Shannon Mahanty speaks to rapper of the moment Earl Sweatshirt.
Earl Sweatshirt loves a selfie. His twitter feed is a gallery of endless distortions of his own reflection: topless Earl grinning dopily to his 600,000 strong following, masked Earl imitating his hero MF Doom, or my personal favourite; Earl documenting his brazen attempt to drink ciroc off a plate with fellow rapper, Riff Raff. His dedication to self-portraiture knows no limits and today our photographer is pretty redundant as Earl snatches the camera for himself. He’s in his element, snarling and grimacing down the lens while Wonderland follows obediently. As we wander around West Kensington’s leafy suburbs, the rappers cackle shatters the quiet afternoon:
‘Did you see that? That first nigga.. he had NO neck! And that second nigga.. his nipple was showing!’
It doesn’t take much to entertain the teenage rapper. Back in LA he’s more than content to ‘..just skate and do stupid shit with my friends. We do whatever, literally whatever.’ In 2011, Tyler, The Creator made an unusual declaration in smash single “Yonkers “: “Fuck money diamonds and bitches I don’t need ‘em.” His brash lyric is the punk zenith of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All aesthetic: their grassroots hip-hop is miles away from the Crystal-drinking, Maybach driving brand of their contemporaries. It’s one that embraces inconsistency and spontaneity. This is Earl exactly. One minute he’s dropping a verse on Frank Ocean’s Grammy award winning sophomore LP Channel Orange, the next he’s mysteriously disappeared to the other side of the world. Today, he’s mocking every person that has the nerve to cross his path. Half an hour later, we’ve managed to swerve him from getting an ASBO (“Hey, let’s go fuck someone’s mailbox up!”) and are sat in his plush hotel room.
Earl really doesn’t like interviews. Behind his iTunes number one album second album Doris, the sell-out shows and the infamous rap collective, Thebe Kgositsile is like most other teenage Los Angelisians. Fluctuating between shrugged silences and abstract responses, Earl’s not one to simply recite a press release – he’d much rather toy with journalists or pretend they’re not there at all. It’s not that he champions some pretentious mantra that his music speaks for himself, he’s just bored. “I have to be doing something… I’m a weirdo. I have to be doing something else or it won’t work – I won’t be able to answer your questions right.” Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we settle on the sofa; Earl flicking through his Firefox tabs before selecting World Star Hip-Hop as his distraction of choice.
Rap may conventionally thrive on the outspoken, but Earl does his best to evade explanation. In fact his whole persona has been characterised by absence; just as the muddy beats of his venomous debut album Earl propelled him to notoriety, he quite literally disappeared. Diehard Odd Future fans desperately campaigned to know the whereabouts of OF’s unsung hero in a worldwide #FREEEARL Twitter-movement spearheaded by Tyler. Meanwhile, over in Samoa, Earl was based at an academy for troubled teenage boys – sent there by his Mother.
“That first year was terrible. It took me such a long time to get where I needed to be, I didn’t know how to get home and after a certain point I just gave up, I was like – ‘fuck it’ – and then I became the worst, you know? When I came in they pointed at this one kid – they always give you an example – ‘you could be like this kid and you could be out in six months time, or you could be like this kid…’ I was that negative example; people would come in and point at me, ‘now this is who you don’t wanna be like.’
The rapper spent two years in the Samoan academy, whilst back at home, Odd Future were becoming a household name. Was the isolated environment conducive to the completion of Doris.
“Not at first… I just didn’t give a fuck. Me and this other kid had convinced ourselves that home was a figment of our imagination, we were operating off that belief – I’m never gonna go home, I’m gonna die here.”
But Earl did return, and it was a homecoming that almost broke the Internet.
“Seeing that shit blow up. That shit was so crazy… It created this huge pressure with Doris.”
In its most sensitive moments, Doris is a confession of the burden Earl shouldered: “My priorities fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m gonna blow it/And all them expectations raising because daddy was a poet…” he says on “Burgundy.” But even Earl admits Samoa was a turning point in his career. The incredulous wordplay of the album attracted rave reviews from international media.
“That’s the reason I’m not that mad about it – I got to figure myself out at a really young age. A lot of the time you see motherfuckers not work that shit out ‘til they’re much older and…’ he stops and stares into the screen. ‘WHAT. THE. FUCK…?’”
“Ohhhhh that’s her arm, I thought that was his dick!” – And with that, the window of Earl’s concentration quickly closes. That evening, Wonderland heads down to catch his sell-out show at Koko where somehow his dark and menacing offerings translate to sweaty, energetic sing-alongs. The album had only dropped 24 hours previous, but “Molasses” has throngs of sweaty kids moshing in adoration. “Imma fuck the freckles of your fucking face bitch!” chants Earl. I look to his face, totally unphased, as if he expected the 1,500 strong audience to scream the words back at him all along.
Words Shannon Mahanty
Sittings Editor Giulia Oddi
Photographer Christopher Hench