Emerging from the rambunctious skate rap crew Odd Future, the transformation of 21-year-old Earl Sweatshirt into one of hip-hop’s most cerebral and vulnerable artists has been fascinating to watch. In his third solo project, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl achieves new heights in introspection. In Outside, Earl intrepidly portrays his inward conflicts through a dark ambiance in a captivating fashion.
While the album clocks in at under 30 minutes, it is more than enough time to enter into Earl’s world, a world that is gloomy, stark, and isolated. Throughout Outside, Earl portrays his struggles with issues of isolation, having experienced the death of his grandmother, drug addiction, and relationship issues, delivered in his trademark terse, deliberate flow. Outside boasts minimalist production, courtesy of the L.A. rapper himself, featuring heavy bass and ominous keyboard riffs, creating more dark, intimate beats. In addition to producing nearly every track on the album, Earl also does the lion’s share of songwriting on the album, making him a triple-threat rarely seen in today’s hip-hop.
Tracks like the album’s lead single, “Grief,” demonstrate the interior struggles which make Outside so resonant. Earl opens the track by declaring “I ain’t been outside in a minute/I been livin’ what I wrote,” referencing the album’s title, which denibstrates the emotional distance he battles.
The album’s last track, “Wool” sees the reunion of Earl and California rapper Vince Staples, who delivers a loaded verse which tackles police shootings and vividly portrays the realities of gang life in his hometown of Long Beach. On the album’s final verse, we hear a significantly more confident Earl emerging from his remoteness, as the album’s finale delivers a bombastic declaration of his place in the rap game.
Outside chronicles Earl Sweatshirt’s entrancing struggles with darkness and isolation far beyond his mere 21 years. Through its foreboding cohesion, Outside succeeds at painting an honest picture of the mental state of the embattled rapper. Amid trends toward superficiality in popular hip hop, Earl’s genuine vulnerability is a breath of fresh air.
Voice’s Choices: “Wool,” “Off Top”