Known for a creatively languid style that swings lyrically from highly personal alt-rap to morbid horrorcore, Earl Sweatshirt helped launch Odd Future into hip-hop prominence around the turn of the 2010s and soon became one of the most unique rapper/producers around. After he made his solo debut in 2010 with the acclaimed mixtape Earl, his first two albums, Doris (2013) and the seriously (and descriptively) titled I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015), charted in the upper reaches of the Billboard 200. By the time he released his third LP, Some Rap Songs (2018), Earl had either produced or appeared on tracks by most of the Odd Future affiliates, including Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean, as well as similarly left-field artists such as Danny Brown and Denmark Vessey. His fourth album, the tightly focused Sick!, arrived in 2022, and he surprise-released Voir Dire, a record made collaboratively with producer the Alchemist, in 2023.
Born Thebe Kgositsile in Chicago, Illinois, Earl Sweatshirt was known as Sly Tendencies until 2009, the year the Los Angeles-based rapper and producer was invited by Tyler, The Creator to join Odd Future. In March 2010, at the age of 16, he debuted with Earl, a mixtape that garnered critical acclaim, but he was subsequently sent to a Samoan boarding school by his mother. Upon his 2012 return to L.A., determined to build on the success of the tape, he eased himself back into the scene with a number of collaborations, most notably appearances on Odd Future’s The OF Tape, Vol. 2 and Frank Ocean’s Grammy-winning Channel Orange.
Earl ultimately signed a solo deal with Columbia, enabling him to issue material on the major label through the vanity imprint Tan Cressida, and in November 2012, he initiated the long-term affiliation with the single “Chum.” “Whoa” and “Hive,” the former of which became Earl’s first charting solo track — peaking on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart at number 46 — led to the August 2013 release of Doris. Enhanced with input from numerous OF associates and the likes of the Neptunes, Frank Ocean, and the RZA — although Earl also produced much of the set — the album entered the Billboard 200 at number five. Publications ranging from Rolling Stone to The Wire included it in their respective year-end lists of best albums.
After a handful of collaborations, Earl returned in March 2015 with I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, an album only half-an-hour in length but received as a major follow-up for its artfully insular quality. Earl handled the production on all but one track of the album, a number 12 Billboard 200 hit. Between solo releases, he popped up on a handful of tracks, including Danny Brown’s “Really Doe,” and expanded his production discography with a number of one-offs, as well as extensive work with Mach-Hommy and Denmark Vessey. Earl released his third LP for Columbia, Some Rap Songs, in November 2018. The album arrived following the death of his father, South African poet and activist Keorapetse Kgositsile (aka Bra Willie). He returned relatively quickly in late 2019 with the seven-song project Feet of Clay. The brief collection included guest appearances from Mavi, Mach-Hommy, and Liv.E.
Two years later, Earl issued the reflective single “2010,” the first track from his fourth studio album, Sick!, to precede its release. The ten-song set arrived in January 2022, with guest performances from featured artists Armand Hammer and Zelooperz, and production handled by a host of sound sculptors that included Navy Blue, Black Noi$e, Alexander Spit, and others. Sick! had a run time of just 24 minutes and continued the futuristic, often chaotic instrumental approach of the two Earl releases that came immediately before it. After making an appearance on Jean Dawson’s “BAD FRUIT*,” Earl released “Making the Band (Danity Kane),” produced by Clams Casino and Evilgiane, in 2023. In August of that year, the album Voir Dire was released without notice. The record was a collaboration between Earl and producer the Alchemist, and strayed from the highly experimental and abstract styles of Some Rap Songs or the swirling messiness of Sick!, bringing more of Alchemist’s production voice into the mix. The album included a guest appearance from MIKE on the single “Sentry.” ~ Gregory Heaney & Andy Kellman