Thebe Kgositsile, better known as Earl Sweatshirt, blasted onto the rap scene with his debut mixtape Earl at just sixteen years old and was immediately met with praise. Kgositsile followed this project up with the critically acclaimed Doris in 2013, critics referring to him as a “methodical wordsmith” (Jenkins). Doris debuted at number five on the Billboard 200, selling forty-nine thousand copies in its first week, staying on the charts for five weeks, and earning the eleventh spot on Complex’s “Best Albums of 2013”. However, this is not his most well-received album, that would be Some Rap Songs, released in November of 2018. Some Rap Songs is considered to be one of the best underground hip-hop releases of the past decade, receiving an 8.8 on Pitchfork and sitting at an average score of eighty-six on Metacritic, both of which are the highest of any of his albums. Each of these albums were very successful and recognized, however, there’s an album between these two that is not remembered today as Doris and Some Rap Songs are. I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt, released in 2015, seems to have been forgotten and left in the past, but why?

The descent into obscurity for this album starts before it had even been announced. In a way, Kgositsile had set himself up for failure. Following up an album like Doris is a hard task in itself, but he was expected to continue a similar sound to that of Doris. When looking back, Doris is a relatively straightforward rap project. Of course, it is an incredible rap album, but it does not stray too far from the box. This worked in its favor, that was until the next album was being released. Kgositsile’s sophomore album takes a large tonal shift in comparison to his studio debut, with much darker and brooding beats and attacking new subject matter. Kgositsile had recently ended his relationship with his girlfriend, lost his grandmother, and was watching his world-famous friend group fall apart around him. Now just add in that he had a damaged relationship with both parents while dealing with resentment towards religion, and the lyrics could practically write themselves. However, nothing could ever be so simple for Earl Sweatshirt, each line in this album is intricate and offers something past the surface. 

Just before this album was released, Kgositsile released another project under the pseudonym dar Qness on youtube. This was an EP titled Solace, stylized in all lowercase, a project now known for its exceedingly depressing tone and subject matter. These projects were most likely developed in the same time frame, as they were released within months of each other. This presumption is furthered by the overlapping similarities in the subject matter and even lyrics at times. While it does not add or take away from the album, it can help develop and connect certain ideas.

Before discussing the album directly, one problem cannot go unmentioned when discussing this album. This is in regards to the rollout of the album, something that permanently damaged the relationship between Kgositsile and his distributor, Sony. Kgositsile gave insight into the mishap while talking to NPR’s “Microphone Check” saying, “We were going to put the video on a website, like, the Earl Sweatshirt website; real simple” (Kgositsile) referring to the video for his single “Grief”. “But when it came to me it had a bunch of banners on it, like ‘Download the new album.’ More than you see on dudes who are bigger than me, you know? So I was like, ‘Just take the banners off. We’ll launch the thing” (Kgositsile). Kgositsile had not planned to announce the album, he had the whole scheme ready, it was just up to the distributor to execute. As one can assume, Sony failed to do so. Kgositsile learned from a fan on Twitter posting about his album, one that was not supposed to be announced yet. Kgositsile then “started researching, and my sh-t, everything except the video, had come out. The album cover, the tracklist, the features…I was devastated. I was ready to like kill some — the day I was — it would’ve been so quiet for any n—a from Sony” (Kgositsile). Kgositsile felt disrespected by the company and was extremely upset with the execution of the situation. Sony never fully addressed the situation and this upset him even further. Yet, even after all of this, Kgositsile has stayed with Sony Music Entertainment, where there has not been a similar incident.

