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Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt

The OFWGKTA tearaway on newfound freedom and inciting middle America to slash and burn

TextKieran YatesPhotographyBafic

In the lead-up to Halloween, Dazed Digital is running a Dark Arts season inspired by our November Dark Arts issue. Among other things, we've walked the path of darkness via the Hollywood Walk of Death and talked to Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky. Check back on our Dark Arts section for a journey to hell and back. 

Taken from the November issue of Dazed & Confused:

Earl Sweatshirt, the youngest member of LA rap collective Odd Future, has the makings of a hip hop legend. The 19-year-old saw his major label debut Doris drop right into the Billboard charts this summer at #5. Pretty exciting for the kid savant previously known for uncompromisingly nihilistic raps that implored fans to “kill people, burn shit, fuck school.” His breakout musical offerings saw him rapping about rape and murder at the tender age of 16, inviting fans into his dark world of teenage rebellion and raucousness. (Those with a sensitive disposition might want to skip AG Rojas’s “Earl” video, which sees him pulling out his own fingernails, vomiting into a sink and spitting out blood and teeth.) After a period out of the public eye that built his myth and prompted a “Free Earl” campaign by fans (it emerged that he had been sent by his mum to a Samoan school for troubled boys) Doris lived up to the hype stoked by the success of his OFWGKTA compatriots Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator. His Dilla-inspired beats and thrillingly psychedelic wordplay prove that Earl Sweatshirt is one of the great rap eccentrics: twisted, sinister and talented as hell.

Dazed Digital: Are Odd Future responsible for a new generation of rap eccentrics? 

Earl Sweatshirt: I think Odd Future probably are. And Lil B. People think artists like 50 Cent don’t have charisma but it’s just a different kind of charisma, a bully charisma, which is kinda frowned upon. Which is pretty gay, dude. Like, it’s not tight to be mean. That’s fucking ridiculous, it’s rap music, why can’t it be mean? The reason motherfuckers relate more to people like us than 50 Cent is because more 15-year-olds have yelled or punched a wall than have caught bodies.

DD: Were you anxious about how anticipated Doris was? 

Earl Sweatshirt: Kind of. I tried to just remove myself from it. I mean, I read a couple of reviews and then I remembered why I don’t like reviews.

DD: What were you listening to while you were making the album?

Earl Sweatshirt: All the normal shit I usually listen to: Adrian Younge, Black Moth Super Rainbow and stuff like Madvillain and Styles P.

DD: Is your writing process different now you’ve been in the game a bit longer?

Earl Sweatshirt: I just be writing shit that comes in my head. Whatever I think sounds good. At first I was just trying to sound like DOOM and Eminem, and then I dug out my own voice I guess. It was crazy being a little-ass kid and figuring out how to rap in front of a lot of people. I don’t think I’m as good as I could be, I’m still figuring shit out. But when I was 16, I was figuring out that I could rap and it was the first thing I did. That shit is weird, like, imagine if you were a fucking tap dancer and you had all of America at your early classes. That shit was fucked up.

DD: How did you approach the anxiety?

Earl Sweatshirt: Luckily I didn’t have to deal with it because I was... away.

DD: Oh yeah. What was your response to the ‘Free Earl’ campaign?

Earl Sweatshirt: At first I was really down for it because I was 16, 17 at the time and I was mad that I was gone, but I saw that it was fucking my mum up. It was wild, man, a lot of shit went down. That whole thing was crazy.

DD: Did you read any of the fan fiction?

Earl Sweatshirt: Hell no! I’ve glimpsed it but instantly stopped myself. My girlfriend said that she had seen one and it had gone as deep as making up stories about her and her friends. Like, what the fuck? Niggas have too much time.

DD: Does it make a difference being part of the rap contingent that really ‘get’ internet culture?

Earl Sweatshirt: I guess so. I say Lil B is the king of the internet though. He said he ran YouTube. I believe him. You should see people behind reporters on CNN shouting, ‘Thank you Based God!’ Lil B opened up the floodgates for Odd Future and now rap has a huge internet culture.

DD: Chuck D talks about how hip hop follows the drug culture of the time. Is this what molly sounds like?

Earl Sweatshirt: That’s interesting. I mean, yeah, maybe this is what molly sounds like! Adderall just makes you focus so hard. Though I’m anti-molly and this is why: I went to school with a lot of white girls that were going to raves – I was like, 12, 13 years old – and the girls my age were taking molly and going and listening to Benny Benassi and being sweaty and gross. Then fast-forward to whatever the fucking year that black people find molly and it’s a bunch of grown-ass scary niggas taking the same shit that little girls were taking when I was in grade eight and being sweaty and gross. Dawg. That shit is weird.

DD: Have you moved on from the controversy? Doris has fewer nihilistic weed-raps and more ‘personal’ shit...

Earl Sweatshirt: Yeah, on ‘Chum’ and tracks like that I learned how to articulate myself. Before that I didn’t really know how. Though I’m my worst critic, so I was always like, ‘Shit, this could have been so much better!’ But people fucked with it, so I guess that’s cool.

DD: Did you enjoy the period when Odd Future were being described as a threat to middle America?

Earl Sweatshirt: Yeah, that shit is tight. I’m not gonna lie, dude! Sixteen and you’re dangerous to parents? That’s really tight. But I think everything is happening how it’s supposed to happen. Imagine if I didn’t stop playing that lane and I was 30 years old and doing solo tours talking about killin’ bitches, ’cept it’s not cute any more because I’m grown...

DD: Was that ever cute?

Earl Sweatshirt: Well, not cute, but there is shit you can get away with when you’re 16 years old. But a 45-year-old nigga rapping about that? That’s just creepy. 

DD: Did Frank Ocean tell you about his male relationships before the release of Channel Orange last year?

Earl Sweatshirt: Yeah. So when I returned, I was mostly with Frank all the time, because shit with me and Tyler was still kinda weird. That nigga told me that shit and I was like, ‘Dawg.’ We were driving and he just started telling me the story that’s in Channel Orange. With no preface, no warning, nothing. I was like, ‘What are you even talking about? Are you serious?’ And that was that. 

DD: One of the most exciting things about the way you rap is the way you manipulate words. did you read a lot when you were younger?

Earl Sweatshirt: Yeah, that’s a perfect way to put it but it’s happening less now. I was a fucking bookworm when I was younger. I was a dweeb. I don’t like talking about random shit like I did when I was younger. Something that really annoys me is that niggas don’t know what I’m talking about sometimes so they say it’s ‘random’. That’s the most annoying shit ever. They don’t know what I’m talking about so they just say I’m not saying anything. 

DD: How do Odd Future crowds compare to other rap crowds?

Earl Sweatshirt: They’re just the fucking best. I mean, we’ve been supporting Eminem, and his fans are cool but you can just tell they’re not our crowd. We did one recently and they were like, ‘Get off the stage!’ Playing to Odd Future crowds is tight. Just the energy is different. There are good rap shows where people aren’t necessarily going crazy, but musically and technically everything is good and it works. But then there are shows which are completely fucking insane and that’s the kind of thing I like to see. You know, we played an Eminem show where there were 80,000 people and I was thinking, ‘It would be nice if a few of those were jumping.’

DD: What’s next for you?

Earl Sweatshirt: I have no idea. I just wanna sit down for a long time.