Preview: “Look Mama Your Product Is Legit”—10 Years of Doris at House of Blues

On July 19, 2014, Thebe Kgositsile (professionally known as Earl Sweatshirt) performed in Chicago for the first time at Cabaret Metro in support of his major-label debut Doris. I remember standing in line with my friend Omar like Catholics waiting to get into the Vatican. We were both teenagers who primarily enjoyed skateboarding, punk rock, and yelling obscenities at police officers. Earl’s provocative, anti-everything hip-hop, as well as his antics as part of the Odd Future collective, spoke to a dejected demographic that we were very much a part of. We were all angry at the world, and we all liked to laugh at it. Earl, still a teen in his own right when recording Doris, was a musical prodigy we could see ourselves in. He skateboarded, delighted in being a public nuisance on camera, and just happened to be one of the most gifted lyricists of all time. He communicated the feeling of being lost that all angst-ridden teenagers are all too familiar with; and he did it in a way that was dense, rough, and honest. He felt like one of us; the coolest, most talented possible version of us, but still, one of us.

Doris was a watershed moment of internet-born underground rap gaining a following that rivaled the mainstream. The fifteen/sixteen year old hyper-violent provocateur that gave us the Earl mixtape in 2010 had grown up. He had cast aside pure shock value for a much more menacing, mature, and multi-dimensional persona that embodied the growth he had underwent while at a boarding school for troubled youth in Samoa (A decision he later showed public gratitude to his mother for making). Songs like “Chum,” and “Knight,” provide an intimate portrait of a young man skulking through back-alleys trying to make sense of himself. “Hoarse,” and “Guild,” craft an uncomfortably surreal ambiance, “Woah,” and “Sasquatch,” (Both produced by Odd Future collective mate Tyler, The Creator) show that Earl still has a whip-smart sense of humor, while “Centurion,” and “Hive,” introduced the general public to the ominous and animated Vince Staples, who not only holds his own with Earl lyrically, but often comes off as even more foreboding, and Frank Ocean delivers one of the best rap verses of his career on “Sunday.” Doris was an encapsulation of a moment in time where an entire new generation of artists were making their distinct mark in Hip-Hop and its adjacent genres. Bona fide legends RZA and The Neptunes also provide production on the album, proving that these new kids were much more than upstarts, they were a new institution.

The incendiary teen spitfire had finally turned into the era-defining artist that many knew he could be when they heard the first few bars of his verse on the Odd Future posse cut “Oldie”; “For contrast is a pair of lips/Swallowin’ sarapin, settin’ fire to sheriff’s whips/F*cking All American Terrorist/Crushin’ rapper larynx to feed ‘em a f*ckin’ carrot stick…Feral f*ckin’ ill apparel, wearing pack of parasites/who threw his own youth off the roof after paradise”.

Earl Sweatshirt celebrates 10 years of Doris at the House of Blues on August 22nd, and I will be in attendance screaming every word (except that one). If you’re at all a fan of hip-hop, there’s something on this album for you to like, and Earl’s playful on-stage attitude is always delightful. There is simply so much to love about Doris, The mind-bending, muddy production that Earl adds himself, the complex and evocative lyrics, even the iconic cover shot by outsider artist and retired pro-skateboarder Jason Dill. But more than anything, Doris is a promise fulfilled. It is the child of a UCLA law professor (Cheryl Harris) and a beloved South African poet (Keorapetse Kgositsile), finally claiming his birthright as the voice of a generation, even if that’s something he never wanted to be. Doris is not an artist stepping into the light, but rather an artist inviting you into the shadows with him. I, for one, cannot wait to go back.

Aviv Hart
Aviv Hart