Chance mutual admiration is always fulfilling, especially in the area of artistic expression. When I love an artist’s work and I discover they admire mine as well, the planets align. So when Earl Sweatshirt appeared in my orbit, a supporter of my output, an interview was the natural progression.
Few rap stars garner unanimous praise from both old school and new school rap fans; Thebe Kgositsile, otherwise known as Earl Sweatshirt, has achieved this and more. The Los Angeles artist emerged as a member of Odd Future and went on to become a solo powerhouse with the release of his critically acclaimed mixtape Earl, debut studio album Doris and his most recent album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt.
Pulling from the complex ethos of Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain who adamantly loathed the frantic deification he attracted, Sweatshirt navigates his stardom with careful humility. The 21 year-old is grounded and searching for his place in the world like the millions of fans who look to him for lessons and inspiration.
Our Q&A was done via email:
Ferrari Sheppard: Describe fame to me.
Earl Sweatshirt: If you had asked me to describe fame a few years ago, I would’ve told you that fame is a stressful and dehumanizing pedestal, because that’s what it was for me. I didn’t get the privilege of having a choice when it came to the ascent of my name and likeness and music. Naturally, I was upset.
Fast forward to 2016.
I’m still not an advocate for deification, so I take every opportunity I can to assert my humanity to those who are still invested in putting me on a pedestal. Deification divides.
However, my mom pointed out that there are reasons for large portions of my personal growth and struggles taking place in the public eye. One is that, whether I like it or not, I am built for this. Another is that my ultimate job/purpose is to teach. I’m blessed to have a platform that allows me to speak to many at once. I recognize that I can make consciousness a tangible thing for young people.
FS: Let’s backtrack. How were your name and likeness released before you were ready?
ES: Tyler was in charge of my public relations for the two years that I was in Samoa. [Editor’s note: Earl was sent to boarding school in Samoa until his 18th birthday]
FS: If you could fight any historical figure, who would it be?
ES: Christopher Columbus for pretty obvious reasons.
FS: Not to get too religious, but my next question pertains to spirituality.
Greek philosopher Epicurus once wrote:
“If God is willing to prevent evil, but is unable, then he is not omnipotent.
If he is able, but not willing, then he is malicious.
If he is both able and willing, then whence cometh evil? If he is neither able nor willing, then why call Him God?”
What are your thoughts on a ‘higher power’?
ES: I’m a big ‘universal oneness’ head ass nigga. ______(insert whatever name you use to refer to a higher power) is in everything and everyone. I was raised in a house that practiced Nichiren Buddhism. I strayed away from it as a teen and I’ve returned to it as an adult.
FS: On “Sunday” you rapped that your dreams became more vivid after you stopped smoking. What is the last dream you remember?
ES: I’ve gotta sleep on this one then get back to you with an adequate answer.
FS: You’re not overtly political in your music, but what are your thoughts on the popularization of social movements, particularly in the United States? Do you think movements like Black Lives Matter have the potential to shift the societal landscape? Or are young people simply following trends?
ES: Black Lives Matter has already demonstrated that it has the power to shift the societal landscape by bringing awareness to age old issues that have plagued us as a people. I’m fully behind it.
FS: Off record you told me you were planning a trip home to Johannesburg, South Africa [Earl’s father is South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile], but you admitted you were a bit intimidated. What are your reservations?
ES: I’m apprehensive about going to South Africa because I still hate attention. There’s still connecting and building to do on a cellular level between my father and I. I don’t want it to get overshadowed by other people’s expectations.
FS: When you’re not touring, what are your days like?
ES: I’m either with Knxwledge and my little brother Sage, or getting acupuncture and focusing on eating right and gaining weight. I listen to records all day and watch “The Wire” with my mom.
FS: Do you have future ambitions outside of music? If so, what are they?
ES: Music is just my current conduit. My ultimate goal is to teach.
FS: Here’s a question no one has asked in an interview before (not). If you could give an aspiring artist a piece of advice, what would it be?
ES: LEARN TO LISTEN.
Earl Sweatshirt is currently looking for a change of scenery, possibly in a country outside of the US and will likely release new music.
WATCH: Earl Sweatshirt – Grief