Because rap itself is an open dialogue, its practitioners are typically very cautious in interviews; someone is always listening. So when you criticize your peers, you better be prepared to back it up. And that’s what feverishly talented 21-year-old prodigy Earl Sweatshirt does. After his first two albums hit the top 20 on the Billboard Top 200, Earl might be near the center of the rap conversation but he doesn’t come off that way at all; talking to him plays out like he’s watching rap in a movie theater with some popcorn in hand and making wisecracks à la MST3K. He says whatever he wants, which like most of his fractious Odd Future clique tends toward however he’s feeling immediately following the question. He named his downbeat, agoraphobic 2015 album I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside (one of SPIN‘s picks for the 50 Best Albums of 2015) and says his next one will be less isolated and depressed.
But unlike a lot of artists, he appears to actually resolve the problems he writes about, and then goes on to write about new ones. Sure, 21-year-olds change their identity all the time — but the startlingly candid Earl doesn’t pretend otherwise. In contrast to his phantasmagoric flow, his explanatory demeanor is all that-was-then, this-is-now, and here’s-why-that-was. He doesn’t shut down questions; he always seems hungry for the next one, whether it’s about Eminem, Drake, his own mother, or drugs. To help close out his 2015, SPIN talked to Earl about the I Don’t Like S**t follow-up he’s already working on, the controversial state of the OFWGKTA collective, and the ups and downs of the year in which he grew up the most.
I hear you’re already in the studio again. When did you decide to go back in?
Yeah, I’m in some guy’s castle. Uh, about a month ago. I’ve been making beats.
Do they sound very different from I Don’t Like S**t?
Yeah, I’ve been using different hardware and software, trying to get my sample game up. Cause I been with this nigga Knxwledge, and he just got that game sewed up. So he inspired me.
What kinds of stuff are you sampling?
I dig at my mom’s house, grab s**t. I keep an eye out for jazz, good oldies, and African, Jamaican s**t. Ethiopian s**t.
Sampling has become real expensive, so are you worried about not being able to clear anything?
Hell nah! Bro, there’s hella samples. The last Drake album was a whole bunch of samples. There’s hella sampling there, but it’s different drums, just not boom-bap drums anymore. That’s the only ingredient in the hip-hop equation that’s changed, how niggas approach drums. Everything else is the same. There’s either no sample or a sample, and then now niggas just go straight to thumper drums or just like, different stock [drum] patterns.
Was there anything you knew you wanted to do differently with this upcoming album?
I’m not as depressed as I was last year when I hurt my knee, so I can’t keep making music about being in a cage ‘cause I’m not in a cage. I have a thing with myself where, like I have to be truthful with s**t I write, so with me not doing a repeat of I Don’t Like S**t, I have to make sure [I] don’t get to the space again where I don’t like s**t.
Earlier this year, I read one interview where you described your ability to isolate yourself as “borderline sociopathic.” Do you feel like isolating yourself less these days?
No, that’s why a lot of times I end up isolating myself, because I O.D. on people.
Will this next album will reflect more experiences of being around people than just locking yourself away?
Like, [fake raps] “Yo, I’m around people, around people…?” [Laughs.] Nah, I don’t know, man. Just some different s**t, you know what I mean?
What albums did you love the most this year?
Ooh, okay, we got Denmark Vessey, Martin Lucid Dream. I’ll probably say that’s the one that comes instinctively off the top of my head. Who else came out this year?
Vince, Kendrick, all the Future things…
Okay, okay, okay. Goddamn. I ain’t even going to lie, bro: I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside, maybe because of a personal connection with it, or maybe it’s because that s**t is fire. I really stand behind that s**t, bro. I put a lot of faith into it.
That’s good, because I remember after Doris came out you were talking about all the things you wanted to change about it.
Yeah, I don’t like it. And the one that I feel even more strongly about than [I Don’t Like S**t] is [the surprise-released ten-minute song-collage] “Solace,” because of how personal it is and I made it for myself, so it’s kind of like a present to myself. Second, I feel like it’s the most honest in the sense that it is not entirely wallowing, you know what I mean? It’s not like I’m just sitting in a depression; it’s the first step to where I’m at now, which was like, taking s**t into my own hands and taking control of my own life and making the choice to be happier.
