Watch: Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Hive’

Three years after his show-stopping debut album, and a year after returning from an exile in Samoa, Earl Sweatshirt sure isn’t in any hurry to get back into releasing music. A few months back, Tyler The Creator said of new song ‘Hive’ that is “MAKES ME WANT TO CARVE OF INTO MY FOREHEAD.” With the track and accompanying video dropping this week, I’m not totally disinclined to agree with that sentiment.

I’ve written more words on Odd Future than I care to admit, but it’s hard to stop when the output of the LA-based hip-hop collective just seems to keep topping itself. Aside from Tyler’s perplexing and frankly boring ‘Wolf’ album this year, every new release from the gang seems to top the last. Periphery member Frank Ocean’s meteoric rise needs no further explanation, Domo Genesis overnight turned from the crew’s token stoner-rap bit-player, but it’s been the intense, brooding work of Sweatshirt that has piqued the most attention in 2013.

After a much-publicised departure to and return from reform school in Samoa, Sweatshirt slotted into the group’s ensemble cast for live shows, but his recorded output was a mere dribble rather than the flood that fans expected after a year’s absence. An unexpected verse on crew cut ‘Oldie’ on their mixtape, a verse on an Action Bronson/Domo/Alchemist tune, then – finally – a few tastes of second album ‘Doris.’

The sinister, slinking, piano-driven ‘Chum’ was followed by the more upbeat, Tyler-featuring ‘WHOA.’ Both featured a new Earl – less high-energy and raucous numbers like ‘Earl’ or ‘Couch’ from his debut, more sparse and unsettling. Not only in terms of beats, which were in themselves shimmering and slightly disorienting, with distortion just subtle enough to keep your mind from fully locking into it, Earl’s wordplay and flow have shot out of sight from its already impressive origins on ‘Earl.’ His new rhymes are – in a word – stunning. It almost defies logic (and conventions of proper breathing cycles) for him to roll off such a disorienting and rhythmic cycle of poetry, lines stretching across entire verses as he strings word after word after word after word.

Which brings us back, finally, to ‘Hive.’ The Casey Veggies and Vince Staples features are almost unwelcome intrusions here, and the Veggies’ verse is certainly too long by about half. You just want to hear Earl endlessly riff on and on, over that slinking and dark and creeping bass-heavy beat. The subtle mix-ups in the beat during Staples’ hooks shows the production skills of the young Sweatshirt, but it’s his words that again come to the fore over anything else in this track.

Earl’s three videos from ‘Doris’ have each been simple, stark and no-frills affairs – unlike the outrageous, over the top and expensive videos from the rest of the OF crew, Earl’s videos let his music do the talking. Dark and shadowy, the nocturnal clip sees Sweatshirt sitting in a blank room flanked by two monsters. The wallpaper crawls up the walls as the deep dark circles under his eyes hint at a waking nightmare or insomnia state, contrasted against the lamp-like pinpricks of eyes blink out from the darkness. It’s wholly unsettling and almost skin-crawlingly tense.

Simply one of the best pure rappers in the game today. ‘Doris’ is going to be a nuclear bomb to the industry.

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