Do yourself a favor and play the album while you read this…

Sometimes, darkness breeds creativity. Within that darkness you can look inward and find pieces of yourself that might be broken. How you mend those pieces is very important in order to become whole again. For Earl Sweatshirt, he started to look inward when he turned 21. Before then he was living a fast-paced and wild lifestyle. “I just turned 20, I just broke up with a girl I was going out with and then it was just hell at my house, but the best hell.” Sweatshirt told Microphone Check, “But at the same time super woke. It’s when I got woke. I got hit on the head.” Within looking inward, he gained a new sense of clarity and that clarity helped him make one of his most honest projects to date, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Personally, this is my favorite project from Earl. Its sounds like he let us in on a journal entry, like we’re hearing the healing process. We hear his turmoil up until the very end where we get clarity right along with him. I remember where I was when I first hit play on it and it’s one of the first album where I was like, “I have to buy this on CD.” This continues my ongoing series of articles detailing why 2011-2016 was the golden era of music, with this album landing in 2015.

This album was created in moments. If Sweatshirt felt inspired, he had to write. The first track Huey is a wonderful example of that. This album was made during the “debauchery month” of Sweatshirt’s life before he turned 21. On the song he details his life at the time. Earl went to Samoa around 2009-2010 and returned in 2012. When he returned he was forced into the hype that had been built around not only himself, but also his friends, so he found himself digressing back into his old ways. “Foot and hand on the gates, We was jumpin’ ’em, fuck, I’m like quicksand in my ways.” He spends his days drinking and smoking, but within that he’s still mourning the loss of his grandmother. It’s a very clear picture of what Earl was going through while making this album, it’s like a snapshot.

The next track Mantra is a direct response to the last line in Huey, “And I gotta jot it quick ’cause I can’t focus so well.” Earl is at his most braggadocious at the beginning, but as the song goes on it fades away more and more. So much so that by the end of his first verse he goes from distancing himself from his peers who aren’t on his same skill level to dealing with the pains of being famous. The second verse is dedicated to his ex-girlfriend, and he questions why they even dated in the first place. All they did was have sex and argue, these thoughts become so much that Earl questions what she even brought to his life. At the end of the song his crumples up the paper he was jotting on and throws it away. Its moments like those that make this album so painfully personal, you can almost go through the motions in real time. At the end of the track after he crumples the paper up, his voice trails off as if he was reminded that the words he just wrote were inspired by actual events, then he immediately gets up and leaves the song.

Faucet is a track that perfectly details why Earl got sent away, he simply outgrew his home. His Mother sent him away and because of that now it’s like they don’t know each other anymore. With his new fame, his focus being on the music is putting a wedge between his relationships with those close to him. Friends are turning into enemies, relationships with women are strained and if it’s not getting him paid, Earl isn’t remembering dates. But, he doesn’t feel good about acting this way, he details this at the end of his second verse:

Rain-checking on your plot if ever bread should pop up
Out the toaster, I gotta focus, my family problems
Shrunk and widened with the bumps in my personal finance
It hurt ’cause I can’t keep a date or put personal time in
Or reverse to the times when my face didn’t surprise you
Before I did the shit that earned me my term on that island
Can’t put a smile on your face through your purse or your pocket
Shit in a pile, never change, I’m stupid for trying
Still just too busy wilding (Still, yeah)

Its the acknowledgment of these actions that leads Earl into realizing the error of his was and sends him into the process of healing. Grief is that moment visualized. Lines like “3-7-6 was a brothel, we had females coming every hour on the dot” and “Good grief, I been reaping what I sowed, Nigga, I ain’t been outside in a minute I been living what I wrote” imply that this track came after the “debauchery month” and its Sweatshirt reflecting on just how chaotic that time was. But, its time to change, “Um, I just want my time and my mind intact, When they both gone, you can’t buy ’em back” Earl’s delivery during his whole second verse is somber and reflective, finally realizing that enough is enough. He told Pitchfork, “I was fucked up when I made “Grief”. I had been prescribed to be inside because I had fucking medical exhaustion, so I was asleep for, like, three weeks and then I fucking went outside and tore my meniscus and limped around on that for two weeks. My leg atrophied. It got hella small, along with my self-esteem. I wasn’t taking any pain pills or nothing, but then I took a Vicodin and went home and that song all just happened at once.

In contrast to the more solemn verses, there are moment where Earl sounds like a king addressing his lowly subjects. Off Top, Grown Ups, DNA & Wool all see Earl detailing just how Unfuckwittable he is.

