I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
(Columbia/Tan Cressida; 2015)
By Adam Downer | 27 March 2015
Earl Sweatshirt is rap’s most compelling and frustrating redemption story. We root for Earl to be cocky again, to spit with the mind-boggling flow that characterized EARL (2010), to step out of the internet’s murkier shadows and into the spotlight we’ve reserved for him once he gets a little pop in his sound. I think we do this because we secretly feel guilty to have cheered for him when all he did was rap about raping sluts (it feels disgusting to even type that in 2015, but have you listened to EARL lately?) in an era before social media would have instantly and rightfully torn him apart, but we also recognize his immense talent. The way he builds Eminem-cribbed rhyme schemes through stoned-eyed flow make him a natural successor to DOOM, or even Shady, in theory. He’s compelling in this hypothetical realm, where his skills promise incredible records. In the actual world where his weird, bitter, and sad music might be directed at us, the culture that produced him, he’s a bit more frustrating.
According to legend, the outlandish rape fantasies he spewed as Odd Future’s most talented but perverted prodigy earned him literal exile to a reform school in Samoa, which in turn lent his existence to meme-ification and eventually monetization. OFWGKTA started shouting “Free Earl” on everything because “Fuck you, Mom” would’ve been too childish a catchphrase, even for their wacked-out standards. For a while there, Earl was almost mythical. Where was he really? Would he ever come back? And how much better would Odd Future be when Earl returned, seasoned, matured and ready to rule the OF Army alongside Tyler? His return marked the culmination Odd Future’s fifteen minutes, when culture’s patience for their misogynistic shenanigans had run thin and Earl was charged with renewing the group’s value. No one expected that he wouldn’t really want to.
The first signs of a darker Earl came in the form of a few syrupy guest spots, notably his verse on Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids,” which sounds like it was mumbled out the side of Earl’s mouth while he laid stoned out of his mind on Frank’s couch. Then came his album Doris (2013), where one of the first things he says is “I heard you back, I need them raps nigga / I need the verse, I don’t care about what you going through or what you gotta do nigga / I need bars, sixteen of ‘em.” We’ve been tentatively fucking with Earl ever since, adjusting our ears to a slower, more joyless Earl constructing obtuse rhymes in a monotonous drone tweeter DragonflyJonez aptly called “’your turn to read a paragraph in English class’ flow.” If you jumped off Earl’s bandwagon after the mild slog that Doris turned out to be, understand that his new album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside offers no glimpse of the Earl that once held the world waiting for the next imaginative profanity to escape his mouth. Instead it offers post-return Earl doubled down: pitch-black, depressed as hell, his navel-gazing loathing infused with a bit more venom. Is it enjoyable? By design, no. Is it interesting? Well…
No one can claim that I Don’t Like Shit isn’t honest. Not because its content is particularly confessional, but because the intensity of Earl’s apparent sadness, hanging over the record like a depressive shroud, seems to be the point in itself. Tyler infused self-loathing into his records to create a more demonic, well-rounded persona, and oftentimes did it very effectively. Here, Earl’s malaise is his end. Most of I Don’t Like Shit consists of minimal beats meandering while Earl pops Xanax, drinks whiskey, and delivers endless fuck-you’s to the legions of hos and bros he can’t trust. Three songs in a row prominently feature a depressive inability to trust, from a reference in “Grief”’s chorus, to the first lyric of “Off Stop” (“How you doin, and what’s your motive ho? / I only trust these bitches about as far as I can throw ‘em”), to the chorus of “Grown Ups” (“Don’t know where I’m goin, don’t know where I’ve been / Never trust these hos, don’t even trust my friends”). Then he smokes a bit of weed out of sadness, or takes a painkiller to feel stoned, or drinks to feel nothing, repeat over and over again. Earl is the content, and Earl is sad.
The major issue with I Don’t Like Shit is that it’s a personality-driven record driven by a guy who doesn’t display all that much of a personality. Which is a shame, because Earl’s personality was one of the most exciting things about him. Even Doris had spots like “Chum” that offered striking insight into his character. I Don’t Like Shit instead offers rehashes of tired themes in largely forgettable verses, albeit with great rhyme schemes. The beats, save for “Mantra” and “Grief,” are mostly undercooked spooky-piano bits over which Earl gives his hypnotic miasma of vowel sounds. Guest spots are the most thrilling bits of the album: Vince Staples’ verse on “Wool” is a record highlight simply because he doesn’t sound like he’s about to fall asleep, while Ratking’s Wiki opens “AM//Radio” with a verse that through his trademark brashness and sing-song pride ends up being an ad for Ratking’s music instead of Earl’s. When Earl comes back in, the track immediately falls back into the gray sonic palette the rest of the album works in, as if Wiki didn’t just provide a desperately needed splash of color.
I Don’t Like Shit is an album is bereft of joy, meaning its major takeaway is, again, frustration. It’s certainly a step down from Doris, and I doubt time to digest it will be as kind to it as it was to its predecessor. It’s a record where Earl’s phenomenal technical talents go wasted amidst dull lyrical bile and snoozy production, almost as though it was phoned in. People accused Doris of this as well, but I Don’t Like Shit takes it a step further. It’s genuinely difficult to tell if Earl actually enjoyed making this record, or if he even still enjoys making music. Who, then, is I Don’t Like Shit for? I think yes, it’s for Earl, as a therapeutic expression of pain. But it’s also something that Earl understands his audience, who since his return he’s regarded like dogs hungry for his labor, will lap up. It’s a cynical, darkly personal record without any pretense of giving a shit about how it is received. So frankly, I don’t give a shit about receiving it.