There's a lot to be written on this whole gang, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a group of young LA rappers (and Frank Ocean) who are really good at finding creative ways to say their name in their songs. Their elaborate network of rappers, producers, and god awful Adult Swim shows An in-depth review of Earl is required, but for now this post I did for class will do.
Post Colonial Odd Future
If we can’t use the English language to undermine arbitrary racial differences, then it doesn’t deserve to be studied. If you can’t find that fight in the powerfully poetic and coarse lyrics of young LA rapper Earl Sweatshirt, or Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, then I won’t have done a good job with this post.
At the age of 16, Earl Sweatshirt self-released his first rap album on the internet, abandoning his native name, which was stained with the association with post-colonial poetry. Thebe’s middle name, which comes from the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, was chosen by his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile, a South African poetry and political activist. Nealon & Giroux point out that moving “beyond race” (193) can be a problematic perspective for minimizes racial differences, for turning a blind eye robs one of recognizing racial realities. Unable to ignore the weight of his father’s achievements in African poetry, Thebe revolts against it. In order ridicule racial boundaries down and deal with them in managable, well-rhymed and creative lyrics, he ironically chooses the etymologically British name “Earl,” a rapper alter-ego that harnesses “the power of art inresponding to colonization, in forming a new identity out of the old materials” ( Nealon & Giroux, 162).
In his introductory track, “This Nigga Ugly,” Earl has only one line, his own name, while the rest of the song he is made fun of for his physical features. Taco, another member of Earl’s rap group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All rags on Earl for his large forehead, big lips, and says he “looks like an African poet.” Earl is speechless, initially unable to argue against the accusations of his stereotypical and ugly appearance. He’s defined by his political heritage as much as his looks, showing how racial/political identities today are passed from one generation to the next even when unwanted. As a reaction, Earl takes to rap conventions and rebels against his parents, his school, and assumptions of his identity. He blames academic laziness for his father’s neglect in “Blade”, claiming himself
“a tad different, mad smart, act ignorant.
Shit, I’ll pass the class when my dad starts givin’ shits.”
It’s not obvious, however, that this rebellious spirit is deliberately against his African heritage. In fact, his father left the family when Earl was six years old, putting Earl in a long running tradition of successful rappers who grew up without fathers. Perhaps it’s more of the lack of identity that drives the witty and often violent rhymes. In “Chum,” the newest single to be released by Earl since his return from a “therapeutic retreat for at-risk boys,” Earl seems to have gotten over his anger and accepted his sense “of belonging to neither” the American or African culture, or as Dobie quotes Homi Bhabha , “unhomeliness” ( 207) He opens the song by addressing
“It’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless
And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest.”
Racial identity confusion in part seems responsible for the troublemaker attitude that led him to a program for trouble boys. Earl says he was,
“Too Black for the White kids and too White for the Blacks
From honor roll to to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks.”
Although racial confusion fuels some of Earl’s angst, Earl successfully turns the racial dialogue on its head.
For the most part, Earl seems confidently in control of his racial identity with his contradictory and clever lyrics. Just in the way that he can wear two opposing clothing brands, he can wear two identities, specifically a black rapper and white actor in the rhyme,
“Who that, oh, that new coon John Cusack
A Mecca button-up, shoutin’ bring Fubu back.”
At his most extreme, Earl and other members of the Wolf Gang incite Third Reich references to satirize the arbitrary role of race in these young rappers’ Odd Future. So
“Say hi to the Ritalin regiment
Double ‘S’ shit, swastikas on the letterman,”
exchange racial identities like trending clothes, and get used to a post-colonial cultural landscape where creative expression rules supreme over race and expectations.