South African rapper and Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt gets the Fader Magazine Cover

We won’t blame you if you don’t know who Thebe Kgositsile is but would you believe us if we told you that he’s one of the illest young MC’s living? Thebe, otherwise known by his stage name Earl Sweatshirt is one of the members of LA-based rap collective Odd Future. The gifted MC, who has ties to South Africa, sat down with Fader recently; the outcome is an enlightening article and a cool cover to go with it.Check out the extract from the article below:

“Earl came up as a member of the Los Angeles-based rap collective, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, which rose to internet infamy in 2010. The clan’s numbers vary from 20-something to 60 depending on whom you ask, the most visible members being the irascible polymath rapper Tyler, The Creator, and R&B outlier Frank Ocean. In May of 2010, the then 16-year-old Earl Sweatshirt released the video for “Earl,” the title cut of his 10-track eponymous mixtape. The lyrics are heinous, chronicling kidnapping, rape, murder and cannibalism. The video features Odd Future members marauding, skating, and bleeding out from ODing on a putrid drug cocktail. Teeth are dislodged, as is a fingernail, and the footage, which includes nipple hemorrhaging, has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube. “Talking about outlandish shit had become a competition between me and Tyler,” Earl tells me, packing a joint with the aglet of his shoelace while sipping on a Budweiser. “We were so fucking cocky.” The mixtape as a whole boasted such vivid storytelling and startling linguistic agility that fans drew comparisons to Eminem, with one crucial distinction: Odd Future had the internet. The combined fervor on YouTube, Tumblr and Twitter established the L.A. crew as a marketing juggernaut. Earl Sweatshirt, the runty kid with the outsized brain, looked like an underdog but felt like a sure thing.

By the end of 2010, Earl had earned its rightful place among early-adopter music sites’ “Best Of” lists—as did Tyler’s album, Bastard, despite dropping in late 2009. Odd Future’s mixtape, Radical, was released the same May as the “Earl” video and only served to galvanize the crew’s cult following. It looked like the ragtag family was having a blast. And then somewhere in the fray, like a patsy in his own songs, Earl Sweatshirt went missing. “Free Earl” became a rallying cry amongst Odd Future members and their rapidly multiplying followers. His absence would last two full years and it would later come to light that his mother, Cheryl Harris, a professor and lawyer, had shipped him off to reform school overseas. On April 14th 2011, Complex magazine discovered a student by the name of Thebe Neruda Kgositsile attending Coral Reef Academy, a military school in Polynesia. A month later, an eight-thousand word article in The New Yorker written by Kelefa Sanneh confirmed Earl’s whereabouts with official word from his mother and his estranged father, the South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile. Earl became a celebrity in absentia, a profoundly new phenomenon and a strange byproduct of Internet fame. There were “Fuck Earl’s Mom” chants at shows and even threats. In support of his mother and in defiance of every convention in rap, Earl asked to be left alone. “The only thing I need as of right now is space,” he said to The New Yorker in an email. “I’ve still got work to do and don’t need the additional stress of fearing for my family’s physical well-being. Space means no more ‘Free Earl.’”

Samoa, meanwhile, was rough. “You cleaned a lot,” Earl says, a year after his return. “You had therapy two or three times a day, and you’re with the same fucking 20 dumb-asses who are just like you. Every day. There were the behavioral kids and the drug kids. I was both.” The experience was designed to be isolating: “You’re not allowed to have contact with none of your homies. No Facebook. No internet.” But Earl did everything he could to keep up with his friends’ thriving careers. “It was some conniving shit,” he says. “I read Hacking For Dummies and set up a keylogger to get the administrative password to get onto the internet. I’d log onto the Odd Future Tumblr and leave shit in drafts and then Tyler would write me back.” These days, Earl smokes cigarettes and a fair amount of weed, but little else. He’s also simultaneously on his phone and laptop for most of his waking hours. Samoa may not have been a cure-all for Earl’s hard-bitten habits, but emotionally, his outlook has improved. “Things used to be dark and weird,” he says.

Shortly before his 18th birthday, Earl graduated from reform school to finish the rest of senior year in LA, a prospect fraught with anxiety. “My friends were on eggshells, I’d get nervous and my palms would get sweaty,” he says. “Not only was I coming back to Los Angeles, I was coming back to Odd Future Los Angeles.” He was recognized at LAX arrivals by a police officer who looked him dead in the face and said, “Earl Sweatshirt.”

Mungwadzi Godwin

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