Let's get the backstory out of the way: Odd Future rapper Earl Sweatshirt dropped EARL in 2010 at age 16, featuring 26 minutes of eloquently repellent verses about murder, rape and drugs. The album is critically acclaimed, but Earl disappears, later discovered at a school for at-risk-youth in Samoa. Earl returned in 2012 and began work on his true debut, Doris. Here, Earl ditches rape references for Madvillain-inflected, densely tangled webs of internal rhymes that take repeat listens to unravel. Accordingly, the production (largely handled by Christian Rich and Earl, as Randomblackguy) is nocturnal and fuzzy. Earl's monotone flow and occasionally sound-alike beats mean that Doris takes off when our host has company to set off his intricate wordsmithing: Domo Genesis on "20 Wave Caps," a ferocious Vince Staples on the two a.m. creep of "Hive," plus Tyler, the Creator on "Sasquatch" and 2010 throwback "Whoa." Though most of the songs lack hooks and structure, Earl has improved enormously as a writer. "Chum" is the album's masterstroke, chronicling Earl's struggles with his mother and absentee father, as well as his transition "from honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks." "Sunday" backs Earl's earnest discussion of relationships with a scene-stealing verse from Frank Ocean. Stepping out of his self-made lo-fi wheelhouse, Earl sounds re-energized over RZA's fractured soul on "Molasses" and Badbadnotgood's lurching drone on "Hoarse." Doris isn't the classic many anticipated, but it is a strong, uncompromised debut from a very talented young rapper. For now, that's enough.
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