About Earl Sweatshirt
When Earl Sweatshirt started out with the Odd Future collective in the late 2000s, it wasn’t clear whether he’d mature at all, let alone into the artist he became. But like the Wu-Tang Clan or Lil Wayne, Earl’s raps could make even violence and vulgarity sound surreal—not just instruments of parental disturbance, but wet clay in the hands of a lyricist bending metaphor into strange, unfamiliar shapes. So while the essayist James Baldwin’s use of the phrase “imprecise words” referred to the ways in which language can, when generalized, help perpetuate inequity in structures of power, Earl’s sampling of it at the beginning of 2018’s Some Rap Songs sounded more like an endorsement: Yes, abstraction can harm, but it can also be liberating, a light shone down an unexplored hallway. And after all, he was only in his early twenties—how could he possibly pretend to know exactly how he felt?
Born Thebe Kgositsile in Chicago in 1994, he was raised primarily in Los Angeles, eventually hooking up with Odd Future founder Tyler, the Creator, via MySpace—an orientation toward the social possibilities of the internet that helped make the collective one of the first success stories of its kind. As Earl's music deepened, it took on qualities both of classic underground rap and free jazz, filled with unstable rhythms, stream-of-consciousness flows, drumless beats, and a sense of fragmentation that made them feel dense but startlingly alive.
By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he was already a kind of elder statesman, the progenitor for a new wave of artists dismantling the dusty, downcast sound of ’90s boom-bap and building something entirely new. “All praises due, the juice unobtainable/Like Tang in the booth, dark face on the news/Clouds gray, on the move/On the way like the truth,” he rapped on 2018’s “Ontheway!”—a mission statement if he ever had one.
BORNFebruary 24, 1994