Hey music-heads. We want to put some bright, neon highlighter on a jam from a couple of years ago. “Whoa” by Earl Sweatshirt was a track released in 2013 from his first studio EP, Doris. The album was well received when it dropped, and made Earl a ‘household’ name. He displayed a more tailored maturity on Doris, and splattered his complex lyricism throughout the entire album.
“Whoa” was the second single released to hype up Doris, and the video (directed by Tyler, the Creator) followed soon after. I’m a huge fan of the classic Odd Future-type goofy video. Clever, funny stuff.
The beats are fairly straightforward and simple. The smooth kick-drum is the main sound that carries the flow of the entire song, and the west-coast sounding synth adds a simple but nice touch to grunge out the song a bit. It’s a fun beat, with the occasional background hymns and piano riffs, but overall pretty simple. The point being to make the lyrics the main focus.
And that makes sense with an Earl song, the dude is all lyrics. It’s all about the lyrics. It’s almost too much about the lyrics. The man likes to talk, he loves to rap, and he’s a complex rapper. Some of his lines are straightforward, but so much of his poetry is made up of obscure double-meanings that you still might not get even if you carefully break it down. I mean, classic Earl. That’s like some Lupe Fiasco rapping, where sometimes it seems both of these guys are just rapping more for themselves and not strictly for the listener.
What strikes me most about “Whoa,” and Doris in general, is that two years later I’m finally into it. I’ve been bumping Doris a lot lately, but when it first dropped I couldn’t get into it. I liked Chum (I think we all did), but the rest of the album didn’t catch on for me. It’s odd how that happens; how tastes change, develop, or are basically driven by what seems a complete random set of factors.
And what Tyler says right at the beginning of the track, his intro, somewhat mirrors that idea.
Nahh no, nahh nahh fuck that
N***** think cause you fuckin’ made Chum and got all personal
That n***** won’t go back to that old fuckin’ 2010 shit
About talkin’ ’bout fuckin’ everything and all
No fuck that n**** I got you
I get a big kick out of that frustrated rant by Tyler. But it’s true. The relationship between artists and listeners, even though mostly an in-direct relationship, is fascinating. There are so many expectations that listeners throw towards artists because, well because we liked their music. Once we like an artist’s song, or album, it’s like, “Okay, I expect to love your music from here on out. I know what I like, so keep making that.”
But the expectation that is often forgotten is that people change. Your family changes, your friends change, even your dog changes – she/he stops being that crazy wild puppy that can break your ankles on a dime and is now a chill, OG dog that stares out windows and lays it’s head on old people’s laps, like homie don’t you remember when you smacked that bird out of the air when it was like 4ft high?!
Artists go through changes too, so their music is going to be different throughout their career. I couldn’t really enjoy Doris two years ago, and now I love it. Too bad for me, because Earl is different now. His music is not exactly Doris material.
Well, actually, I’m blessed. We’re blessed because we live in a world with digital recordings, records, and CD’s that seamlessly let us tune into whatever era of an artist it is we enjoy at the moment. So amen for technology. Modern music allows us to be present with it, not matter when it was released.
What tends to happened most is we as listeners get caught up on, “Your old stuff used to be so good! What happened?! Go back to your old stuff!” We’re moved by a style and we want more of it. I went through a very rough, tense moment like this with Jay-Z. Okay, he wasn’t aware of any of our qualms, but nonetheless it was rough.
I went knee-deep into Jay-Z’s first studio album, Reasonable Doubt, and ended up in a crisis. I mean, I studied this album. I was addicted to it. I’d listen to it from beginning to end, and then over again. Jay was talking to me. I was sitting in the room with him and Memphis Bleek while we plotted how we were going to slowly bubble our shit and wait for that perfect moment to jump to the top.
After a few weeks of this, though, I got mad. I was angry because of the other 62 albums Jay-Z released after Reasonable Doubt, none were RD quality. At this point, I had listened to it so much and liked it so damn much that none of his other songs and albums were close to being ‘as good’. Why wouldn’t he just stick with what was the best?!
Then I grew up. It was unreasonable for me to have these inhumane expectations. I found myself at the Rock the Bells Hip-Hop Music Festival in ’09, where KRS-ONE was MC’ing. He blessed the crowd with a wily, smiley, and deep freestyle. He had the entire crowd engaged.
Then he asked the crowd, “How many of you are down with ’86? What about 1996?” Each section cheered with their ‘favorite’ year.
But what KRS did next was to put us all onto an intelligent perspective. He went on to talk about how we tend to get stuck in the past, which is normal. We all have our favorite years. He is a 1976 guy himself.
Regardless of what we prefer, he claimed it was most important and imperative to show respect to artists in the moment. Respect the hard work it is to create music. We have to contextually remove the past when appreciating what people are hard at work doing today. It’s only fair, and the right thing to do. Of course it’s important to be aware of the past. It’s good to appreciate the past, there’s nothing wrong with bumping Michael Jackson and respecting what he accomplished. Even so, KRS wanted us fans to still show respect and appreciate what was in front of us now.
After that, I was able to remove my personal expectations. I was able to appreciate the past and present alike. Reasonable Doubt was put out more than 10 years before. Things change, people change, and as soon as I realized that, I apologized to Hova first, then was able to carry on enjoying whatever music it was that moved me in the moment. Reasonable Doubt is my favorite album, but I love so much other music too.
That’s what I got out of Tyler’s rant. As listeners, whether we’re jamming an artist’s old style, new style, experimental style, or whatever it is they’ve created, we just have to be present. Whatever type of jams they put out, respect the hard work and look around for what moment in your life you can you can get the most out of it. Fans can influence artists, but the raw creativity is up to the creator.
That’s a beautiful characteristic of music though. Music can be pretty therapeutic. It allows us to transcend time in some way, and just plug in and be 100% present. You’re enjoying the sounds that are going into your ear and through your neurons? Awesome, jam on!