I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album By Earl Sweatshirt was released on March 24th, 2015, and was met with mostly positive reviews. Kgositsile’s sophomore record received an 8.0 from Pitchfork Media and currently has an 81 on Metacritic, both of which are great forms of reception. Pitchfork describes the change in pace as, “lethally effective, absorbing whole styles for a verse’s time as they seem to fit him” (Cook-Wilson). However, while these scores are certainly impressive, both are the lowest of any Earl Sweatshirt album. This only becomes more puzzling when truly comparing this album to the rest of Kgostisile’s work. I Don’t Like Shit is much more complete and consistent throughout than Doris and SICK!, yet, both are scored higher and get more public praise. One might assume this could be due to Doris being more approachable and easier to listen to, but Some Rap Songs is infamously hard to get into at first and it is the most well-received of any of the albums. Doris has more hits and bigger names accompanying the lead act, something that I Don’t Like Shit is missing. However, this was not for a lack of being able to get big-time features, Kgositsile was adamant about becoming more independent on this project. This is backed by lines such as, “On my momma, I been limiting my features” (Sweatshirt “Wool”) and “… is fake, I limit the features I give ‘em” (Sweatshirt “Mantra”) from tracks “Wool” and “Mantra”. This album is entirely self-produced, excluding “Off Top” which is produced by fellow Odd Future member Left Brain. The only valid reason that Doris might be considered a better album is tracks like “Chum”, “Hive”, “Sunday”, and “Whoa”, four tracks that surpass the others in terms of quality and marketability. However, Doris is quite inconsistent, hitting several speed bumps in between great songs. Tracks like “Guild”, “Pre”, and even “Sasquatch” take away from the rest of the album, in terms of quality and tone. It would be a lie to say that I Don’t Like Shit is completely perfect throughout, but in a shorter timespan it manages to have fewer negative tonal shifts. However, if the two had to be compared side-by-side, Doris is the better rap album. While yes it has its flaws, and  I Don’t Like Shit is more consistent and fluid, Doris is simply higher quality and has the higher highs. Although, I Don’t Like Shit is a better Earl Sweatshirt album than  Doris, Kgositsile said it himself, “…I feel like this is my first album. This is the first thing that I’ve said that I fully stand behind, like the good and the bad of it. Because it’s just — I’ve never been this transparent with myself or with music. I’ve never been behind myself this much” (Kgositsile).  This was truly his album, this was not someone else’s beats with someone else’s bars with Earl Sweatshirt plastered on it, not to say this is what his previous works were. Earl was mostly produced by Tyler, The Creator, and Doris had several different producers with a few tracks produced by Kgositsile, or his producer pseudonym RandomBlackDude. It is hard to truly feel like the album is one artist’s if there is so much outside input, so with Kgositsile producing 90% of the project, he felt as though it was truly his.

Yet, what exactly does a true Earl Sweatshirt album entail? Well to put it in simple terms, world-class wordplay, rhyme schemes, a signature flow, and production unlike any other. Yet, just talking the album up does not give it true justice, that is only done through the true contents of the album itself. What makes Earl Sweatshirt a respected name is his lyricism, and this is quite evident in this record. Lyrics like “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” (Sweatshirt “Faucet”) and “Mirror, mirror, let me hear why the … that’s the peers see and hear us”  (Sweatshirt “Inside”) display his talents behind the mic with his intricate rhyme schemes while also being able to juggle hard-hitting topics. In fact, hard-hitting topics fuel this entire record, mainly the loss of Kgositsile’s grandmother, his strained relationship with his mother, and a rocky breakup with his ex. These can be felt in the lines “I spent the day drinkin’ and missin’ my grandmother, just / Grab a glass and pour some cold white wine in it” (Sweatshirt “Huey”) which is complemented by “What a bastard that baby was / Little mad … missing dad, never praying much / Right around the same time his grandmama drank a bunch” (Sweatshirt “Off Top”) on a later track. Kgositsile’s grandmother was a big part of his life and someone he relied upon in times of grief, and now that she is gone he has turned to similar habits to hers. Grief plays a large role in the construction of this project, even getting a song dedicated to the subject. “Grief” confronts Kgositsile’s paranoia and frustrations with everything around him with lyrics such as “And all I see is snakes in the eyes of these …” and “I was making waves, you was surfing in ’em” (Sweatshirt “Grief”). Kgositsile does not trust anyone around him, seeing them as “snakes”, something one would call a person who is not what they seem. He also claims to have made the “waves” that others are surfing in, speculating that he was a pioneer in his field yet the others are benefiting from it. Similar lines can be found later on the album on the track “Inside”, “Got a tape? Catch a wave, now you in the industry ocean / Missing out on your boat” (Sweatshirt “Inside”). When these are looked at together, it could be a subtle jab at Odd Future, the rap group he helped get off the ground. Kgositsile’s Earl mixtape was one of, if not the reason that Odd Future skyrocketed in popularity; however, Kgositsile was not able to experience this rise in fame, as his mother had sent him away to a boarding school for troubled teens in Somoa. Kgositsile spent a year and a half at this program and missed the rise that Odd Future had experienced, and it makes sense for him to be upset; Kgositsile was a huge reason for their success and instead of being able to enjoy it, he was stuck in a boarding school on an island in the Pacific. This strained the relationship between Kgostisile and his mother heavily, something that is addressed several times throughout the project. Lines like, “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” (Sweatshirt “Faucet”) show that he still does not forgive his mother for sending him away, and even after gaining money upon return, it does not fix what happened. However, Kgositsile does not only blame his mother, stating, “Trying to pay my mama rent, figure that’s just what I owe her / I been trouble since I tumbled out that stroller” (Sweatshirt “Off Top”). He also takes the blame for what happened, as his mother had reasons to send him to the program, she was looking out for him. Things do not get much brighter, as, in the time leading up to this album, he and his girlfriend had a rough breakup. Kgositsile expresses his frustration, saying “And the last couple months was the worst ’cause I smashed all the trust / That I earned in the past couple months that we had as a couple” (Sweatshirt “Mantra”), allowing the listener to infer that they had a healthy relationship until things gradually went downhill. It does not appear that he places all of the blame on his partner, claiming that he had smashed the trust. Kgositsile is a lyrical mastermind, it is one thing to be able to construct rhymes the way he does, but to be able to convey emotions and topics as well is what makes him special. 