Especially on Off Top, my god. Listen, We all know Earl can rap, but when he gets into his duffy, it’s a sight to behold. Rapping over excellent production by Left Brain, the only outside producer on the album, Earl reminds his peers that he is not like them. This is him merely jogging around the bases and he’s miles ahead of his competition. “Raised up where every mouth that speak the truth get taped shut
Peep the evening news, my nigga—we don’t do the same stuff, Kiwis couldn’t take us, boy, I’m jogging around these bases
” Just in those bars alone, Earl: 1. Let’s you know he’s aware of the history of what truth-tellers such as himself get in consequence for speaking up, 2. Reminds you that he’s banned from an entire country (New Zealand), and 3. His superior rapping abilities got him banned from that country. Y’all call me when any rapper you know can compare to that, I’ll be waiting.

As I stated earlier, all but one track was produced by Earl. He shows out on the production, all the beats are infectiously hypnotic, blending traditional hip-hop elements with trippy elements and abrupt tempo and beat changes. Huey begins with a haunted carnival organ welcoming you to the newest Earl Sweatshirt attraction. They are joined by rattling 808s, then Earl comes in with the drums and a some piano notes, too. As he spits, a rush of wind goes from your left ear to your right and the organ gets distorted like it’s literally being strangled, right as Earl says, “Beat the fuckin’ beat up like it stole from me (Yup),” too! This album is full of beat switches at the end of tracks, Earl never said why he chose to do this that I can find, but they’re just as groovy as the main sections. The outro on Mantra features a simple drum loops over the sounds of running water that transition perfectly into Faucet. The outro on Grief features a sample of Gary Wilson’s You Were Too Good to Be True. Not much is added to the sample, but damn it if those drums aren’t still amazing all these years later.

Personally, my favorite beat on the album is the combo on AM // Radio. That piano being driven by the bassline with the guitar (?) coming in for about six notes at the end of the loop and the the lone piano note being played underneath it all? Chef kiss. This beat isn’t doing too much at all, just enough that you bob your head along with Wiki and Earl’s verses. Sometimes elements will cut themselves out so that it’s just drums, or just bass or just the pianos. This song is appropriately titled, it sounds like a sunset. You can visualize the sun coming over the horizon slowly making the sky a beautiful gradient of oranges, pinks and blues. I don’t smoke, but if I did it would sound like that morning blunt that you rolled the night before, just taking in the moments before you start you day and get ambushed by the loud sounds of the outside world.

If AM // Radio is the sunrise then, Inside, DNA and Wool is when the sun sets to when it eventually becomes night. Inside sounds when the day is winding down and the sky is that brilliant mix of blues, purples and oranges. Earl raps about feeling left out when he returned home from Samoa and Odd Future went on tour, seeing how the industry copies their movements and why he distances himself from them because of it. That energy goes into the derelict energy in DNA. This song is dark. Earl and Nak rap over another eerie piano loop accompanied by these huge sounding 808s, then when Earl switches his flow, the drums come in and your face instantly scrunches up. Wool is midnight, you don’t want to be outside. Vince-motherfuckin’-Staples is outside! Vinny is beyond violent on this track and the beat matches his energy. It sounds like your strapped to a chair and you have no idea where you are. A single lightbulb sways above your head and Vince and Earl are circling you like sharks torturing you for no apparent reason. Over a menacing minor-chord bassline and echoed percussion, and a snare that sounds like the same one from Bring Da Ruckus, too. Earl’s staples seems to be using these pianos that sound like they came from old creepy hospitals, but they convey the themes so well.

When you listen to this album you get the sense that you’re listening to a twenty-something figure themselves out. Earl does not have a normal life, and this album sees himself figuring out how to maneuver within the context and trappings of fame. Earl stated that each track is a snapshot of him at that given time. He told The LA Times, “It’s just a reflection of whatever’s going on. It’s, like, a documented journey toward clarity. It’s not like I’m 21 and I’ve reached any [big epiphany].” The songs sound dark, but if you listen to the lyrics its not an album full of despair and woes. Earl said it best, “What I found to be more the theme of [“I Don’t Like …, I Don’t Go Outside”] is just … clarity. Darkness is just clarity. And a lot of times that’s what we [name] the issues that we have: darkness, because it’s easier to not deal with them. When there’s not a spotlight on them. There’s … that’s dark but there’s also just like, a tone that’s dark, but it’s just me checking in at the time, being honest with myself.

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