To overlook Earl Sweatshirt as mere detritus of Odd Future is doing him and yourself a huge disservice. His creativity shines through his catalogue, from the lo-fi Sly Tendencies cuts to the graphic brutality of his first EARL mixtape, to the awkward growing-pained Doris and now the lumbering depth of his latest I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside; Earl has proven to be a humble curio in a hip hop world washed wan by trap and swag.
“Matured” is a word that gets thrown around a lot when some try and describe his work now, it’s a fair but somewhat empty summation. No he’s not waxing about rape anymore, nor are there many references to anything being ruptured. But to disregard his earlier work as juvenile is a fallacy. The heavy imagery conjured on his first mixtape was undeniably vulgar but it displayed maturity far beyond his years – it’s a satirical statement on the nothing-shocks-us-because-the-internet zeitgeist of his generation.
On Saturday night I saw the guy perform for the second time – the first was his show-stealing performance next to Danny Brown and Run The Jewels, second time round he proved just as vital.
For someone at his age with fame thrown on him, then taken away, then piled on again he seems to have developed the sense of mind to eschew all expectations and do things the way he wants to.
He opened the show with ‘Pre’, the first track from Doris and easily my least favourite of his. It always stuck out in an uncomfortable way on the album but on the night the song’s name and mood finally came into focus. Pre. It’s the sound he had been striving for before he knew how to fully express it.
For such a sore thumb of a track on Doris, it could fit in comfortably on his latest album. And, as was the theme for the night, he injected fire into every bar.
He then proceeded to tear through the deeper cuts of Doris and most of his new album at his own leisurely pace. His stage presence is palpable. There is simply no-one else, besides Snoop perhaps, that can make an awkward penguin shuffle ooze with such effortless swagger. He’s a cynosure on a stage featuring simply the decks, DJ and minimal mood lights. He doesn’t act hard, he’s a hard act to follow.
He has the skill to be magnetic through his slow burners but he can turn it up and make the crowd loudly assure him that they’ll fuck the freckles off your face and when the time comes he makes the competition kiss the fuckin curb and then they weep and then the crowd doth drop.
The incident with the all too eager fan has made the rounds by now. This guy had been aggravating the crowd the whole night. Security were seemingly too busy making a game of throwing out tokers to notice his attempt to bum rush the stage. I could write another article about the aggressiveness of the security presence but overzealous security in Sydney is news to exactly no-one.
So he made it on stage mid-‘Grief’ and for some reason thought Earl would like a surprise bear hug: the left hook was totally justified and provided sweet satisfaction for all.
The beat played through and Earl ripped back into it fiercer than ever.
Earl does not give a fuck. Not in a contrived, listless manner, he will just do what he does and if you are on board you will love it. And thus came the final song. A beat drops which sounds familiar, it’s fiendish, it’s full of bravado, it knocks hard. It’s ‘Brand New Guy’. ASAP Rocky. The Early man then lays down a few of his own verses over it. He’s even flowing like Rocky and it’s incredible and confusing all at once.
And then it keeps going. An inside joke between DJ and rapper playing out on stage. They let that beat ring 20 times over. He’s not going to pander to anyone and if he wants to seemingly endorse the competition he’ll do just that.
At one point Earl put his mic down and looked to the sky whilst shaking his body in a hilarious self satisfied state of turnt nirvana. He worked the crowd up constantly yelling AYE AYE AYE as the DJ dropped the beat again and again. He’s taking the piss and they are loving it.
Then it fades out, they walk off and the fans immediately call for more. I didn’t expect an encore but back on they walk five minutes later. I’m surprised. And then the beat drops and I’m surprised again. Will he do ‘EARL’, or ‘Hive’, maybe ‘Kill’? Nope. ‘Brand New Guy’. ASAP Rocky. Repeat above paragraph. They bring the house down with this shenanigan in a way that ‘Niggas In Paris’ twelve times over never could. It’s not about self indulgence. The artist is having as much fun as the crowd while they’re both laughing at each other.
As the hip hop world gets inundated by fads and fazes, hot singles and hype tracks, it’s so refreshing to be watching someone’s career trajectory … forget that, just watching someone having a career is satisfying.
Earl Sweatshirt is an auteur by all accounts and a glowing ember surrounded by quick burn flames.