If ya soul intact, let me know: The curious case of Earl Sweatshirt
It's hard to believe it's been six years since Earl grabbed the internet and blogosphere by storm with his self-titled mixtape. A lot has changed since then.
After entering the industry as a teenage prodigy, the constant demands from impatient fans, #FreeEarl campaigns, and ongoing label frustrations have seemed to help shape the young man and make him all the more wiser. What happens when you’re thrown into the spotlight at such a young age? You’re forced (and expected) to adapt to the landscape and mature at an astronomical rate. That explains why the 22 year old considers himself “the youngest old man that you know”.
While he’s matured progressively his music has also continued to evolve. He’s now a formidable two-way artist - he emcees and produces. The rap game Jimmy Butler . Much like how Butler (often) defends the opposing team’s best player, Earl has shown that he’s more than capable of mixing it with the heavyweights of hip hop. He’s doing things his own way, with his own sound. Two of his buddy Mac Miller’s last projects have contained impressive contributions from Earl (with New Faces v2 being one of my favourite songs of 2014). The pair’s chemistry has become so great (coach Pop would be proud) that it’s screaming out for a full-length collaboration.
Shout out RiFF RAFF. Jimmy Butler is the NBA’s latest defensive/offensive juggernaut, who signed a max contract with the Chicago Bulls last summer. ↩
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is heralded as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all-time. For the last two decades his teams have always had an unmatched chemistry. ↩
Now he’s even got Kendrick Lamar singing his praises:
Earl responded by declaring him and Kendrick have got the West Coast on lock. And he’s not wrong either.
Earl Sweatshirt’s last album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside has earned widespread acclaim as well as getting to number seven on the Billboard 200. It was his brutal honesty and transparency that fans appreciated along with his (at times) eerie and unsettling beats. The instrumentals were spacious and left enough room for the vocals to hold center stage. Lyrically, Earl isn't afraid to paint a picture of a world that's more realistic of how he actually feels, rather than just showcasing the highs of the music industry. Despite all the fame and success he's still just a 22 year old trying to find his way through life it seems. Solace, a ten-minute masterpiece seemingly released onto YouTube out of nowhere, is a project dedicated to his mother – whom he strengthened his relationship with after years of external factors getting in between them. Earl described it as “music from when I hit the bottom and found something”.
Struggling to come to grips with the loss of his grandmother, Earl opens himself up on the ten-minute track:
I got my grandmama's hands, I start to cry when I see 'em
Cause they remind me of seein' her
These the times that I needed her most cause I feel defeated
Her passing is a topic which has popped up on previous songs (Huey, the intro to IDLSIDGO, along with the Pharrell-assisted Burgundy off his 2013 album, Doris). Events like these have helped contribute to Earl’s loneliness, addiction and depression – which he weaves in and out of on both Solace and IDLSIDGO.
However, Earl’s quick to let us know that these feelings aren’t necessarily permanent fixtures in his mind:
The great dichotomy with Earl’s music is that he’s just as likely to spit uplifting words as he is disheartening ones. It’ s the hard truths within the lyrics which feel authentic and can be a lot more relatable to than the superficial and unsustainable rhymes we’ve heard time and time again from mainstream rappers.
An interview with the New York Times in 2012 helped share a glimpse into some of the things he learnt from his stint at the therapeutic boarding school in the South Pacific:
When he first arrived in Samoa, he was taken to a waterfall, which some of the other boys jumped off, though to a newcomer it inspired fear. “If you didn’t jump off the waterfall, you felt” terrible, he said. “So then you started jumping off the waterfalls.”
Doing so, he said, had given him new perspective, a desire to be more bold, and to trust in himself more. “I just treat everything like that,” he said. “If I don’t do this right now, if I don’t take this risk, I’ll never get this day back again.”
At the moment it feels like Earl’s effortlessly sliding down this waterfall, masterfully managing everything that comes his way. His wordplay will always draw “oohs” & “aahs” however it’s the openness and storytelling that will truly engage and connect with his fan base. The art of displaying vulnerability is something that may have once felt like a great leap or risk to him. Now it’s one of his greatest strengths.
Well, time waits for no man and death waits with cold hands
I'm the youngest old man that you know
If ya soul intact, let me know.