When sixteen year-old prodigy rapper Earl Sweatshirt became a music sensation amidst his mysterious disappearance from the world in 2010, hip hop gained itself a new icon to replace his presence. His face and previous tracks grew in popularity as well as mystique, leaving fans in patient anticipation for the return of their demigod. Maybe it was the unrealistic buzz or the legion of followers stalking his every move, but when the Los Angeles-based teen did return in 2012, the wave of excitement abruptly sizzled to a disappointing silence. No news of a swamping comeback, nor tour dates arranged and nothing released to further validate the entity that had become of the young emcee. As if a storm had spiraled itself into a dissipated oblivion, so did the hype behind the once enigmatic rapper.
More than half a year later, following only two guest appearances, Earl Sweatshirt finally released his first solo track since his critically acclaimed debut album EARL in 2009. In the Christian Rich-produced “Chum,” Earl finds himself rapping away a long-awaited confession behind his own personal life, a subject which up to this point had only been revealed through deep searched information on the internet by fans and noted publications alike. An exasperated inquisition that only left the teenage musician and his famed posse in a haze of anger and frustration.
In the release, Earl spits with a newly acquired deep and sluggish voice, mostly due to the effects of a teenager finally growing into adulthood. Slow and surprisingly unenthusiastic, the contrast against his aggressive past work is felt almost immediately. For what he lacks in passion, though, the emcee makes up in technicality and lyrical maturity. Flipping through a string of multisyballic lines narrating his own childhood, each word is spurred in a stream of complex rhymes and structure. With a chorus that holds reference to the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Pit and the Pendulum (“Pendulum swinging slower, degenerate moving”) to lines such as “time lapse, bars riding heart’s bottomless pit” alluding to his own increasing disinterest in hip hop, the once gore glorifying emcee verbalizes his growth as a lyricist. While fans may find a certain unfamiliarity with the content, as it conspicuously lacks any sign of ultra violence or signature Odd Future subject matter, the words come forward as raw and honest. From the absence of his father to meeting his big brother figure Tyler, The Creator, Earl laces the anecdote with a lugubrious drawl, displaying his own conflicts in a vocal sense to reflect the content. It slowly becomes evident that what is said holds as much weight as how it is said. A combination that requires the listener to give more than a few listens to fully grasp.
On first glance, it seems strange as to why a teenager would shy away so vigorously from success. The sea of fans, the godlike iconic status and being in the position of being one of the greatest rappers in the world. Amongst the fog, one forgets exactly who it is that is in the hot seat: an eighteen year-old kid. What the world may perceive as a dream can only be felt as a disturbing pressure to someone so naive to stardom. With “Chum,” Earl bravely gives a glimpse at these shadowed realities, leaving the emcee producing a perspective so often ignored. However, whatever arises in his career, it is clear that a storm with such fierceness will not be forgotten.