Earl Sweatshirt, arguably the most talented member of the L.A. rap group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, has been missing for a year--a year in which Odd Future became one of the most talked-about musical acts in the country. No one knew where Earl was; rumors swirled that he'd been sidelined by his mother, who maybe didn't want her 17-year-old son catapulted to nationwide fame on the basis of surreally violent raps about rape and murder. Chants of "Free Earl" became commonplace at Odd Future shows.
Last month, Complex magazine announced it had found Earl at a therapeutic boarding school in Samoa. Complex wasn't able to confirm this, but all the evidence was certainly suggestive. Now, writing in The New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh has confirmed that Earl's in Samoa--and that he'd prefer it if the whole "Free Earl" movement didn't even exist.
Sanneh's piece isn't available for free online, but it's in this week's print edition, and it's got some great information. We learn that Earl--born Thebe Kgositsile--is the son of Keorapetse Kgositsile, an influential South African poet who was named Poet Laureate of the country in 2006. (You can see the resemblance between father and son.) We learn that Thebe's middle name is Neruda--after the Chilean poet. We find out that Keorapetse's friend, the poet Sterling Plumpp, wrote a poem for Earl when he was just a baby--"Poet: For Thebe Neruda"--that made it into the 1996 edition of The Best American Poetry.
And most notably, we learn that no one needs to "free" Earl--he's happy where he is. "Please listen," he told Sanneh via e-mail. "I'm not being held against my will." He goes on to say:
The only thing I need as of right now is space. 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.'
Sanneh corresponded with Earl by way of his mother, an educator who asked that she not be named "because she fears for her security." Many Odd Future fans regard Earl's mother as a villain, but she and her son seem to be on the same page. Here's Earl's mother on the Odd Future phenomenon:
There is a person named Thebe who preexisted Earl ... That person 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.
And here's Earl himself:
Initially I was really pleased that all these people claimed that they wanted me released because I thought that translated into 'they care'" ... So time progresses and the fan base gets bigger and the 'Free Earl' chants get louder but now with the 'Free Earl' chants come a barely indirect 'Fuck Earl's Mom' and in the blink of an eye my worry changes from 'will there still be this hype when I get back' to 'Oh shit I just inspired a widespread movement of people who are dedicated to the downfall of my mom.'
Earl couldn't or wouldn't tell Sanneh when he'd be home again. "Hopefully soon," he said. "You'll hear from me without a doubt when I'm ready."