Understanding Earl Sweatshirt’s Lyricism

(Photo Source: Getty Images/Tim Mosenfelder)

(Photo Source: Getty Images/Tim Mosenfelder)

Karsyn Otero, Writer

Art is a universal language and is often used by the viewer to decipher it any way they want. However, unknown from the viewer’s point of view, the art, in particular, could have been made to describe anything. In most cases, artists use their art as a healing mechanism. We can all agree the world can be cruel and traumatic for many people. 

Using art to express deep feelings and emotions can help heal the artist and the viewer. This art can be shown in many different forms, but Thebe Kgositsile, known as the artist Earl Sweatshirt, uses lyricism to express those deep feelings and uses art to deal with his trauma.

Who is Earl Sweatshirt?

Earl Sweatshirt is an American artist and producer from Chicago. He entered the rap game in 2008 as his moniker Sly Tendencies, but soon changed his name to Earl Sweatshirt after joining the hip-hop collective group Odd Future in 2009. Odd Future consisted of artists such as Tyler The Creator, Hodgy, and Frank Ocean. 

He gained popularity after writing his debut mixtape Earl in 2010 at the age of only 16, but went on a hiatus that year due to being sent to a boarding school for troubled teens in Samoa. Before his 18th birthday, Earl returned to Los Angeles and joined Odd Future again and continued his career, making amazing albums such as Doris, I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside, and Some Rap Songs.

Earl Sweatshirt’s Lyricism

It’s seen through all of Earl Sweatshirt’s work that he has a gifted talent. Earl Sweatshirt’s lyrics take on a life of their own. His lyrics feature entendres, constant alliteration, oxymorons, euphemisms, hyperboles- basically a lot of literary elements that can confuse the listener but still hold deep meaning. The depth of Earl Sweatshirt’s complex lyrics could tell an hour’s story in a 3 minute song. Earl Sweatshirt speaks from the heart, talking about his troubles through his violent and passionate lyrics that are presented with a cold flow, evening it out. 

Taking inspiration from complex lyrical rappers like MF DOOM and perplexing sound producers like Madlib, Earl Sweatshirt effortlessly holds the crown as one of the most intricate and lyrical rappers and producers. It’s clear to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, for his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile, was a successful poet. He definitely got those rhymes from somewhere!

Let’s take a look at some statistics of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl” compared to other lyrically complex rapper’s songs.

(Photo Source: Martin O’Connor/Rap Analysis)

Earl Sweatshirt holds the lowest amount of sentences per bar, but holds the highest syllables per sentence. They both hold extreme ends, making Earl Sweatshirt the most lyrically creative of the statistics. 

Breaking Down Most Intricate Lyrics by Earl Sweatshirt

The OF Tape Vol. 2, “Oldie” 2012.

Narrow, tight line, might impair him since

I made it back to Fahrenheit, grimey get dinero type

Feral, f****n’ ill-apparel-wearin’ pack of parasites

Threw his own youth off the roof after paradise

In the lines, “I made it back to Farenheit, grimey get dinero type”, Earl Sweatshirt mentions coming back from the boarding school in Samoa “hot” and starting the grind to get money.

 The lyric “Threw his own youth off the roof after paradise” features an impressive quadruple entendre. He might have been talking about multiple things, but since this verse was the first bars of Earl Sweatshirt after being sent away, he’s most likely talking about either missing his life in Samoa, since it did help him, and how he’s “ruining his youth” or, the opposite, and how now his life is paradise after Samoa and he’s content with his ruined youth.

Doris, “Whoa” 2013.

Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch

Gooey writtens, scoot ’em to a ditch, chewed and booty-scented

Too pretentious, do pretend like he could lose with spitting

Steaming tubes of poop and twisted doobies full of euphemisms

What I love most about Earl Sweatshirt is that he can use random phrases and make something out of it. In the line, “Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch”, he talks about Harry Potter, in which Quidditch involves brooms, but instead of flying on the broom, Earl Sweatshirt uses it to beat down competition. It’s great word play and shows how random but smart Earl Sweatshirt’s bars are.

In the lines, “Too pretentious, do pretend like he could lose with spitting/Steaming tubes of poop and twisted doobies full of euphemisms”, Earl talks about how people try to spit complex lyrics that end up not making sense, but he’s found a balance in which his lyrics are complex but hold depth.

It also means that he pretends to be oblivious to the wannabe complex rappers, when in reality he acknowledges them. These lines also roll off the tongue so well and the rhyme scheme is amazing. A weird verse, but it holds actual meaning rather than nothing. 

“Solace” (2015)

Late for everything, my face to the cement

That’s how I always seen it

I spent days faded and anemic

You could see it in my face, I ain’t been eatin’, I’m just wastin’ away

“Solace” was released in 2015 on a secret YouTube channel, followed by an interview where Earl Sweatshirt said he was in the studio making a song dedicated to his mom. This is Earl Sweatshirt’s most meaningful and depressing song. It goes into depth of his troubles with the absence of his father and the passing of his grandmother. Earl Sweatshirt says, “solace” was “music from when I hit the bottom and found something”, which correlates to him using his trauma as something to rap about.

In the lines, “Late for everything, my face to the cement/That’s how I always seen it”, Earl talks about the perpetual pressure he faces everyday and how he’s been in this crippling state for as long as he can remember. 

In the lines, “I spent days faded and anemic/You could see it in my face, I ain’t been eatin’, I’m just wastin’ away”, Earl says he “spent days faded and anemic”, which meant he was not feeling anything without the help of substances, and even with that help he’s still sick. The constant use of substances and crippling depression makes him not want to eat, which takes a toll on his health

Earl Sweatshirt will go down as one of the most intelligent rappers of all time. I’ve never stepped across a rapper with this much context in his lyrics than him. With his flow changing within the last few years, I’m excited to see what he has in plan for us in his upcoming releases. His violent and obscure lyrics are provided with a sonically pleasing melody that rules him as one of the best of this generation.