Top 10 Best Earl Sweatshirt Songs
What's your favorite track by Earl Sweatshirt?
Earl Sweatshirt is one of the world's greatest rappers. His microphone skills are superb, his beatmaking and selecting abilities singular and his honest, vulnerable, brutal and punishing perspective is truly unique.
Earl became a fast-rising star due to the lyrical acrobatics and shock appeal of his work with Tyler the Creator and Odd Future. And the story of the young rapper with furious styles whose estranged dad was a famous South African poet and whose mom sent him away to some sort of boot camp in Samoa was so compelling that he ended up the subject of a "New Yorker" profile before he'd even released a proper album, which is incredibly rare for teenagers and rappers and artists without proper albums.
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His debut mixtape, "Earl," and appearances on Odd Future tapes elevated him to cult rap status before he dropped his first two studio albums, "Doris" and "I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside," both of which are excellent and show him morphing, kicking and screaming, from a kid with issues into a man with issues, perfecting his skills and reshaping and enhancing his musical vision along the way.
This summer, Earl Sweatshirt launched a new monthly show on Red Bull Music Academy Radio. The two hour program goes live at 4 p.m. PST every fourth Friday of the month. To celebrate the show, and in anticipation of Earl's next album, which will surely be another excellent addition to the captivating artist's work, we looked back at his career and picked his 10 best tracks so far.
10. "Couch" (with Tyler the Creator)
From the outside, it looks like Earl and Tyler have had more of a Nietzschean than an Aristotelian friendship — there's been a lot of pushing and pulling and combatting and flirting with the edge of Vesuvius. At least that's what comes across on the early tracks they made together, like "Couch," an Earl/Tyler collab from the "Earl" mixtape. They both get mean and joyful in that classic OFWGKTA style of mean and joyful for which the world initially loved and feared them. And Earl raps his guts out.
9. "Knight" (with Domo Genesis)
This song from "Doris," produced by Christian Rich, was an oddly upbeat way to conclude a not necessarily upbeat album. It's sonically playful and bouncy, and Earl has fun on the beat while still bringing his signature gloom. Linking up with fellow Odd Future partner Domo Genesis, it's about getting faded and wandering into the night, like knights, maybe, get it? But, as always, it's not all fun and games: "I'd like to send a shout to the fathers that didn't raise us," begins Earl's verse. Great way to start the night.
8. "Whoa" (with Tyler the Creator)
It's always, as mentioned above, a joy when Earl and Tyler join forces and go bonkers on a track. "Whoa," from Earl's "Doris" album, begins with Tyler egging Earl on for being too emo and urging him to get dirty, which he then does, even going so far as to rap about "steaming tubes of poop." Disgusting.
This track from the "Earl" mixtape documents a day in the life of Earl (and olds probably can't help but think about it as a clever thematic smash of Black Sheep's "U Mean I'm Not" and Ice Cube's "Today Was a Good Day" plus a bit of Pharcyde's "Passing Me By"). Earl's mom wakes him up for breakfast and he rolls out of bed and he goes to school and it becomes a love story gone wrong, very wrong, and before you know it, it's a nightmare.
Listen: Earl Sweatshirt, "Luper"
Another one from "Earl," this is where you get those early "next Nas" comparisons, namely because it shows the young Earl rapping on a soul-sampling beat that sounds boom bappy. And it's especially great because, while Earl is rapping and he attempts to pass the mic to his buddy Domo Genesis, we learn that Domo didn't show up and so the track ends. Just like that. Over.
Listen: Earl Sweatshirt, "Blade"
5. "Burgundy" (with Vince Staples)
Earl, in the beginning, was heavily defined by his relationship with Tyler, though on "Doris," there's reason to believe that his new BFF was becoming Vince Staples, who appeared on the album three times. The horns stab in and we hear Staples giving Earl a hard time the way Tyler normally does. Earl's being too emo, and the world wants BARS, but Earl just wants to mope and spit about his grandmother and his dad and how celebrity fame is. Then he returns in the second verse and gets twisted and evil. Gotta give the people what they want.
This is where it all began. Earl's raps are pure taboo and the video, which shows Odd Future raising collective hell and consuming mystery chemicals until they go crazy and spit blood and die, pushed him to legend status. There's nothing better than youth gone wild and this was a new generation of young creative humans showing the world how wild they could be.
A mantra is generally soothing but not in the hands of Earl, where it becomes a bleak nightmarish hellscape apocalypse. "Mantra" is one of the finest tracks from "I Don't Like Shit...," one of the finest noir and grim and hopeless rap albums of all time. The song, which at times sounds like it was recorded in a dungeon, is a slog through the mind of a briiliant and depressed and self-destructive young genius. Push play, close your eyes, breathe deep, feel the pain.
Listen: Earl Sweatshirt, "Mantra"
"Chum," another Christian Rich production from "Doris," is the first we heard from Earl following his banishment to and return from Samoa. "Something sinister to it," he spits on the sweaping autobiographical track. He raps about his mom, his dad, his friendship with Tyler, his love for Mobb Deep, his alienation, his failures, his insecurities, wrestling with his public image. It was a heavy track, and as the first single from Earl's first studio album, it showed that he meant business.
The best Earl song yet is the darkest Earl song yet, namely "Grief" from "I Don't Like Shit..." Earl, over a chain-dragging beat, raps about being a shut-in and how he's wallowing in his own misery, spelunking the void like never before, wrestling with addiction, going mad. "Lately I've been panicking a lot, feeling like I'm stranded in a mob," he raps. He's surrounded by snakes, slipping. On the final verse, he sounds like he's fallen completely into nothingness. Earl has arguably mastered this haunted aesthetic, but who knows where he'll go next.