Furthermore, his lyrics are certainly his strong suit, however, this does not mean he does not excel in other aspects of his music. Kgositsile is a very skilled producer as well, producing all but one song on the entire project. These are no ordinary beats either, they are unique and complex. They push the tone further than the lyrics, capturing the feeling of each song perfectly. “Greif” a song about becoming secluded and paranoid has a jarring and heavy beat, and “Inside” a song with quick jabs and deeper lyrics has a subtle beat; both of which fit their songs perfectly. The only song not produced by Kgositsile himself is “Off Top”, produced by Left Brain. Left Brain is a fellow member of the rap collective Odd Future and has produced for Kgositsile before. He is most well known for his groups MellowHype and MellowHigh, consisting of other members of Odd Future, Domo Genisis, and Hodgy Beats. His work on “Off Top” is quite impressive as he is able to transform a simple four-chord progression into a complex and angsty hip-hop track. This is done by introducing three new aspects to the song, mainly the drums. He brings in an audio sample of a man saying “oh man” which is distributed throughout the entire track and also exploits the bass to his pleasing.  Not only does this album have some of the best lyricism in the game, but it is also complemented by some of the best production as well. 

For an album that has good critical reviews, which it appears to have earned, why does it seem to be swept under the rug when talking about Earl Sweatshirt albums? This is most likely due to audiences not truly giving it a chance. It is stuck in between two highly coveted albums, one of which is very easy to get into, and the other is a true work of art. While I Don’t Like Shit is a great album, it can be hard to listen to on the first few listens. The same can be said about  Some Rap Songs, but that album is known to be a grower and has so much high praise around it that it brings listeners back in. Some Rap Songs is also famously known to be a staple of the underground and was released in a very bombastic period of music. As unfortunate as it is, I Don’t Like Shit does not have this luxury, it does not have anything that truly brings the listener back in the way that the others do. However, this should not take anything away from the album; for most artists, this would be their best album, but things are not that simple for an artist of Kgositsile’s stature. 

In all, when it comes to Thebe Kgositsile, sometimes improvement and growth as an artist is not recognized and appreciated. This album has the misfortune of being in the middle of the best debut in the Odd Future collective and one of the greatest underground hip-hop releases of all time. This album shows great growth and pulls great aspects from both the album that preceded it and the one that followed it. Hopefully audiences can come to appreciate this album as it has earned, but until then, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album By Earl Sweatshirt is stuck in music purgatory.

Jack Sanders
Jack Sanders

Creator and author of Sunset Scripter

Photo Credits: