Earl Sweatshirt: Bless This Mess (Excerpt)
Excerpt from The Fader
Earl Sweatshirt’s apartment is a nightmare—four laundry baskets, seven video game controllers, Budweiser empties, potato chip shrapnel, blunt guts, skateboards and dust bunny warrens galore. There’s a paper towel magneted to the fridge that says “Fuck You!” scrawled in Sharpie. The walls may be marked with dingy fingerprints, but Earl’s starter apartment is one of a specific mien; he lives in the same complex Bay Area YouTube rapper Kreayshawn moved to when she signed her purported $1 million deal with Sony. Last year, Earl signed his own papers with Sony, securing an imprint called Tan Cressida with distribution through Columbia. He likes the digs but loves the complimentary Flavia coffee machine in the leasing office. “I’m hyped on it,” he says. “I drink that shit every day.”
Earl Sweatshirt is a rail-thin kid with a big mouth, arched eyebrows and a shadow of a mustache. He has a faux black leather couch, a massive TV and a sink full of dirty cups—just cups—and in tandem, these cues serve to remind you that the 19-year-old rapper born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile is a kid. Wearing a Supreme hat, his baby face belied by eyebags, he holds for a deadpan high five at his front door and turns around to smoke a cigarette out the back. It’s shortly after 1:00PM and he’s just woken up. “You don’t want to sit there,” he says, motioning to an enormous black bean bag. He’s right. It’s lousy with carpet hair.
Earl came up as a member of the Los Angeles-based rap collective, Odd Future Wold Gang Kill Them All, which rose to internet infamy in 2010. The clan’s numbers vary from 20-something to 60 depending on whom you ask, the most visible members being the irascible polymath rapper Tyler, The Creator, and R&B outlier Frank Ocean. In May of 2010, the then 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt released the video for “Earl,” the title cut of his 10-track eponymous mixtape. The lyrics are heinous, chronicling kidnapping, rape, murder and cannibalism. The video features Odd Future members marauding, skating, and bleeding out from ODing on a putrid drug cocktail. Teeth are dislodged, as is a fingernail, and the footage, which includes nipple hemorrhaging, has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube. “Talking about outlandish shit had become a competition between me and Tyler,” Earl tells me, packing a joint with the aglet of his shoelace while sipping on a Budweiser. “We were so fucking cocky.” The mixtape as a whole boasted such vivid storytelling and startling linguistic agility that fans drew comparisons to Eminem, with one crucial distinction: Odd Future had the internet. The combined fervor on YouTube, Tumblr and Twitter established the L.A. crew as a marketing juggernaut. Earl Sweatshirt, the runty kid with the outsized brain, looked like an underdog but felt like a sure thing.
By the end of 2010, Earl had earned its rightful place among early-adopter music sites’ “Best Of” lists—as did Tyler’s album, Bastard, despite dropping in late 2009. Odd Future’s mixtape, Radical, was released the same May as the “Earl” video and only served to galvanize the crew’s cult following. It looked like the ragtag family was having a blast. And then somewhere in the fray, like a patsy in his own songs, Earl Sweatshirt went missing.