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Earl Sweatshirt
I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside Mike Diver , April 2nd, 2015 09:14

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 prohibited the sale of alcohol in America to anyone under the age of 21. The reality of the situation is that most states do permit consumption of booze prior to that legal limit, under certain conditions, but for the average kid after the stateside equivalent of a dirty bottle of 20/20, that's a long time to be asking strangers to take ten bucks into the 7-Eleven to deliver the Friday night fun-times. No wonder street-beating and stay-home teens alike turn their heads to alternative means of intoxication.

"I was high for a really long time," Earl Sweatshirt told GQ in 2013, while promoting his debut album proper of that summer, Doris. The Odd Future-affiliated rapper – born in Los Angeles a decade after the introduction of his homeland's current liquor law, and of legal drinking age since February 24th this year – would smoke constantly throughout his earliest writing and recording sessions, a period that would produce 2010's Earl mixtape.

A parental intervention saw him transplanted from California to the Coral Reef Academy in Samoa. When he came back, Earl stole Pharrell's attention from 'Blurred Lines' long enough to collaborate on 'Burgundy', put out the single 'Chum' to crystallise the emotions he'd crunched during his time overseas, and eventually released one of 2013's finest rap albums. The Can-sampling Doris did what Earl hadn't, refining his evident but raw talent into a hip-hop collection of great creativity and bold character.

It was a cluttered set, though: 20 minutes longer than its downloadable predecessor and over-stuffed with guest vocal turns and varied production talent. On top of Pharrell came RZA, Mac Miller, Frank Ocean, BadBadNotGood, Samiyam, Tyler, The Alchemist and a clutch of Odd Future allies. A project that seemed to cash in all its maker's favour cheques at once, Doris dragged in spots, and came apart in others where voices conflicted in a narrative rendered unclear by so many parts. The same certainly can't be said for this follow-up. At just under 30 minutes, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside is a head-rush of the fullest flavour and minimal fuss – and the taste it leaves in the mouth is one of dirt and blood.

When Earl – real name Thebe Neruda Kgositsile – raps "I ain't been outside in a minute," it's easy to picture him beyond a basement, down in the earth, brooding with intent. That's where this album sounds birthed from: the unseen beneath us, the sewers and the hidden places most rappers with a reputation of acclaim and no shortage of expendable cash would only be seen dead in. The production, all of which save one track is handled by Earl under his randomblackdude alias, is pitch black for the most part, beats heavy and thick-hooded, keys uncurling ominously. The bright smile of Earl's father-figure-like friend Tyler, the Creator – conspicuous by his absence on I Don't Like Shit…, perhaps – would be corrupted in moments by such infectious and enveloping murk.

'Grief' successfully sets a persistent tone – the lead single paints its parent LP in shades of gloom rendered with gritty texture, shattered dreams mixed into thick oils, and so it goes across the complete canvas. 'Grown Ups' pops and ducks with great dynamism, but an atmosphere of oppression persists, as fits lyricism about dad not being there; 'Faucet' is bleaker still, its dull thud striking synapses like a fence post swung by a steroids-pumped professional wrestler sporting corpse paint. Penultimate piece 'DNA' drops typical "bitch" vernacular but does so amid a melancholic haze that can only come from being burned deeply by life-directing experiences. Both Earl and guesting MC Na'kel (one of just four additional vocalists across the record) sound desperate, ruffled and wild, whatever their efforts to take a deep breath and deliver some discomfort-glossing braggadocio.

One of Earl's greatest characteristics is his ability to turn complex rhymes into dot-to-dot simple phrases that appear to come on slow but, listening back, strike with polysyllabic smoothness. It's his diction, maybe – he spills dizzying imagery like a man possessed for the second half of 'Wool', but every word is clear and correct, his accent pointing every plosive. The same can be said of 'Mantra', which contrasts frenetic rhetoric against electronic drums on a hanger-echo setting. It's one of a couple of tracks that almost drops away completely at its midway point – back into the pit, the hellmouth, the past that he's maneuvered his way out of by artistically punching above his modest physical weight. It's a relief when it's all over and he's still swinging – and it's no chore at all to do it all again, such has been the potency of the previous half-hour.

It's funny to think that, in the eyes of the lawmakers in the place where he was born, Earl has only just recently become a man: he can finally pick up a six-pack without fobbing off the clerk with fake ID. Not that he needs another addiction to contend with as fuel for the next album's creative process, as coming comparatively clean for this set has resulted in his best work yet. I Don't Like Shit… is a bleakly beautiful collection of compelling brevity, and while it exercises several demons across its ten tracks, it remains very much possessed by a singular spirit: that of an artist continuing to rise, even if he has to dig down uncommonly deep before springing past his peers.