Thebe Kgositsile, better known by his stage name Earl Sweatshirt, first came on the hip-hop scene as the kind of prodigy no parent would ever want their child to be. The teenage rapper’s lyrics depicting rape, cannibalism, and all manner of deviant behaviour are invariably delivered with a deliberate flow that makes sure no lyrical transgression goes unnoticed. Although rumours that his mother had sent him to a boarding school in Samoa after she heard the songs he was making ultimately proved to be false, the myriad grotesqueries of his early releases made the story incredibly believable. Something must have changed during his time in boarding school, though, as his first album since his return, 2013’s Doris, found the then 19-year-old MC not only dialing back on the shock value, but diversifying his flows and even stepping into a producer’s role. When he winkingly rapped “dispelling ‘one-trick pony’ myths, isn’t he?” on Doris standout “Hive”, the message was clear: Earl Sweatshirt was more than just a teenage MC with a dark imagination.
With his latest album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Kgositsile delivers his most personal and artistically compelling collection of music yet. The album features the fewest guest appearances of any of his releases to date, and nine of the album’s ten tracks are self-produced. It’s also the furthest he’s been from the Odd Future collective since joining up with them in 2009, with producer Left Brain and rapper Vince Staples the only Odd Future affiliates present on the album. Other guest contributions include A$AP Mob member Dash, pro skater (and noted Odd Future fan) Na’kel Smith, and Wiki of alternative hip-hop duo Ratking. While Kgositsile’s production (under the tongue-in-cheek alias “randomblackdude”) stays largely within the confines of the collective’s signature sound, with major-chord piano, lo-fi synth washes, booming bass and reverb-soaked percussion dominating its sonic landscape.
The beats on Outside are among the best in the group. The broken beats of “Mantra” are a particular highlight, betraying a subtle IDM influence that suggests a move away from the familiar territory of Odd Future’s lo-fi sound may be in the cards for future Earl Sweatshirt releases.
Having left behind the horror-movie fantasies of his early raps, Kgositsile has moved on to more intimate subject matter, songs often adopting a confessional tone in the process. On “Grief”, he talks about paranoia and anxiety in candid detail, rapping, “lately I’ve been panicking a lot, feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, scrambling for Xanax.” Here the glorified gore of Earl has been replaced with an honesty that can be just as uncomfortable, but far more rewarding than the cheap thrills of his older material.
His relationships with women, family, and his modest fame dominate the album’s subject matter; it’s not quite the “emo rap” of Atmosphere or Sage Francis, but the melancholy introspection on Outside definitely has something in common with that subgenre — the album may, in fact, be the closest thing to God Loves Ugly an Odd Future affiliate will ever put out. This isn’t something anyone could have expected when hearing early Sweatshirt songs like “epaR” and “AssMilk”, but it’s great to hear Kgositsile moving on from cheap shock tactics and letting the listener behind the curtain, and doing so with some characteristically banging beats behind him.
The album is brisk, at a short ten songs with only two tracks breaking the four-minute mark. This is a boon to the listener; there’s usually only so much of the Odd Future aesthetic one can take before the darkness becomes overwhelming, and so a sub-40 minute runtime is perfect. Never in any danger of overstaying his welcome, Kgositsile shows an overall maturity on Outside that suggests great things in his future.