According to a profile of Earl Sweatshirt published on Pitchfork not too long after the release of 2018’s Some Rap Songs, one of the comments the artist made about his album was that it was “explicitly geared toward black listeners.” This might set a certain expectation for what the crowd filling out the Corona last Thursday might have looked like, yet my first impression upon entering the theater is best captured by the line from single “The Mint” Earl himself referenced when referring to the audience he had in mind: “Crackers pilin’ in …” Nevertheless, Earl’s association with Odd Future implies a level of internet-propagated fame epitomized in the “Free Earl” meme of the early 2010’s. However, like other O.F. members, Earl has since grown apart from the affiliation both musically and personally, into an artist whose stream-of-consciousness style of rapping and laid-back yet experimental production has earned him a wide base of followers.
Liv.e opened first, cueing up her own backing tracks on the DJ booth in the center of the stage in front of projections displaying what looked like a compilation of clips gathered from her own social media passed through a VHS/Windows Movie Maker filter for extra DIY effect. Self-deprecating humor when she fumbled the start of a track or insisted the crowd cheer for themselves as much as her warmed up the audience between offerings of her smooth, occasionally hip-hop-inflected soul music. It was indeed not, as she joked, “mosh music,” but a great complement to the chilled-out production in Earl’s music and a fitting start to the night.
If Liv.e represented the soulful aspect of the main act she was opening for, Bbymutha brought the rap component with verses and personality as sassy as the name of her native Chattanooga. Montreal got an indirect shoutout when her DJ spun up a sample of Grimes’ “Genesis,” over which Bbymutha rattled off verses about her talent for winning over women from incompetent men (massive paraphrase).
While her lyrics undoubtedly sparkle with character, her whimsy really shone between the musical moments, whether reacting to a many-legged bug on stage by reporting to the crowd, “it’s some crazy Animal Planet shit up here” while a fiery pentagram traced itself on the screen behind her, or bringing out her “son” Fronto the plastic lizard for the people lining the stage to caress.
It wasn’t too long that Bbymutha and Fronto had left the stage before Earl and his DJ came on and started with some cuts from his first album Doris, like “Molasses” and “20 Wave Caps.” His older sound gave way to the greater jazz and soul influences that looped behind bars from the new album, sometimes a halting lethargic piano on “December 24” and “The Mint,” or chopped-up soul instrumentals and vocals on “Ontheway!,” “The Bends,” and “Azucar.”
Earl took a break, waving off a fan’s screams of “Earl I love you!” with a casual half-raised arms and telling the Corona, “this energy is aggressive,” a point proven when a pair of sunglasses were lobbed onto the stage. The DJ put them on to the crowd’s uproarious satisfaction, and Earl eased into a passage of tracks from the brooding I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, his previous album. He started with“Huey,” one of the album’s more condensed tracks that pointed towards the mood-board style fully realized with his latest work. He topped off the run with a few new unreleased tracks, then did “Pre” for, as he said it, “one last throwback before we never look back,” also noting to his faithful fans that, “I can tell by some of your faces that this isn’t that far back.”
True to his word, the rest of the set stayed current, including Some Rap Songs’ lead single “Nowhere2go” and ending with “Riot!” sans encore pretense, true to Earl’s unpretentious attitude. In fact, realizing there was an occasion worth celebrating (the DJ’s birthday?), the set’s approximately 50 minutes were extended into a post-set party as the openers joined Earl and the potential birthday man on stage to walk it out to some of their favorite tracks.
As I turned to leave these post-show festivities, I better understood what Earl meant with the dedication of the album to his community. The point was not to exclude, but to delve deeper into himself, a self-reflective dive that necessitated connecting with his family and broader cultural roots whether through samples of his parents narrating (his mother is a UCLA professor and father was a South African poet), or more indirectly, evoking the rhythm and warmth of jazz with stuttering loops and lo-fi static. With the way tracks often end before they hit the 2-minute mark and the fuzz of fragmented samples skipping into each other, listening to Some Rap Songs can feel like skimming through stations on a radio where each frequency is tuned to some wavelength of Earl’s holistic identity. Live, his oblique rhymes and steady flows seamlessly incorporate the rest of his discography into this world, and no matter your level of familiarity with it, there is something to be learned and appreciated.
Review – Dylan Lai
Photos – Jean-Michel Lacombe