Earl Sweatshirt

Etched in fluorescent paint against a black backdrop, the word ‘Doris’ emerges mystically through clouds of smoke rising above the KOKO London stage. It’s the 10th anniversary of LA rapper Earl Sweatshirt’s debut album, a rare chance for UK hip-hop fans to celebrate a project that defined the early 2010s heyday of dark, nihilistic LA collective Odd Future.

Despite being a key architect of the movement, Earl Sweatshirt (real name Thebe Kgositsile) spent much of OF’s peak years exiled to Samoa due to “problematic behaviour”. The retreat offered a much-needed opportunity for maturation; his explosive 2010 debut mixtape (‘Earl’) was packed with abhorrent lyrics about sexual assault, rape, and violence (which he later condemned), but ‘Doris’ immediately felt wiser and more eloquent.

One track that encapsulates that transition is ‘Chum’, a slow and moody rumination on Kgositsile’s father’s absence that raps “It’s probably been 12 years since my father left / He left me fatherless / And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest”. It goes down well at KOKO, as he churns through the ‘Doris’ hits; well-primed after a lively warm-up set from DJ Black Noi$e, the crowd’s reaction prompts Sweatshirt to note admiringly “No one’s screamed “Too black for the white kids and too white for blacks” like you did!”

Later, as fans shout back ‘Molasses” provocative OF-esque rallying cry of “I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch”, the LA rapper laughs off the immaturity of his old lyrics. But in a track featuring Wu-Tang Clan icon RZA and in an album brimming with impactful collaborations, Sweatshirt is alone onstage, highlighting an unavoidable issue; while other shows on the ‘Doris’ anniversary tour showcased numerous guests including Tyler, the Creator, Vince Staples, and Domo Genesis, on the only non-US show Sweatshirt performs ‘Doris’ solo. Most tracks are cut short, and Kgositsile even spends 20 minutes behind behind the decks, as Black Noi$e drops a selection of hip-hop bangers.

This reflects another anniversary being celebrated tonight: 50 years of hip-hop. Sweatshirt frequently mentions the landmark, joking that his record has lived for 20% of that history. And during that period, the 29-year-old has shown an outstanding breadth of artistry.

As he leaves ‘Doris’ behind and spends the show’s second half playing upbeat, trap-influenced tracks from later albums like last year’s ‘SICK!’, his ability to glide seamlessly between different sounds is impressive. Understandably, the magic of ‘Doris” LA homecoming isn’t replicated in London, but Sweatshirt’s KOKO headliner is still a powerful tribute to a golden era of modern hip-hop.

The post Earl Sweatshirt live in London: ‘Doris’ anniversary show salutes a hip-hop cult classic appeared first on NME.


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