I like to think that I’m doing fairly well in life. I’m holding my own at a prestigious university, I keep myself in decent shape, I don’t get into too much trouble, and nobody seems to completely despise me (at least to my knowledge). Sure, I haven’t accomplished a ton in the real world, but I can take pride in the fact that I’m on the right track.
But then I see people younger than me accomplishing things more impressive than I’ll probably ever do in my lifetime, and I start feeling pretty damn inadequate. Anthony Davis, who is more than a month younger than I am, was the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft and won a gold medal last summer as part of the USA Olympic basketball team. Gabby Douglas won two gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, despite being younger than my brother who just graduated high school. 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio recently sold the app he developed, Summly, to Yahoo! for $30 million and a full-time job at the company. There’s a chance that I might be wealthy, famous and successful one day, but no matter how hard I work or how many breaks fall my way, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever get anywhere near the incredible heights that these precocious neophytes have already reached.
I recently experienced this feeling of despair while listening to two albums just released this month. Doris, the debut album from 19-year-old L.A. rapper Earl Sweatshirt, and British singer-songwriter King Krule’s debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, released on his 19th birthday, are both outstanding pieces of work. Earl and Krule have been justifiably hyped up over the past few years, Earl after his 2010 mixtape Earl and Krule after his singles as Zoo Kid and a self-titled EP in 2011, and both managed to exceed the high expectations on their first proper full-lengths.
On Doris, Earl shows off the prodigious rhyming ability that we’ve all come to expect from him, weaving syllables so intricately that simply typing out the lyrics couldn’t come close to doing his skills justice. But he also shows how much he’s grown personally since bursting onto the scene with Earl three years ago. Instead of just conjuring up brutally vivid tales of horror like he used to, Earl shows an emotional maturity in hitting on topics like dealing with his newfound notoriety, his estranged father (South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile), and his troubles that led to him being sent to a retreat school for at-risk youth in Samoa.
His eloquent introspections on “Burgundy” (“Grandma’s passing / But I’m too busy tryna get this fuckin’ album cracking to see her / So I apologize in advance if anything should happen / And my priorities fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m gonna blow it ”—a tribute to his recently-deceased grandmother, who lends her name to the album) and “Chum” (“It’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless / And I used to say I hate him in dishonest jest”) give a deep look into Earl’s difficult struggles.
The production matches the serious tone, as the beats are gritty and mostly minimalistic. While Earl does a respectable job producing under the pseudonym Randomblackdude, some of the guest producers really lace this album up right. RZA smears some of that 36 Chambers-era Wu-Tang grime on “Molasses” while also chiming in with a great hook, Christian Rich’s beat for “Centurion” evokes a roller coaster twisting through a haunted house, and the Neptunes-produced “Burgundy” sounds like the depressed cousin of another of this summer’s outstanding Pharrell productions, 2 Chainz’ “Feds Watching”. There’s still some of that traditional Odd Future silliness and gore, but the album as a whole, lyrically and sonically, is very somber. Actually Earl sums it up best in his parting line; this album is the tale of someone “Young, black, and jaded, vision hazy strolling through the night,” and it absolutely sounds like it.
King Krule’s 6 Feet Beneath the Moon is also fairly gloomy. Throughout his young career, Krule has mostly written songs containing depressing subject matter (“Portrait in Black & Blue”, “Rock Bottom”, it’s obvious that these are sad songs) and his album stays in that familiar lane. Opening track “Easy Easy” paints a rosy picture of a man remaining optimistic despite some tough times, but over the course of the album, the protagonist descends deeper and deeper into darkness until ending up “Bathed in Grey”. Krule uses colors, most notably blue, throughout the album to help illustrate this painful fall. His love interest is “Baby Blue”, he talks about what “true blue love means”, and tells the girl “just stay with me, and bathe with me in blue”, but when their relationship crumbles, he says “But girl, I’m black and blue / So beaten down for you / Well I’m beaten down and blue”, and on the final song he confesses that his memories of her rekindle in his mind “the darkest shade of blue”.
The escalating desperation is also exquisitely portrayed. “A Lizard State” shows the discouraged lover’s mind racing furiously, with love and hate conflicting, profanities being spontaneously strewn as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on in the relationship. Later, on “Neptune Estate”, he’s rejected and begging for another chance, pleading with her again and again, “Can’t you bear just one more night?” But, like most desperate attempts to win back an old lover, it fails miserably. This album tells a truly heart-wrenching story, and if a hazy Earl was strolling through the night, he might have walked right past King Krule sitting out on a porch, lamenting his lost love under the moonlight.
Neither Doris nor 6 Feet Beneath the Moon contain any feel-good jams like a typical summer release—they may even leave you feeling pretty grim—but these are both superb albums rich with potent material. So while Earl Sweatshirt establishes himself as one of the best young rappers and King Krule almost singlehandedly keeps playing guitar relevant, I’ll just sit here with my headphones in and Cheez-Its close by and tell you to start appreciating two of the future faces of music, because lord knows they’re already doing better things than most of us ever will.