With a rising political climate that started to escalate at the time of its writing and recording, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is a record filled with uneasy tension disguised by fascinating production and active lyricism. As war raged on and continued to light fuel for artists in America, Gaye took the opportunity to explain a personal relationship through his brother Frankie Gaye.
As the celebrations and questions of “What’s happening brother!” ring faintly throughout the first track “What’s Going On”, Gaye is quick to showcase a daunting tone rather than a cheerful one. He explains, “Mother, Mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying… You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate.” His vocal approach is not met with smoking barrels but instead peaceful grasps as he is incredibly calm while describing the true ugliness that the Vietnam War caused in American homes.
With a global view, Gaye moves through the crowd and lands on the track “Save The Children” which is a defeated gaze into the void of immense loss. He explains, “Who’s willing to try and save a world that’s destined to die? When I look at the world it fills me with sorrow, little children today are really gonna suffer tomorrow.” It pulls this curtain back on the African-American expressionism and taps directly into a public view for a time in America that continued to burn under the name of the flag. The way that he incorporates horns and these bursts of vitality into such a progressive message continues to illustrate how What’s Going On became such an influential and recognizable record even almost 50 years later.
Gaye makes these calls of mercy through the microphone and performs under extreme scrutiny to form bridges between each piece. The transitions are flowing and seem without any blatant transition that cuts from track to track. What’s Going On sees a movement from “God Is Love” to “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” that perfectly segues the end of side one on vinyl that leaves the listener with this soulful and passionate display on the horns and bells. The choir styled in the background is perfect sampling material with their dramatic fluctuation before coming to a final silence on the track.
The last moments of What’s Going On opt for this gently rising action of jungle-esque percussion and these calm, but moving hums from Gaye as each piece is layered through bricks and walls of sound. It is true that “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” is a desolate track that determines less of a hopeful future and instead focuses on the bleak injustices within the community that Gaye saw. It was not simply just a problem in the United States but ultimately showed a shockwave across the planet through What’s Going On.
Just as things change with time, they also stay the same and Marvin Gaye’s message is still relevant today. With a bigger push into the unforeseeable future, one of the prophets of truth saw an untimely demise that left the world just as toppled as when What’s Going On hit the streets.
Earl Sweatshirt in 2013 was beginning to gain more traction from the Odd Future craze. In his absence, his crew members were rising to unmeasurable amounts of hype and fame. Pink socks, donuts on everything, and goofy white kids who finally found their niche began this entryway into the likes of what become teenage golden years.
But this style of rhyming was different, Earl Sweatshirt became the introspective and cracked mirror of production that was stoned, broken, and ultimately human. He could combine the love for dusty records in dollar bins with the fresh and crisp snap of a K9 through rap. It was the first real step as his studio debut through Doris where Sweatshirt could balance his youth and loss of innocence that was apparent even though he established double entendres with ease. It was less of an open hand slap and more of a closed fist punch that teetered between his first mixtape Earl, and the future that would see masterpieces of relation to I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and even his newest record Some Rap Songs.
In any case of the word, Earl Sweatshirt became this enigma with thousands of hidden stories that somehow people found relatable even on entirely different sides of the world. Doris is that first dive into the water that is not so much a rebirth but is instead the death of one style that adapts to another. Sweatshirt stands behind this coherent story with himself, and sometimes his conscious as the narrator. He begins on the first track “Pre” with a feature, he does not make an appearance until near the 1:50 mark where he finally douses the listener in gas and strikes a match.
Each performance on Doris is volatile and has some sense of dread that bleeds closer and closer to the end of the record. With the later track “Centurion” which features Vince Staples, Sweatshirt is a frantic mess with a whirlwind of paranoid rhymes where he explains, “Eating nothing but hard punches to that abdominal, closed-fist chronicles, sold sniff momma knew. Baggies laying round, peanut shells at a carnival, stomping clowns welcoming pussy niggas to the romper room.” But somehow amongst the ashes of his torment, Sweatshirt is this floating character that people love to watch.
On the track “523” Sweatshirt is coherent but somehow caught between this dream sequence. It is as if he has his entire sound mapped out but also experiments to create these flashes in the pan of raw, unadulterated experiences where the percussion is a crashing and mesmerizing hypnosis piece. The synths that capsulize “523” are simply breathtaking and the room hits vertigo before falling back into the realm of reality.
Nearly six years later, nothing is the same. As the features on Doris age as fine wine and the production is similar, Sweatshirt was a vocal renaissance man who could tightrope between both aggression and depression. With one hand hanging on a gun and the other on a pen.
Listen/Watch Here – Youtube
An Object and Animal Production
Executive Producer : Justin Beneoliel (@objectandanimal)
Producer: M. Corey Whitted (@mcoreyw)
Director: Nick Walker (@nickwalkerstudio)
DP: Harley Astorga (@harleyastorga)
Editor: Harley Astorga
Creative Director: Ben “Lambo” Lambert (@lambolambo)
Starring: Freddie Gibbs
Farm Girl: Zoe Neal
Farm Guy 1: John Pistone
Farm Guy 2: Mazen Shehabi
Farm Guy 3: Benedikt Sebastian
Listen/Watch Here – Youtube
Directed By: JP Pitt (@lazyjapan) & Cory Pitkavish (@korywithastory)
DP: Evan Butka (@ebutka)
1st AC: Neil Hausey (@mrhausey)
Executive Produced: Cory Pitkavish
Written By: JP Pitt
Song Produced By: Height Keech