Earl Sweatshirt’s been through a lot. Whether it’s his much-publicized disappearance to some sort of juvenile centre in Samoa, his constant label disputes, his familial struggles, and even a recent breakup, there always seems like there’s a lot to talk about. However, often times Earl’s life outside of music tends to cast a shadow on the content itself—something Earl revealed to be a cause for concern in a recent interview with NPR’s Microphone Check. Earl’s intended promotion for his sophomore album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside was to put out a video for a single first, with the title of the record at the end of the clip leaving fans to generate buzz from the cryptic nature of the rollout; instead, the label randomly blindsided Earl with releasing the album title, cover art, track-listing, and features on iTunes prior to the video even being released. “It’s now back to a hype-machine, where ‘Earl Sweatshirt is mad at the label’”, he said. “It was what I was trying to avoid”, he continued, adding that he wished his album promotion involved people “just talking about the content”.
In terms of any label-beef that transpired on Twitter overshadowing the content of his sophomore album, the truth is, I don’t think Earl has much to be worried about.
The first sounds we hear on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside are blissful hockey-arena organ cords layered atop of a simple drum pattern, and Earl Sweatshirt wasting no time picking up the pieces from his debut studio effort, Doris. It’s on this intro, ‘Huey’, where Earl naturally boasts about his skills (“Beat the fuckin’ beat up like it stole from me) and summarizes the desolate corners of his personal life (“I spent the day drinking and missing my grandmother”)—but this time, Sweatshirt has ditched the monotone, uninspired flows of years past. Here, Earl sounds more brazen and brass-tough than ever, even through detailing his reclusive, darkest moments. Where Earl’s debut album Doris was his timid, despondent return to the spotlight, I Don’t Like Shit is a brief, yet fulfilling introduction to an Earl completely transparent, emotional, and strikingly self-aware.
It’s in this space of lyrical reflection and minimal, low-fi production courtesy of Earl himself (other than the Left-Brain produced banger ‘Off Top’) that I Don’t Like Shit exists. The album runs just under thirty-minutes but saves no punches in the meantime—instead, IDLS is a relentless barrage of a confident, confessional Earl rapping his damn ass off. ‘DNA’ features a sinister, syllable-pounding flow that stretches and squeezes at Earl’s will with blunter, more explicit bars than we are used to. Even Odd Future skater Nakel Smith appears with a heartfelt verse recorded the day a close friend died. “Japan, Australia, I know you be proud of that”, Nakel laments. Sure, it’s not the most technically sound moment on the album, but the pain and sincerity comes across raw and unfiltered making it memorable and impactful. Earl’s at his sharpest on songs like the Vince Staples assisted ‘Wool’ as well, serving as an energetic outro the record. Vince hilariously touches on “Niggas get bloo-blapped and blown away”, while Earl takes food-related sexuality to another level with “Bitches grip the stick and jerky like cold shanks of the beef”.
Throughout all of the memorable bars and guest appearances, the centrepiece of the album and boldest standout is ‘Mantra’. Here, Earl is at his most transparent without sacrificing any ounce of bravado. The first verse starts as bold claims to being the best at what he does, going on to pump his chest out with bars describing things like originating a style that other rappers bite, or even receiving sexual pleasantries while driving to a banger of his last album, ‘Pre’. What starts as audacious flexing decays into a confessional of sorts, as Earl breaks down the pitfalls of teenaged-fame such as friends becoming distant and fans swarming you for pictures—fans that Earl can’t turn down because “they the reason that the traffic on the browser quick”. The second verse steers into the downfall of his relationship, outlining everything from the cheating accusations, the arguments, the empty sex, and the broken trust, as there is nothing Earl leaves sacred. It’s this moment and many others on I Don’t Like Shit that truly reflect the level of repose and newfound clarity that allows Earl to not just briefly depict emotional investments into his personal life, but to rap with such honesty that allows the moments described to be almost photographic. Nothing is held back, no feelings unsaid; it’s just honest, raw, and transparent.
‘Faucet’ follows a similar vein, this time outlining the conflicts between friends and family; specifically, his mother. He raps with a cold, bitter delivery, “I don’t know whose house to call home lately”, describing being lost and not really belonging to anyone or anything, all before he continuing to escape any sense of affinity, ending the hook with “when I run, don’t chase me”. The single, ‘Grief’ also involves Earl coming to grips with the bleak, somber components of his psyche: “Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob/Scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop”. Earl might be as dismal and dark as ever, but he is also aggressively claiming these parts of him rather than reluctantly conceding to whatever mental instabilities are at hand. In a genre and a culture where you often are glorified for being a dominant, alpha male character and shrugging off problems, Earl finds supreme confidence and poise giving plenty of fucks about his own issues.
I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside crafts low-fi, distorted images of Earl Sweatshirt’s psyche while also being Earl’s most cohesive, telling project to date. It’s not perfect or polished, but Earl is able to do more with less; and having traded his dull, monotone voice for a more vigorous one, Earl’s lyrics and stories hit harder and are as emotionally transparent as ever. Whatever despair, angst and aggression facilitated on this record comes across with a more grown-up outlook rather than exploiting Earl’s former image of being a confused teenager adjusting to the tortures and temptations of fame. In fact, with I Don’t Like Shit, it seems Earl has replaced his sense of purposelessness and delusion instead with holding on to solace in the midst of it all.