Compared to most other artists, Earl Sweatshirt is following a bit of a backwards career arc. In what is now essentially cliche, artists or bands who rocket from obscurity to popularity early in their lives are supposed to have one hot song, maybe even a whole album if they’re lucky, tour off its initial strength for a while, try to match that success on their sophomore album, fail miserably, sink into obscurity for several years, and then re-emerge with a comeback tour once their first claim to fame becomes cool again.
Earl, on the other hand, saw his fame balloon at light speed, thanks in small part to the internet, but in large part to his shocking, uncensored, Fox-News-pundit-fodder lyrics and music videos. When you’re 16 and you make a rap video wherein you and your friends drink a blender full of drugs and alcohol and then proceed to mutilate each other on skateboards, you are definitely going to attract attention. When the lyrics to said video include references to date rape, underage sex and murder, to name a few questionable topics, you’re basically asking Bill O’Reilly to have an on-air aneurism and then insist this is “what’s wrong with America.”
And maybe he would be right. Earl and his Odd Future affiliates’ real talents, in the music media’s eyes at least, long remained buried underneath the alleged homophobia and incitement to violence and depravity in their rhymes. This was supposedly why Earl’s mother saw it fit to pull him out of school soon before Odd Future was about to strike it big and enroll him in a program for at-risk youth in Samoa for a year. The group’s spearhead, Tyler, the Creator, and the rest of the OF crew got massively famous in the meantime, and when Earl returned in the beginning of last year, he came as the long-lost hero who would save rap music. That’s a lot for anyone to handle, let alone an 18-year-old.
Now, a little over a year since “going missing,” Earl is on his comeback tour, and he seems like he couldn’t be happier. That’s unsurprising considering the huge fanbase that Odd Future has built up since his departure. I arrived at the Metro at 7:00, which was when the show was supposed to start. I figured there would be a decent crowd there already but nothing too huge – every rap show I’ve been to before included several openers and lots of waiting. Much to my surprise, I waited over an hour for anything to happen on stage, and pretty much the entire floor was packed when I arrived. When things did start happening, though, this turned into one of the most fun rap shows I’ve been to.
I’ve always thought Earl was probably the most talented member of Odd Future. I like how he draws obvious influence from Wu-Tang and MF DOOM in his flow, but also is very much his own man. When he returned to the States, I was excited for what lie ahead, and so far it’s been everything I had hoped for. He ditched the murder and rape stuff in his lyrics (mostly) and adopted a much more honest and heartfelt tone. He’s also made the rounds with big shots like Flying Lotus and even DOOM himself on a recently released track. His second album, “Doris,” was released this summer to much acclaim. With all this already under his belt, there’s no doubt he will soon become something of a legend in hip-hop.
His skill as a showman is not quite so refined, but the Metro crowd hardly cared. OF member Taco kicked things off for Earl, playing one trap banger after another. When Earl finally took the stage with Vince Staples, the house was nearly brought down. Earl was clearly taken aback by the unrelenting energy of the crowd, and remained characteristically reserved but definitely overwhelmed at the sight of people losing their minds to his music. He seemed to be concentrating hard throughout the show, maybe a little too much. A little bit more swagger on his part could go a long way towards his stage presence, but he was rocking with it nonetheless. Maybe it was because his mom was in the crowd, whom he introduced towards the end of the show. She seemed ecstatic to be there and was even dancing a little bit. Who says Odd Future isn’t family friendly?
Just about every song Earl knew was played, which he mentioned at the end when announcing his last song (“I’ve only made like 20 songs my whole life, I just did all of them.”) Highlights included the famed OF remix of “Orange Juice,” “EARL,” and just about anything off his new album. Vince Staples held his own as well, with the two going off on a cappella freestyle tangents frequently and skillfully.
All told, it was a sign of great things to come for the only 19-years-old artist. As he matures, so too will his music and aesthetic (hopefully), and that is great news for hip-hop fans.