#2: Doris – Earl Sweatshirt
After an imposed (yet ultimately appreciated) exile in Samoa, Earl Sweatshirt returned to the United States to continue a career he had never started and discontinue a life he once led. Doris was released more than a year after these two agendas were set in motion, yet they are its primary focus. Shrouding himself in opacity, Earl details these agendas in a guarded, but riveting way. Whereas his idol DOOM donned an actual mask when exploring his life, Earl suffices with words and sounds, showing us nothing concrete, yet maintaining a palpable presence nonetheless. Few of the instrumentals “bang” or “knock.” Quite the opposite, they often hover and whip around Earl’s dense lyrics, tapping the listener on the shoulder and vanishing by the time you turn around. Tellingly, a week before Doris was released, Earl appeared on the single “Between Villains” alongside DOOM and Captain Murphy, two masked and fictionalized emcees. Earl doesn’t wear a mask and he isn’t quite fictional, but he fit right in. In the end, Doris is a bit of a hazy, foggy affair, but that’s its beauty. Somehow Earl has found a way to lead a public life that’s paradoxically entirely mysterious, just like a supervillain. Read our full review here.
#1: Old – Danny Brown
Whereas Doris shows Earl clinging to mystery, Old features Danny Brown exposing himself for all the world to see. This nakedness is overwhelming. The accumulated details of Danny Brown’s experiences in Detroit are truly harrowing. Before Old, crackheads and poverty were faceless, perhaps even humorous ghosts from Danny‘s past, but here we’re given their mugshots in detail. It’s almost pornographic how starkly Danny‘s life is presented, but that seems to be precisely the point. Face to face with the sheer grimness of his life, laughter and ridicule in response to his zany character become ignorance. More importantly it also becomes inconsiderate to insist that he continually discuss that life, as if he’s somehow overcome it.
Upon establishing where he comes from, Danny informs us where he is, providing boisterous and licentious party music for a large chunk of the album’s latter half. Nevertheless, the parties are rarely pure celebrations; his ghosts continue to show up, manifesting in his dreams, his hangovers and even at the parties themselves in the form of his behavior towards family, friends and strangers. Succinctly put, Old takes post-traumatic stress seriously. And above all, it does this all without losing form. At the end of his last album, XXX, on the song “30” Danny assured himself, “You know who you is? You the greatest rapper ever!” It will take a few more years and a few more albums before we see if Danny Brown actually is the GRE*, but on Old we see him taking the title seriously, tackling every beat with Warren Sapp ferocity. No other rapper could rap over this particular selection of beats without faltering or sounding corny. For 2013, Danny Brown is the champ. (Read our full review of Old here.)
*GRE should totally replace GOAT.
Electric Lady – Janelle Monae
Marshall Mathers LP 2 – Eminem
Trap Lord – A$AP Ferg
Stolen Youth – Vince Staples & Larry Fisherman (Mac Miller)
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