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Review: Earl Sweatshirt Makes the Most of Self-Induced House Arrest on ‘I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside’

8
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: March 23, 2015
Label: Columbia/Tan Cressida

Since he returned from a Samoan boarding school in 2012 to rejoin the by-then famous Odd Future collective, Earl Sweatshirt has seemed like a reluctant star. Even his physical transformation from a baby-faced “Before” to rib-showing “After” indicated a growing wariness, a subconscious desire to disappear; to stay inside.

As evinced by his taut, very good sophomore studio album, I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside, that unease has only multiplied. Not only does he actually say he’s reaching for a Xanax as he ruminates on his grandmother’s death, a breakup, and the short list of who he trusts, his production — he handles almost all of it here — reflects that state of mind, too. Certainly, the atmosphere is reminiscent of the creaky, lo-fi OFWGKTA aesthetic: With its artificial cheeriness, like a traveling circus full of alcoholic clowns trudging from town to town, opener “Huey” strikes a particularly familiar, f—ked-up chord. But then the mood turns, and pretty much stays, dark.

Of course that suits Earl fine here. Frayed synths mirror his nerves, and you sense his panic rising as he fumbles with the pop-top on the pill bottle. “I only trust these bitches ’bout as far as I can throw ‘em,” he says in “Off Top.” “All I see is snakes in the eyes of these niggas,” he spits out in “Grief.” “Never trust these hoes, don’t even trust my friends,” he reiterates in the quivering, Left Brain-produced “Grown Ups,” the only track Earl hands off to an outsider.

His paranoia is as thick as Drake’s on the similarly inward If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, from earlier this year. However, I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside is a much leaner, less showy effort (Drake is an actor, Earl decidedly is not), and Earl turns his pen on himself, too, not just everybody else. He seems intent on exorcising his mind, not wallowing in delusion. As he raps on “Grief,” “I just want my time and my mind intact / When they both gone, you can’t buy ‘em back.” That searching also produces some typically razor-sharp observations. One that particularly guts? “And I don’t know who house to call home lately.” And on the gentle “Inside” he fleshes out the unwieldy album title: “I blow a spliff before the ink dries on the paper / And lately I don’t like s—t, I been inside on the daily.” Fortunately, he lets us visit him there.