I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside begins with chipper organ chords and Earl Sweatshirt’s shadowed words: “I’m like quicksand in my ways.” Like that, he’s off. His girlfriend says pot’s taking the soul from him, the clique nature of Odd Future exhausts him, the press is pounding at his door for a feature. Earl is overwhelmed. Toasting an empty room with a glass of white wine and Colt 45, he’s slumped on the couch, missing his grandmother, missing his friends, and missing what it’s like to actually care. Odd Future may be a notoriously rambunctious crew, but Earl is struggling to stand up on his own.
From that first confession to the dozen that follow it, I Don’t Like Shit is Earl Sweatshirt’s darkest and most honest work. Each word on the album is shaped by his orotund tone as he nosedives straight into depression. Looking back, it should come as no surprise. He cancelled tour dates in 2014 after being “physically and mentally at the end of [his] rope.” After hearing this album, that announcement is significantly more worrisome than it was then.
Depression has long been the outlier of the mental illness family. It’s downplayed as an extended sadness, implying it’s not as difficult to handle as schizophrenia or OCD. That alone makes it harder to bear. “Emotion isn’t logic,” Earl explained in an interview with NPR. “Everyone is always freaking the fuck out and you can see it in their eyes.” He’s right. How we handle events shapes who we are, and Earl uses his sophomore studio album to get himself out of a hole.
It all began with Odd Future’s hype-built fame, a particular kind that leads artists like Earl Sweatshirt down a hallway with warped mirrors and a dozen shelves stocked with drugs that make your eyelids flutter, blocking your reflection and whatever courage you built up to try to face it. “Now you surrounded with a gaggle of a hundred fuckin’ thousand kids/ Who you can’t get mad at when they want a pound or pic,” Earl says on “Mantra”, dread spiking every word. Guitar echoes like chilling drops in a Portishead cave. It’s the high and low of extreme obsession elevated by a million internet views. “You can tell the reaper I’ma meet him when he send for me,” he adds, confirming fame’s double-edged sword. What’s enabling him to beat himself up are the swinging halves of his broken heart. The longer Earl details his final night with his ex-girlfriend, the more basic his lines become. He’s weak from his own pain, but strong enough to detail it with the kind of honesty that leaves onlookers silent. So goes his mantra to stay cautious at all times, feigning confidence in a shaky state of nerves.
Part of that confidence comes from Earl producing the album himself. Except for Left Brain’s work on “Off Top”, it’s all Earl’s doing under the deftly despondent moniker RandomBlackDude. Slinking beats and industrial crunches whir behind his lines. Speedy spitting has been left behind. Instead, I Don’t Like Shit falls more in line with the trudge of Doris cut “Sunday” minus its instrumental prominence. It’s compact, anti-commercial rap that rides on stark beats for 30 minutes. His mood dictates the output regardless of how it may come across. Depression doesn’t need to be glamorized. When creating, Earl is fully immersed in his work, crafting melancholy while distancing himself as if he’s behind a one-way window.
From his absent father in “Grown Ups” to the disconnect between himself and the rest of Odd Future on “Inside”, Earl’s trying to juggle every issue himself. At 21 years old, he’s coming to terms with the very thing that gives adults that mandatory frown. He’s learning what it truly means to be alone. Even when he brings up institutionalized racism on “Off Top” (“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”), he speaks like he’s solo.
I Don’t Like Shit works hard at being truthful with itself. Naturally, hopelessness follows suit. You build a strong sense of self by tearing yourself down. It’s what you do when you’re face-down on the floor, and it dictates how, if at all, you’ll build yourself back up. Columbia’s early release accident made things worse. When you’re losing your ability to control yourself and simultaneously seeing how little control you have in the world, not being able to release something that relies so heavily on trust is crushing.
Riddled with a dozen serpents, “Grief” is the album’s longest and darkest number. It’s anxiety (“Focus on my chatter, ain’t as frantic as my thoughts”) wedding addiction (“When it’s harmful where you going and the part of you that know it don’t give a fuck/ Pardon me for going into details”) in a room growing all the more hollow. When prefaced by “Faucet”, his freeform number on disillusionment and rejection in his childhood home, the rabbit hole of depression opens wide. It’s a tricky pipe, one you can’t go too far down or else it takes years to claw your way back to the surface. Thankfully, Earl manages to reach fresh air. He links with Vince Staples on “Wool” for two final verses that swipe at a more acceptable emotional confrontation. He’s courageous in sharing, but had he pushed the envelope further by filling the album out, I Don’t Like Shit could have been more helpful to a wider audience.
But this is for him. This album is about self-realization, unbarred honesty, and the act of becoming transparent to those around you. Earl is stepping up by letting his guard down when trapped in the walls of his mind. If the world knew any better, we would follow in his footsteps, no matter how difficult that may seem.
Essential Tracks: “Huey”, “Grief”, and “Wool”