With the 2010 drop of his debut mixtape, Earl, rapper Earl Sweatshirt became one of the main reasons the underground rap crew Odd Future went from obscurity to everywhere. Then, Earl's mom decided he was an "at risk" kid (not because of his ugly, ugly music, but because he was "getting in trouble"), so off to the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa he went, quickly falling into the category of "more of a legend than rapper" as Odd Future broke out the "Free Earl" T-shirts with no other explanation for his absence. As such, his official debut falls into the category of "highly anticipated," but the real story behind the murky and free-flowing -- almost globular -- Doris is that the morbid horror-show rapper heard previously has grown into an observational maverick-style artist, offering downtrodden and even dour rhymes that come off like MF Doom recounting his visit to the Grand Guignol. Swaying slowly with Tibetan monk vocals in the distance, the ghostly "Hive" with Vince Staples and Casey Veggies offers the vivid "Come around we gun 'em down/Bodies... piled... Auschwitz," while the Tyler, the Creator feature "Whoa" kicks off with the Odd Future leader declaring "This ain't no 2010 sh*t," which Earl proves by dropping crooked rhymes about pot ("Steaming tubes of poop and twisted doobies full of euphemisms") and Harry Potter ("Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch"). MF Doom fans will be familiar with the style, and while the rumored Doom collaboration does not wind up on the final Doris, another obvious influence, RZA, is here, appearing on the aptly titled "Molasses," a slow, rich mix of Wu-Tang and Wolf Gang flavors. Mac Miller's recent embrace of the underground pays dividends during the bent and broken "Guild," while Frank Ocean influences Earl to sing his own blues on the great "Sunday" ("Nightmares got more vivid when I stopped smoking pot/And lovin' you's a little different, I don't like you a lot"). Underneath all this mumbled madness are some truly wonderful sounds -- much of it made by Earl under his alias randomblackguy -- as "Chum" runs like an underground indie suite of excellent ideas while "Centurion" twists a Krautrock and Can sample into something thug and stately. All that said, Doris is unsettled, messy, and takes a bit to sort, but there are codes to crack and rich rewards to reap, so enter with an open mind and prepare to leave exhausted.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries