A half-inflated head fills the stage at Manchester Academy. As it unravels towards the ceiling, it’s revealed to be a portrait by Tyler, The Creator of his friend Thebe Kgositsile drawn on Paint while he was away at Coral Reef Academy, a residential school in Samoa.
Tonight Thebe, better known to fans as Earl Sweatshirt, hits the stage in support of his brilliant debut album, ‘Doris’ (review). Once the head is fully formed, Odd Future’s token white boy and fan favourite Lucas Vercetti – who was previously working the merch stall when Odd Future sans Earl hit this same venue back in 2012 – takes to the stage. He’s been promoted to tour DJ status, and really doesn’t have any trouble getting the excitable young crowd warmed up for Earl’s performance as he drops various drill and trap anthems, and chants “Dipset Bitch!” over Cam’Ron’s ‘Wet Wipes’.
Opening with ‘Kill’ from his pre-disappearing debut mixtape ‘Earl’, the crowd sings: “We love you Earl, we do!” The response is a flattered one, peppered with sarcasm: “Aww you guys, that’s so nice. Give it up for loving ya boy!” Earl then asks the crowd to participate in the next song by chanting the less charming, “I’ll f*ck the freckles off your face, bitch,” before jumping straight into ‘Doris’ highlight ‘Molasses’.
Earl spoke to Clash back in December (interview) about the uneasiness he gets from overly enthusiastic fans, particularly those who don’t seem to understand his growth as a person since ‘Earl’, which was recorded when he was 16. And while the entire Odd Future collective have matured and evolved over the last few years, a lot of their fans haven’t.
“You want me to rape you?” a baffled and disgusted Earl questions a heckler in the front row. “There's zero per cent chance of that happening. You’ve just earned a time out. Don’t involve me in your butt-hole.”
It seems that dealing with these kind of retorts has, out of necessity, become part of Earl’s routine, and it’s something he is getting pretty good at. “Yeah I'm sweaty. Do you know what the difference between my sweat and your sweat is?” Earl gestures towards the previous heckler. “Someone wants to lick mine!”
For the majority these are just the kind of exchanges that you might witness at a stand-up comedy show, until the original heckler goes to far. “Shut the f*ck up, dude,” shouts Lucas from behind his decks. “Nobody cares what you have to say!” It seems that someone hasn’t grown up since Tyler’s initial wave of shock rap and attention seeking. “I know you’re at college and learning a lot of shit about yourself,” responds Earl, visibly annoyed this time. “But get the f*ck out. This isn’t your party! I don’t want to see you, I want to see her, she’s cool!”
Dealing swiftly with these overexcited fanboys, Earl gets back into the flow of things – mentioning twice to fans that no matter how much they shout the title of a particular song, he has a setlist and he’s sticking to it. The next burst of tracks forms a highlight of the evening, taking things back to Odd Future’s 2010 mixtape ‘Radical’ for a performance of his verse from EarlWolf’s ‘Orange Juice’ – a freestyle over the instrumental of Gucci Mane’s ‘Ice Cream’ – and following with another ‘Doris’ favourite, ‘Hive’. And he doesn’t stop at the end of his own section, continuing into an a cappella call-and-response rendition of Vince Staples’ song-stealing final verse.
Surprisingly perhaps, Earl ends on older material. Getting the crowd posed into a circle ready to start a pit, and noticing the heckler from earlier at its centre, he tries to get the crowd prepared for the penultimate number. “Knock knock… who’s there?” he shouts to not much response. “Yo, you paid to get in here, yell the shit,” he laughs, before bursting into his self-titled cut, which, complete with its shocking video filled with drug cocktails and gruesome skating injuries, broke him to the majority of today’s fanbase, and was the song that Odd Future ended with in his absence at their show two years ago. As expected, madness ensues.
“Aww I’m proud of y’all,” he approves at the end of the song. “It’s almost like I’m your dad. And as your new dad I have some bad news. This is about to be the last song.” Boos and disapproval are returned from the crowd, giving Earl another opportunity to demonstrate his newfound ability to deal with fans. “First of all, don’t yell at your dad,” he begins. “And second of all, I’m sorry I don’t have more songs. I’ll come back when I have more.”
The beat from Rich Boy’s 2009 single ‘Drop’ comes over the speakers, and Earl once again returns to the ‘Radical’ tape, to days of borrowed instrumentals, and to where he is most comfortable: packing complex verses into unorthodox arrangements.
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