Verdict: Earl Sweatshirt wrestles his demons to pen one of the year’s best hip-hop albums
Coming out just weeks after Kendrick Lamar’s monumental “To Pimp a Butterfly” can’t be an easy blow for any hip-hop artist to take. Moreover, it can’t be easy for an artist to cope with an utter fumbling of his new album’s release. But Earl Sweatshirt is used to taking blows. With “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” Earl has turned his anxiety, once pointed bitterly inwards, outwards into the microphone. It’s not just a good album for Earl, it’s a necessary one. “I Don’t Like Shit…” finds Earl in bitter combat with depression while simultaneously distancing himself from his past with Odd Future, securing his place as one of hip-hop’s young prodigies. Matured both in his lyricism and his production, Earl has released his best album to date.
If Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a massive social commentary, then Earl Sweatshirt’s “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” is a scathing commentary on the individual. Lines like “It hurt ‘cause I can’t keep a date or put personal time in, a reverse of the times when my face didn’t surprise you, before I did the shit that earned me my term on that island” may paint the picture of a man falling into fatalism, but it’s not that Earl’s given up hope. Rather, he’s found his own methods for exorcism. From the crippling relationship heartbreak of “Mantra” to the drug-addled paranoia of “Grief,” it’s clear that Earl’s not in a good place. Like all of us, though, he’s struggling to hash it out. “I Don’t Like Shit…” is painting a picture of the viper’s pit and inviting its listeners to take the plunge. Earl’s lyricism may be too much for some to take, but those willing to dive into the muck will find an artist whose pushing himself to the limits, both emotionally and creatively. Of course, none of this introspection would gut-punch as hard without the production to match; thankfully, it does.
Complemented by sinister, grimy production, the Odd Future veteran strikes gold on “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.” The album’s ten tracks wind through a murky cloud of lo-fi beats, rumbling bass and echoing synthesizers, setting a mood of perfect foreboding for Earl’s stories. It’s difficult to imagine the hard-hitting “Grief” scoring so well without its utterly monstrous beat behind it. The track rages onward to a bitter conclusion marked by swirling low-end noise before cutting into a quirk-riddled outro akin to a deranged circus soundtrack. In a word, it’s bleak, but it’s undeniably engrossing. “Mantra” also sets a great example of stellar production with its distant reverberations and stuttered beats. Earl’s lyricism is the primary beneficiary here; his stories are vivid enough on their own, but they truly come alive when set against the violent whirlpools of sonic muck conjured on the album’s best cuts.
“I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside” is an ugly, murky slab of music that takes an introspective look at a person struggling just to make it to tomorrow. More than that, it’s a stunning portrait of Earl’s demons, painfully realized and sharply pointed. It’s certainly not a pleasant record, but it’s sure to evoke some reaction. Whether that reaction is disgust or sympathy will depend entirely on the listener, but those who can stomach the oppressive mire are in for a ride.