his legs; an internet star turned meme that became a focus of topic for internet bros and genre enthusiasts all on the merits of a very limited body of work. He was the coming of something great, a kid whose talents were exposed but quickly suppressed. We hadn’t heard from Earl, but we knew he was waiting in the wings, preparing to deliver something monstrous. On November 1st, 2012, those hopes were validated. That day, Earl tweeted out a Tumblr page that featured the track “Chum”, the first post-boarding school track and a half-hearted proclamation that “I’m back, but maybe not for long.” “Chum” sounded like nothing he’d released with Odd Future; it was deeply personal and didn’t – as Tyler yells it on “Whoa” – involve “talking bout fucking everything-all”. A dark swampy beat, lyrics that poetically exist in the dark corners of Earl’s mind, and a lethargic Indica-ridden feeling of nostalgia, “Chum” was clearly directionally where Earl wanted to take his debut Doris before he crumbled to the Odd Future pressures that surrounded his persona. But now Earl is back for round two, and you can’t shake the feeling that the tweet that exposed the world to “Chum” is what’s informed most of his sophomore album: “my phones been turned off… speak not to me… im leaving twitter now”.
Much, but alas not all, of Doris fought the image Earl had developed through Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All. Mostly gone were the aggressive misogynistic and homophobic rallying cries of scared youths, drinking PBR’s and looking for the next hip-hop revolution; instead we see a transformed man, scared, high, and alone, fighting his public persona in dimly lit apartments and locked away rooms. And his new album fully commits to the latter sentiment; the title alone says it all: I Don’t Do Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.
His theoretical sophomore effort is everything Doris should have been and more. Tyler, as brilliant as he may be, lorded over Doris with his mere presence. “Personal shit”, as he called it, seems to be where Earl is most comfortable – and I Don’t Do Shit brilliantly presents Earl as a vagabond in mind but agoraphobe in reality.
“Huey” opens with a brief click – almost like a key is being jiggled, and then a bouncy organ riff. In under 2-minutes, Earl drawls along and pitches everything (EVERYTHING) he’s been thinking about; his grandmother, critics understanding or lack of understanding, his lack of focus – and then a formal introduction. The key clicks again and suddenly we’re on the outside looking in. “Huey” plays brilliantly as an album opener because the foundation of the beat reminds us of what we liked about Doris while feeling light enough to get us through the next 28-minutes.
This album is filled with sentiments like the tweet that introduced the new Earl Sweatshirt to the world. He drops “And I don’t know whose house to call home lately, I hope my phone break, let it ring” in “Faucet” and the illusions of happiness and shut away presence linger. Over 10-tracks, Earl (who also serves as producer for almost every track under the name randomblackdude) lethargically spits over dreary and muddled beats; there doesn’t seem to be much urgency within any of these tracks but when you don’t like going outside, there doesn’t have to be. As heavy as each beat weighs, it doesn’t lock itself into a fully depressing mode – if anything the intricacies in the minimalism make everything feel tonally similar but never repetitive. “AM // Radio” – the best of this crop of tracks, trickles high-hats over a (for Earl) happy piece of production, while 808’s and lightweight piano playing dominate the mesmerizing “DNA”. Some of these even feel perfectly underdeveloped. “Grief” in particular just swallows up Earl’s lyrics about his grandmother, like a black hole of swirling static, devoid of any beat.
And the lyrics here are on point as well. He doesn’t have anything that resembles a rally cry or a youth anthem like on previous works but he still has some clever and intimate lines. “Raised up where every mouth that speak the truth get taped shut, Peep the evening news, my nigga, we don’t do the same stuff”, “Grew up in a home that papa wasn’t in, Came up off of work that my conscience wasn’t in”, “nowadays I’m on the hunt for mirrors to box with”. Earl’s not content with any of it, but he’s too depressed to try and fight it.
And that’s what makes this LP so fascinating. Not only is it an excellent record in its own right, but its coming at a time when hip-hop is being swallowed up by Kendrick Lamar’s visions. It’s interesting to come off the hype of To Pimp A Butterfly, a massive and masterfully produced album with dozens and dozens of different performers and voices being channeled through one long, universally thematic and sprawling album and one mastermind rapper, and then come into I Don’t Do Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. It is, in every way, the antithesis of Kendrick’s album. Kendrick is a preacher, a man who wants to love and be loved and preach some kind of truth. Earl isn’t sure he’s even able to accept love, let alone give it. Kendrick made something so grandiose that it transcends hip-hop. Earl has such small and personal intentions for his new album that it can’t help but feel meek in comparison – yet it demonstrates how hip-hop can be completely isolated while being somewhat mainstream, in the same way Daughter is enjoyed by people who like Phoenix. As brief as it may be, it remains a steady stream of consciousness, a consciousness that’s shrouded in a stoner haze and suicidal tendencies (though not Suicidal Tendencies because that would involve Thundercat and we know where that falls).
On the final verse of “DNA”, Earl says plainly, “It’s cold in the deep end”. Earl’s place in the hip-hop pool does fittingly seem to be in the shady area where the sun doesn’t hit, well below the surface where the water lies stagnant. While everyone else is enjoying the sunshine and trying to make it to the glossy mirrored surface to see the sunlight, a spot reserved for guys like Kendrick and Kanye, Earl chooses to stay in his cold, dark spot. It’s a musical safe space, even if it won’t be immensely popular or get “bitches (to) fuck with him.” It’s tight and it’s atmospheric and it’s the best thing he’s put out in his career. He has a right to be proud, even if being proud doesn’t make you happy. Grade: A-