Earl Sweatshirt is a member of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a collective of rappers and producers from California who have been attracting attention with their voluminous releases given away for free online. Their notoriety has grown so much they’ve been on network TV, backed up by the Roots. (if you watch that video, note the enthusiasm displayed by Mos Def as well as Jimmy Fallon’s delighted grin.)
Check out this excellent and astute write-up from Feminist Music Geek. I agree with what she said and won’t bother to repeat, but I would like to ask one question: When we talk about this album (and let’s be honest, provoking analysis, criticism and controversy is a big part of Odd Future’s creative endeavor) are we contributing to the delinquency of a minor?
The video for Earl’s eponymous track (the one where he raps about using roofies to commit date rape, using a trumpet to sodomize a girl, eating human flesh mixed with feces and how his purpose on this Earth is to commit hate crimes against Catholics) features Earl and his friends mixing an assortment of substances (pot, apparently, some cough syrup, liquor and something from a prescription bottle) in a blender, drinking it, and vomiting before injuring themselves skateboarding, having seizures, and bleeding from their eyes, nostrils, and nipples. A kid pulls off his thumbnail. A kid pulls out his own hair. A kid pulls out his own teeth. A lot of it is probably fake, though I doubt Odd Future would admit that, and if it isn’t fake, this is child abuse because Earl was SIXTEEN at the time.
Sorry to be the square, but maybe we should be a little more concerned about what happens to a kid who grows up surrounded by the voices of music-nerd hipsters praising him for his hostile, bigoted hate-speech and his dangerous antics.
His mother’s rumored decision to send him to boarding school, keeping him away from his Odd Future friends, seems like the logical, responsible thing to do. Smirking bloggers and Odd Future fans crying “Free Earl” are suggesting that they would be willing to deprive a teenager of an education and a healthy life just so they can hear some more music that they will like. That attitude is callous and hateful.
I heard someone praise Heath Ledger recently for “Basically giving up his life for his art.” I don’t buy the premise that the method-acting that went into Heath Ledger’s work on a Batman sequel ended his life, but if it’s true, then I wish that movie had never been made. When an artist suffers for his art, that art (no matter how much other people like it) will never outweigh the suffering. The well-being of any person is more important than any work of art. I realize that some suffering can’t be avoided, but some suffering can. If I find out animals were intentionally killed during the production of a movie, I won’t watch it. That movie shouldn’t exist. If I find out a kid’s life was derailed by his participation in the making of some rap music, I won’t listen to it. I’m not saying this is the case here, but it might be.
I am in no position to diagnose Earl or tell him what to do, but the possibility that his lyrics cross the line between shock-theater and symptoms of serious psychological problems, or the possibility that his participation in Odd Future could have a damaging effect on his educational and professional future is reason enough for me to bow out.
In the song discussed above, Earl snarls at his critics: “Try talking on a blog with your fucking arms cut off.” I guess he’s talking to me so I’ll respond: Earl, try applying for a job when typing your name into Google brings up the rape-obsessed rap music you made as a teenager.