Earl Sweatshirt – ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’

The Odd Future member vents negativities on this lean, jazzy album

Odd to recall, looking back, how Odd Future were greeted as potential wreckers of civilisation on their arrival in 2010. They didn’t, as it happens, rape and pillage hip-hop and dance around in the ashes. Instead, Frank Ocean came out, Tyler, The Creator made a couple of long and rather emo albums about his troubled mental state and absent father, and the collective have tended towards introspective hip-hoprapped over chill, stoned beats.

No one typifies this more than Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, aka Earl Sweatshirt. We live in an era where hip-hop is again making huge statements – from the radical black consciousness of Kendrick to the polarising ego moves of Kanye. In contrast, Earl’s second long-player since returning from mum-imposed exile in a Samoan boarding school in 2012 feels almost oppressively low-key. The beats, largely self-produced, amble along jazzily. There are relatively few guests – just a handful of brief cameos from the likes of A$AP Mob’s Dash and Ratking’s Wiki (who adds weasely charisma to ‘AM//Radio’). And instead of high concepts or big choruses, Earl instead tunnels into his art, twisting his gloomy, hyperarticulate flow into ever more complex and tangled patterns.

It works because Earl is a rare talent. He can write about pretty much nothing and the words sing, which is fortunate because that’s largely what he does. On ‘Huey’ he smokes, drinks, misses his late grandmother. ‘Mantra’ and ‘Faucet’ pick coldly over the bones of a collapsed relationship. But it’s all in the way the words drip off his tongue, the acrobatic allusions and carefully constructed assonance. Some might say they like to be kept on their toes, but here’s how Earl puts it on the Left Brain-produced ‘Off Top’: “I’m only happy when there’s static in the air cause the fair weather fake to me/Living in the scope, hairs crossed like adjacent streets…” And so on.

The little dude is a poet. Still, at a relatively lean 30 minutes, it’s hard to argue this is a heavyweight album. Its strongest track is ‘Grief’, a wispy lament that feels like it comes from a sad, bad place. Earl Sweatshirt is 20 years old. He needs to get over the girl and go outdoors. Maybe then, he’ll again sound ready to take on the world.