Track Reviews: Tyler, The Creator—“Cherry Bomb” & Earl Sweatshirt—“I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”

By James Li

Funnily enough, releasing a surprise album is one of the least surprising things a musician can do these days. The music press refers to it as “pulling a Beyoncé” but you might as well call it pulling a D’Angelo or a Björk or a Drake. Even Kanye West said that his upcoming album would be a surprise release, which defeats the point of a surprise release in the first place.

Two members of Odd Future – Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt – released albums within a week of announcing them, but that’s the least surprising thing about these albums. Odd Future gained a fanatical following overnight with their gritty skate-punk aesthetic and lyrics that often veer into violent misogyny and homophobia.

Tyler is four albums in, but his latest album, Cherry Bomb is proof that the Odd Future ringleader has no intention of growing up. If it sounded like Tyler was expanding his sound on his previous album Wolf, then Cherry Bomb is him tearing it back down. The first two tracks read like a mission statement, where he lays out his two biggest influences – Pharrell and Kanye. Tellingly, on “Deathcamp,” he says he prefers In Search Of… to Illmatic and he opens “Buffalo” with the same vocal chop that Kanye used on “Numbers on the Boards.”

Album art for Cherry Bomb

Album art for Cherry Bomb

Both Pharrell and Kanye both appear on Cherry Bomb, but even if they didn’t, their influence – Pharrell’s off-kilter pop and Kanye’s Yeezus-era anti-pop – is all over the album. The title track is a highlight, which Tyler kept aggressively lo-fi. “The Brown Stains” sounds like a Clipse outtake, with its slurping synths and ironically straight edge lyrics. And “Smuckers” is an A-list posse cut, featuring verses from Kanye and Lil Wayne.

But for every highlight on Cherry Bomb, there’s several missteps. The R&B-influenced tracks aren’t a change of pace – they derail the album. The seven-minute “2Seater” name-checks Mac Demarco, possibly to suggest the same chill vibes that Mac’s music does, but it only meanders. “Blowmyload” and “Fucking Young” both try to play off the tension between ugly lyricism and beautiful production, but that tension isn’t fully realized because the beats aren’t pretty enough. Unfortunately, Cherry Bomb lives up to its title – it makes a lot of noise, but it fizzles out before it can make an impact.

Earl Sweatshirt’s album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is much less dynamic than Cherry Bomb – only four guest rappers, one guest producer, no hooks, and rapping that can only generously be described as monotone. But I Don’t Like Shit is a more cohesive album for it. It’s a piece of mood music, as antisocial as the title implies, and perfect listening for late nights.

Album art for I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside

Album art for I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Although Tyler’s better known for his beatmaking, Earl proves himself as a serious producer on I Don’t Like Shit. Murky bass and looped piano dominate the album, with little twists, like the baseball stadium organ on “Huey” or the off-kilter snare on “Grief.” Earl tweeted that his “monotone” went away, but that’s mostly not true. Still, his understated flow gives his morose lyrics weight, as he wrangles with the death of his grandmother on “Grief” or drug addiction on “DNA.” There are only a few guest rappers on the album, but they all riff off of Earl brilliantly, especially Vince Staples on “Wool.”

I Don’t Like is even shorter, grittier, and darker than Cherry Bomb. Despite this, Earl seems to maturing in all of the ways that Tyler isn’t. He’s outgrown the shock value lyricism that characterized his debut mixtape, and he’s coming into his own as a producer. It’s one of the most depressing rap albums of the year, but also one of the most replayable. You’d do well to heed Earl’s all-caps advice: “when you get done listening to it, listen to it again, that’s why it’s 30 minutes, numbnuts.” (Odd Future / Tan Cressida)

Listen: “Deathcamp” / “Grief”

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