Earl Sweatshirt, Hip-Hop's Most Interesting Rapper
Meet Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt.
Only 20 years old, he has a life story that already unfolds like an historical drama, and his skills as a wordsmith go arguably unmatched. He'll perform at Revolution Live this weekend, so we listed just a few reasons Earl might be the most interesting rapper you'd be blessed to witness.
" 'Cause Daddy was a poet, right?" Earl Sweatshirt was born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile in February 1994. His mother is a law professor at the University of California, and his father is famous South African poet and political activist Keorapetse Kgositsile. Though Sweatshirt and his father aren't necessarily estranged, the poet did leave Earl's mother when the rapper was only 6. His father's absence regularly makes its way into his rhymes, a rather uniting factor in the Odd Future world, and so does the pressure of his father's fame. "And when them expectations raise in me 'cause Daddy was a poet, right?" Earl raps on "Burgundy," the second track on his latest EP, Doris. It's certainly not easy growing up in the shadow of a South African poet laureate, but for a kid still too young to drink in public, he's ahead of the game.
"Searching for a big brother, Tyler was that." The Sweatshirt story really took off when he met Odd Future leader Tyler, the Creator, who found Earl (then calling himself Sly Tendencies) via MySpace. Though the head honcho and OF member Frank Ocean's records received the most play, critics soon identified Sweatshirt as the crown jewel of the co-op. On his 2010 debut, Earl, Sweatshirt makes fun of his impact on Tyler's own breakthrough, Bastard, quipping that his verse on the track "Assmilk" was "half the reason the review's fantastic."
Earl. His debut mixtape made the rounds on hip-hop blogs and became a fan favorite. It was equal parts artistic and shocking. The then-16 Sweatshirt showed an incredible talent for unique flows and a mature diction, but he made waves when pairing that musicality and rhythmic skill with near-obscene stories of kidnapping, rape, cop-killing, and deranged violence. Then there was the homemade music video for the mixtape's title track, in which Earl and his OF crew — clearly scrawny underagers — concoct a disgusting blend of everything from weed and codeine to pain pills into a smoothie. The video shows them all downing the nasty brew and then running around bleeding from every orifice imaginable, foaming at the mouth, losing teeth, and pulling off fingernails.
#FreeEarl. The "Earl" video caused a lot of people to panic, and the story goes that one of those people was Earl's mother. Though details are hazy, it's understood that she sent the rapper to a therapeutic retreat school in Samoa, where he was to remain until he graduated at 18. While he was busy reading about Malcolm X and learning to dive in the South Pacific, his buddies in L.A. blew up fast. OFWGKTA made headlines across the world, all the while screaming, "Free Earl!"
"Aaand I'm back. Bye." In February 2012, the silence finally broke. A YouTube video — a teaser of new Earl material — demanded 50,000 followers on his Twitter account. Only then would fans be treated to the full release. It took all of three hours. "Home" dropped, a jazzy, triumphant return. The track was a quick minute and a half, ending with a simple "aaand, I'm back. Bye."
"I anticipate a loss of fans... I also anticipate gaining some." Sweatshirt dramatically changed things up between Earl and his next mixtape, Doris. Many old fans may have been disappointed, but hip-hop giants from RZA to Pharrell to Eminem offered praise. Is it coincidence that Kendrick Lamar's famous kill-'em-all verse on "Control" names Tyler but not the unstoppable Sweatshirt?
Whether every mainstream rap fan recognizes his talent, every skillful, progressive-minded rapper in the game has an eye glued on Earl's next move. From his use of jazzy beats to his personal honesty, nasty wordplay, and mind-warping delivery, everything about Sweatshirt separates him from his peers.
His next album is reportedly in production, hyped by a new track debuted in February. And now that he's had time to adjust, tour the world, and exorcise demons, what will Earl tackle next? Perhaps Saturday's show at Revolution will offer insight into the dark hailstorm that is Earl's eminent reign.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.