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Son to a law professor at UCLA and an infamous and recently deceased South African poet, Thebe Kgositsile, known by his artist persona as Earl Sweatshirt, is a prime example of why reading matters.
Earl was only 19 by the time this album was released. For the conventional pathway of an American rapper, this tends to be the average age to release a debut album. Rappers are mature enough to externalize their thoughts and emotions into spoken word, but still, deal with the lingering dark clouds and experiences of adolescence.
Earl was a part of the notorious Alternative Hip-Hop collective, Odd Future, which garnered the attention of tribal young adolescents around 2010, up to their official discourse and break up around 2016.
Earl was the subject of the Free Earl campaign arbitrarily held before the release of Doris, as a reaction from fans after hearing Earl had been sent to Coral Reef Academy, a therapeutic camp for “troubled minors” located in Samoa. Doris was released shortly after, which although received mild or tame reviews, showcased the literary talent he had compared to the artists of his time.
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Doris is fifteen tracks long, consisting of artists such as Tyler, The Creator, The Alchemist, Stones Throw’s Samiyam, and The Internet’s Matt Martians on the production side, just to name a few.
The sound could be gritty, solemn, and a little experimental, but the main focus of the album is Earl’s wordplay. The topics warp around the evocations of depression, arrogance, and heated fervor that adolescents go through, but just aren’t capable of articulating at this level.
Each track contains dizzying metaphors and animated portraits. These images could be simple portraits of distraught immigrant workers, as the next bars would tie in that image to a pop culture reference, tying in together characters all placed in the same painting.
In the song Hive, featuring Vince Staples, Earl spews a few bars that intelligently culminate into the grody imagery he’s trying to depict.
From a city that’s recession hit
Where stressed niggas could flex metal with, peddle to rake pennies in.
Desolate testaments trying to stay Jekyll-ish
But most niggas Hyde, and Brenda just stay pregnant.
Earl uses many literary techniques for these four bars alone. There’s a little bit of alliteration, as well as cultural references and poetic comparisons between subjects. For the whole duration of the song, Earl uses these techniques to transition from one image to the next.
In a few interviews Earl’s conducted during his prime years, he’s mentioned how his mother would force him to read on a daily basis during his childhood. He felt glad for that, as it helped with his lyricism immensely.
It seems that also with the likes of Eminem or MF Doom, the best rappers were once voracious readers. Eminem would study the dictionary during his underdog days, as MF Doom took periodic influence from poet Charles Bukowski. Being exposed to as much language and dialect as possible seems to go a long way.
It may be one of the qualities that help distinguish the good rappers from the bad ones, and Earl is the perfect case study for the light of the situation.