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Earl Sweatshirt brought somber tunes and militant stage banter to Mr. Smalls

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Earl Sweatshirt brought somber tunes and militant stage banter to Mr. Smalls

By Nick Mullen / For The Pitt News

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Earl Sweatshirt likes to keep things slightly somber. “Make the lights look like your cat just died,” he told the lighting technicians at Mr. Smalls Funhouse on Friday night. Honoring Earl’s request, the technicians dimmed the lights to a deep blue.

Unlike many rappers who infuse their lyrics with sincere passion, Earl’s tone is distinguishably withdrawn. Despite filling his lyrics with extended metaphors and obscure references, Earl’s monotonic voice masks the sincerity of his lyrics, which sound indifferent on the surface, but upon closer inspection, reveal his investment. 

Earl, who started his career at 16 years old as a part of the underground hip-hop collective Odd Future, performed his entire new solo album, I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside, which he released March 23 on Columbia Records. The album was a dark departure from his previous releases, with more austere beats and focused messages. More than on past albums, Earl says exactly what he wants to say — and not much else — on the album that runs just under 30 minutes. 

Earl’s new music focuses on his struggles, new and old. He’s never been shy about sharing his problems — from never knowing his father to the death of his grandmother. Now Earl is finding that he’s having trouble adjusting to fame. He misses his friends, and he feels like he doesn’t fit in anymore. 

At Mr. Smalls, as a part of his Not Redy 2 Leave tour, he asked the audience, “How many people in here had a perfect week?” 

When people raised their hands, he scoffed. 

“How could you have had a perfect week? This song is for the actual humans out there.” Earl engaged the audience by showing that everyone — himself included — has problems.

Earl performed songs from his new album, including “DNA,” in which he references his struggles with fame, saying, “I’m here and I’m there/ And I’m up and I’m down/ And I’m low and I’m peakin’/ It’s cold in the deep end.” He also performed the only single from his new album, “Grief,” in which he raps about the vices that he indulged in after Doris was released in 2013, saying, “Lately I’ve been panicking a lot/ Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob/ Scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop.”

Remy Banks, a rapper from Queens, N.Y., opened the performance with tracks from his upcoming project higher, which is due out this spring. After Banks’ performance, the crowd enthusiastically greeted Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, who performed songs from his latest, critically acclaimed EP, Hell Can Wait. Much like Earl Sweatshirt’s newer work, Vince Staples’ tone is very serious and focused. The beats are bleak and feature siren noises, contrasting sounds and heavy bass. The lyrics serve as both a portrayal of gang life and street violence, as well as a call for political activism against police brutality. 

After Staples’ passionate set, he stuck around and performed some songs with Earl, including “Wool,” “Hive” and “Centurion.”

Despite the maturity of his recent material, Earl never forgets the antics and eccentricities that initially made him famous. He closed the set by playing songs from his 2010 mixtape Earl and took time in between songs to throw barbs at the audience. At one point, when he saw a number of enthusiastic fans crowd surfing, he called them out and said, “[Crowd surfers] look dumb as hell, like newborn babies having a grown man grab on you and hold you up. It’s not cool.”

It’s that spite that drew crowds to him in the first place. Even though he’s grown up now, fans can still see the idiosyncratic 16-year-old with dizzying lyrics and a promising ability.

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Earl Sweatshirt brought somber tunes and militant stage banter to Mr. Smalls