On "Hive," he captures a singular version of Los Angeles: "From a city that's recession hit/ With stress niggas could flex metal with/ Peddle to rake pennies in/ Desolate testaments/ Trying to stay Jekyllish/ But most niggas Hyde."
But most impressive is its breadth. In addition to the beats and verses, "Doris" is connected through musical interludes, expanded rhythms and sharp sequencing that make it feel of a whole. The curious instrumental "523," written and produced by Thebe, sounds like a twisted Captain Beefheart outtake. "Centurian" features a drum sample from 1970s German rock group Can. It's an album of exploration, quite ambivalent to the pop charts.
"His voice has gotten deeper, and the content has gotten stronger," said producer and rapper Steve Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus, who during his set at Coachella in 2012 introduced Earl Sweatshirt onstage in his first public appearance since returning from Samoa. Under the guise of his Captain Murphy moniker, Ellison has recorded tracks with Thebe, and during Earl's 2013 Coachella performance Ellison served as his DJ.
For "Doris," Thebe said he pulled many all-nighters vibing with rapper Vince Staples, worked with Frank Ocean and Tyler on beats, and built his own productions under the pseudonym randomblackdude.
"I have a small circle of people I'm comfortable making music with," he said, adding that he's "a weirdo with the way I write. Me and Vince would go to the studio at 5 p.m. and we'd stay in there all night till the song was done, till 8 a.m. the next morning. Sleep till 4, and go to the studio at 5." Other guests and producers include the sibling team called Christian Rich, Mac Miller and the Canadian band Bad Bad Not Good.
Such a schedule will no doubt continue. At his apartment while he added a beat to accompany the loop that kept running, he said his interest extends beyond the craft of writing. "I never thought I would make a beat, ever, when I was 16. But things change instantly without you having any idea they're going to change at all."
The options are wide open. "I don't know what they are, but I know this isn't it. I mean, I might go into real estate, I don't know. Maybe acting. It seems like that would be fun. I don't want to close any doors on myself — but I want to get really good at music."
Such focus has already paid off, said Steinberg. "He made his own record. He wouldn't listen to anybody. And there were songs — I'm just going to say this, and he's probably going to get mad at me — that could have been top hits on the charts that he recorded but he chose not to put them on the record. He wants to grow into his voice.
"He was like, 'I don't want to have a number one my first time around with this. Can I take my time with this?' I mean, we've had some crazy conversations."
[For the Record, 4:39 p.m. Aug. 2: An earlier version of the headline on this article said the album "Doris" was Earl Sweatshirt's debut. It is his major label debut.]