Published September 10, 2022
Weekly Album Spotlights, Sep. 10
Doris – Earl Sweatshirt
Sometimes the perception is that Doris‘ reputation has aged poorly, and that’s not fair. Earl Sweatshirt’s level of acclaim has skyrocketed so much that his older projects get lost in the mix – the reality is that his 2013 debut is on par with his recent efforts, and in my eyes still his best.
So much of Doris‘ charm comes from the era it was released in. During a time where a new generation of emcees had formed, Earl ensured his name wouldn’t get lost in the mix. That was a difficult conquest, as not only was he coming off of some time away in Samoa but also had to differentiate himself from the rest of his group, Odd Future. He exceeded in maintaining ties and representing them on the record, but wanted listeners to know this was about him.
In retrospect, the excessively gloomy sound of Doris is nothing special for Earl; nearly all of his albums have fallen under this darker atmosphere. If you were to tell a fan in 2013 that this would arguably be his “brightest”, though, they’d scoff in disbelief. But the dedication to west coast traits – including colorful synths and a handful of faster-paced cuts – secured the attention of previous Odd Future fans while establishing Earl’s own identity.
Consistency is the word of the day, and is by all means this album’s greatest characteristic. There isn’t quite any track that flat out ruins the flow or stands out too much – even experimental endeavors like the alter-ego-dominated “Guild” or expressive “Molasses” fit right in. This is something that put Earl ahead of the curve in comparison to his peers, who still had their fair share of questionable creations – most notably Tyler, the Creator, although Wolf from a few months prior was a sharp improvement.
The roster of feature artists is also an appreciated inclusion, as nearly every track has a personality off their guest appearances alone. “20 Wave Caps” feeds off of Domo’s infectious energy, and both Tyler collaborations are as Odd Future-faithful as it gets.
The first stretch of Doris possesses most of the fan favorite songs, especially the run of “Sunday“-“Hive“-“Chum“. However, I want to highlight the back end – this is chock-full of Earl’s finest work, most notably the three conclusive tracks. “Knight” in particular may be my favorite of all, finishing off one of 2013’s premier experiences with killer verses from both Domo and our host.
Take this as a reminder to revisit – I’m convinced this only gets better with age. The next step is getting affirmation from others on that belief.
Open – Blu
This is just one of many Blu projects that will inevitably be covered on this blog. The difference is Open is pure instrumental goodness, and a lot of people don’t even know the west coast rapper worked behind the boards too.
Through a producer’s ear, beat tapes sound different. My perfectionism naturally predisposes me to being over-analytical, and I can reason with the idea that this is one of the best things in the sub-genre. Blu has directly cited his musical influences many times, many of which are producers – that shines through on here.
I also want to preface this with a heads-up that there are two versions of Open – the original instrumental one, and remix of sorts that features a handful of underground names throughout. Both are good listens, but this is primarily addressing the former.
If you put one of Blu’s beats side-by-side with his partner Exile, it would be somewhat difficult to tell the difference. This is because they come from the same era of soulful sentiment in boom bap, also exhibited by legends like 9th Wonder and Kanye West. These two unfortunately fall under the radar in comparison, and Blu even more so – keep in mind that this isn’t his only instrumental effort, as the critically acclaimed Her Favorite Colo(u)r was as well.
But what also must be acknowledged is that almost feels intentional. The entire soundscape of Open screams “low-key”, from the near-liminal album cover to shelled-in sample selection. Listeners were programmed to stay focused on the music at hand, devoid of distraction.
This is a quality in beat tapes that also reigns supreme through some other favorites of mine – refer to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. or Madlib’s Beat Konducta series. For something to be so immersive that it can be attached to certain feelings or memories is a blessing, and this has certainly cemented its place through unbreachable favoritism and nostalgia.
As soon as the introductory “NoWorries” comes in, the mental preparation for a half hour of hip-hop bliss is immediately complete. Exceptional standouts like “Raw!“, “TheRunAwaySlaveSong“, and “TalkingToMyselfTooOften” only reaffirm my decision to support Blu’s love for sound design, because delivering bars and beats is a feat worth appreciating.
The Elephant Man’s Bones – Roc Marciano & The Alchemist
The coolest thing about The Elephant Man’s Bones? It still sounds like Roc Marciano produced it. The chemistry is that seamless.
For how long the two have been intertwined as underground pioneers, it’s surprising Marci and The Alchemist have yet to release a full-length collaboration prior to this. Producer-rapper works aren’t Roc’s bread and butter – at least when he’s on the mic. Before this, it was only KAOS with DJ Muggs that explored this.
It’s unsurprising that the Long Island phenom traverses this challenge with ease, though. In fact, his lyricism sounds sharper than it’s ever been, truly dedicated to his persona and packed with witty punchlines that selfishly hold the audience’s attention.
It’s hard to characterize Elephant Man. Perhaps some crossover between “elegant” and “eccentric” is the right approach, even though that seems inconceivable. That’s ultimately its hidden jewel, though; it sticks out like a sore thumb in both catalogues, yet features them in prime creation.
I also want to praise Alchemist’s willingness to get unconventional throughout. He’s no stranger to bizarre chops and free-form instrumentals, but it’s not often you hear him apply those skills for an entire project. The reality is that someone as experimental as Roc requires that dedication, and that was the key to their eventual synergy.
As for must-hears, there are gems scattered throughout. “Daddy Kane” has a bit of a vintage flair to it, also calling up Action Bronson to provide yet another set of memorable bars. The title track is as poised as the record gets, and the subsequent “Bubble Bath” maintains the polish under a rapid-fire drum pattern. The second half is all about Marciano honing in, compiling some even greater performances until everything is wrapped up.
The Elephant Man’s Bones is by no means your typical hip-hop encounter, but to people in need of something fresh – do give it a shot. It’s absolutely one of the top releases of the year.