Despite being completely and utterly not for me, I like Odd Future. Rather, I like the idea of Odd Future. They’re mind blowing in that way that Eminem first blew my mind, and provide probably the best insight into how a lot of your teenage sons [and some of your daughters] think about the world and growing up. While I don’t think one makes a career out of rape jokes [something Marshall also learned], I think watching their artistic development or destruction will be one of the most interesting musical narratives this decade produces.
As it happens, OFWGKTA already has a compelling narrative built into it in the ballad of Earl Sweatshirt.
The rumour goes like this: Earl proves himself to be the most proficient MC in the crew, a spiritual brother and rival to founder Tyler, The Creator. Earl releases a video online of him and his friends tossing multiple substances into a blender, drinking the resulting grey sludge and subsequently bleeding from multiple orifices and losing teeth and fingernails, as Earl raps about all the nuts he has to bust and butts he has to fuck and ho’s he has to uppercut. It has been viewed over three million times.
Then, allegedly, Earl’s mom gets wind of what he’s been doing in his spare time and promptly ships him out of country, just as the hype starts reaching fever pitch and the crew performs memorable sets at SXSW and on Jimmy Fallon’s show, culminating in the release of Tyler’s album Goblin, Odd Future’s first commercial release after dropping over a dozen albums online for free. And they’re all doing it without their star member, prompting the band and its fans to start the ‘Free Earl’ movement, a vague demand considering no one knew where he was, Earl’s whereabouts being one of the few things that seemed to make Tyler genuinely introspective and well, hurt.
Of course, the deafening hype for the group was going to increase interest in Earl’s location, culminating not only in Complex gleefully declaring they had found him at a boys school in Samoa, but The New Yorker(?!) scoring the first ‘interview’ with him, in the form of emails passed back and forth between Earl and the magazine, through his mother [link, paywalled]. And what did Earl have to say for himself?
“Initially I was really pleased that all these people claimed that they wanted me released because I thought that translated into ‘they care,’” Earl wrote. “So time progresses and the fan base gets bigger and the ‘Free Earl’ chants get louder but now with the ‘Free Earl’ chants come a barely indirect ‘Fuck Earl’s Mom’ and in the blink of an eye my worry changes from ‘will there still be this hype when I get back’ to ‘Oh shit I just inspired a widespread movement of people who are dedicated to the downfall of my mom.”
This, is a well-reasoned and mature response, which of course led numerous writers and fans to accuse Earl’s mother of tweaking his responses, especially the noncommittal response to the question of when he would return to his music career: “I miss home. I don’t have any definite date though. Even if I did I don’t know if I’d tell you. You’ll hear from me without a doubt when I’m ready.”
Not even the author of the article can fully verify the authenticity of the statement, but says he and his editors felt confident enough to run it and let readers decide.
For me, as a guy who spent the better part of ten years working at a youth centre for teenagers, Earl sounds a lot like kids I used to talk to back then. Here’s a kid of some privilege who made music with his friends because he was bored [this is why the music of OFWGKTA, while provocative, doesn’t really offend me, because I know it’s taking the piss, even if the kids listening to it regularly don’t], and now has to deal with the attention of a certain, growing section of the world. Whether his mother was being reactionary by shipping him off to Samoa isn’t for me or anyone to comment on. She’s been cast as the villain by hundreds of thousands of kids, how could that not be off-putting to Earl? He’s seen the world outside, and who’s to say if he’s even going to want to continue down the road his crewmates are traveling on. That’ll be a decision for him to make, and he needs the opportunity to make it for himself, something even Tyler seems to be aware of:
So maybe the we can just chill the eff out and let the kid figure his shit out, no? Chet Haze would kill for some of this attention.