Literary lineage of Earl Sweatshirt

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Just found some time to read the massive long New Yorker piece on Odd Future from the May 23 edition. No, I don't subscribe to the New Yorker (screw your stereotypes), so I tracked one down at the library, since New Yorker's web presence refuses to give itself away. But here are some screen captures from Mostly Junk Food.

In addition to all the mad-dash recapping of the general OF myth, author Kelefa Sanneh hones in on the fate of the missing Earl Sweatshirt. You've heard he's at boarding school, Tyler misses him, everyone is getting money thrown at them, while Earl languishes in a Samoan reform school.

But according to the piece, Earl is Thebe Kgositsile, the son of South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who has a fascinating background, or at least a fascinating Wikipedia page. He was forced to leave South Africa because of strong words against apartheid in the 60s and 70s and made his way to the U.S., where he eventually met Earl's mom. They shared a love of jazz and poetry. In 2006, he was named poet laureate and the mag reports that one of his most famous poems is “Towards a Walk In The Sun.” He is now back in South Africa.

They ask about his son's rap career, but he says he hasn't heard any of the songs or Odd Future's music. He's quoted as saying:

“'Frantz Fanon said that each generation must find its own mission…If he's part of those that have found their mission, then I'm very happy.”

A poem written by family friend Sterling Plumpp is said to reference Earl Sweatshirt or “Thebe Neruda” in 1995 (Thebe Neruda is also mentioned in a Keorapetse poem). The poem is called “Poet: for Thebe Neruda” and appears in TriQuarterly and in “Best American Poetry” 1996 edition. The poem addresses some South African politics, but the mag picks out a key line from the poem perhaps portending Sweatshirt's proclivity:


were born with blues.

With an ANC imprint*

on them. How you gon

do anything but rule?”

Earl's mom, mentioned as a friend of Sterling Plumpp is not named in the piece, but is quoted as saying that Thebe / Earl “ought to be allowed to explore and grow, and it's very hard to do that when there's a whole set of expectations, narratives and stories that are attached to him.”

Interesting, since he's in a boarding school in another country (an odd future indeed) but Earl says he hasn't been writing much because he's “got other things on (his) mind.”

Guess the world won't have too many upcoming Earl songs, but of course, Earl could be coy, not wanting to overplay his hand or risk doubling his boarding school workload scrubbing the grimy toilets or something.

*ANC = African National Congress