The thing that I f**k with about 2015 though, is I think everyone feels the same way. We finally went into these chambers of our own selves that we hadn’t gone into before. Like Vince went back to the time that changed him, which was summertime 2006 and I just kind of examined where I was at his time. Same with Future and same with Kendrick. Niggas are evaluating where they’re at right now. Even Drake! “Please do not talk to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago / I’m in a higher place.” He’s talking to you about him right now. So any of the s**t that’s sticking is because it’s current and honest.
Do you feel like major labels are finally letting rappers follow their muse?
Hell yeah, bro! I just seen how the entire tone of everything has changed, of the entire game. I met with someone who I used to meet with, before I first got signed with a label, and their whole entire disposition is different, you know what I mean? They’re more open and more inclined… [labels] want to see you doing you. They almost look for these off-kilter things now, like if I played some s**t that sounded like some regular s**t, or like a hit, this nigga would have been [mad]. You know what I’m saying? It’s kinda gross though, now being regular is anti-, because being weird or anti- is just this thing now. Being timeless now is what’s gonna stick out.
Do you think there’s any downside?
Hell nah, man, it makes the game more exclusive. It makes it so you can only stick out if you are really good, ‘cause it’s oversaturated. You can’t just get on from being someone’s homie. I mean, you can, but that s**t is gonna get seen through real quick.
You caught some flak on Twitter for talking about Drake being a “wave-rider” and I wanted to know if you think he does more harm than good.
I don’t know man! I just know how I do it, so I’m wary of it with my own self, you know what I mean? Like the people that have power in music right now have very powerful cosigns! So with that power comes responsibility… like Spider-Man. [Laughs.]
Do you still follow Eminem’s new stuff?
Hell nah! Sorry! [Laughs.]
I don’t think you’re alone.
If you still follow Eminem, you drink way too much Mountain Dew and probably need to like, come home from the army.
What was the best thing that happened to you this year?
Got way closer with my mom this year. Some of the s**t that I said on [I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside] made it easier to just make things clear for me, and then the natural growth that happened with time, like I just loved how our relationship’s growing as I get older. I don’t get that weird childhood apprehension that sometimes puts a gate between you and your [parent]. So we can kick it now. She knows I’m grown now and that I’m not like at risk of doing any wild s**t. So when I come through and I’m high on leaves, it’s not a f**king big deal anymore.
And what was the worst thing you did?
Is there a story that goes with that?
I was f**king bad. I took it at a time when I really didn’t need to be taking acid. I had like a f**king existential crisis at, like, four in the morning. But it was tight. We reeled it back.
We back in the house, baby.
What was the best thing you ate this year?
Ooh wee, the best thing I ate this year? F**k. I feel like I ate some good-ass s**t this year. I could tell you the worst thing I ate this year: In Finland, they have some gray meat, mystery gray meat. So that was worst.
What are you most looking forward to doing in 2016?
Traveling. Like, how I want to. Not because I’m pressed to. I wanna ultimately go back to South Africa, but I wanna just travel, man. I been to all these places but I just seen all these places’ green rooms.
Who have you always wanted to work with that you still haven’t gotten to yet?
Beth [Gibbons] from Portishead. And Madlib, yep.
Rather than asking you straight up what’s happening with Odd Future, what’s something that people just don’t understand enough about the group?
That it did not start as a bunch of people who were friends who then miraculously discovered that they all had some sort of innate music ability? Like we came together for a job, and we disbanded as a job. People who are brought together for work purposes… like when Kanye put together the GOOD music group, Rick Ross put together Maybach Music, it was like, “Oh, all these niggas aren’t actually homies, they just got brought together to do music.” But really, while some of the niggas at OF are some of my closest homies, we still came together to do it, like to get on. You kind of see what happened.
Is there anything else you can tell about the current state of the crew?
It’s pretty mellow and passive between everyone.
Well, thanks for talking, man.
Hell yeah, esé. Watch your dick and be safe out there.
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