When you announced your engagement, I wondered what happened to the kid that I used to watch chase girls around the monkey bars in elementary school. When you devoted your free time to The Nation of Islam, I wondered what happened to the friend that would play pickup games in the streets from dawn to dusk. When you asked me what time I was going to church instead of what time the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight party started, I wondered when you became someone I didn’t recognize. We grew up together, a single house separated us from being neighbors, and now when we speak it's small talk, like two strangers sharing a cab to a mutual destination. We were once brethren, spending every summer at Six Flags, partying at every birthday, faithful to living out our youth to the fullest. Somewhere you changed, maybe I changed too, and now I’m living out the first verse of Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad At Cha.”
Dealing with the loss of a boyhood buddy is what opened my eyes to the changing relationship between Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. My suspicion started in Tyler's 2014 cover story with The FADER, where he first admitted he wasn’t speaking with Earl or Frank. Frank’s departure from OF’s 4 Strikes Management is likely what created a rift between them, but it was surprising that there was a wedge between Tyler and Earl. He called the change in their relationship “kind of weird,” accepting the fact people get older and their goals change. When Odd Future was just beginning to terrorize beyond their backyards the two formed a bond that was brotherly, Earl mentions on the introspective single “Chum” that Tyler was the big brother he never had. EARL, one of the collective’s most notarized albums starts with, “Thisniggaugly,” a skit that has Tyler introducing his “little brother” to the world.
Teenagers tend to attract the likeminded, so it only made sense that two fatherless, kindred spirits expressing their disturbing thoughts and angst through rap would connect— that is, until Earl’s mother decided to break the family apart. I always believed Earl’s mother blamed Tyler for her son’s misbehavior, that he was the bad seed that was corrupting her son; the worm devouring the apple of her eye. Samoa was a way to distance the two. Tyler has expressed his disdain for Earl’s mother; he'd rather be given credit for changing Earl's life for the better and not blamed as the catalyst that tainted her angel—even if it’s only apparent in hindsight.
For two years “Free Earl” was tweeted and sold on sweatshirts. It became a movement, making the sixteen-year-old prodigy into a mythical entity. When he finally emerged, the cult of teens rejoiced, it was like Simba’s return to Pride Rock. Earl’s return from Samoa felt like the final piece that completed a family portrait puzzle. Amongst the members, nothing seemed noticeably different, the jokes on social media were still childish and obnoxious, music was still made. Tyler produced the vintage OF “Whoa” and the daunting “Sasquatch” that ended up on Doris, and Earl appeared on “Rusty,” a standout from Tyler’s sophomore Wolf. Earl even joined the cast of Loiter Squad for the last two seasons. Nothing hinted at possible bad blood, fans even begun to beg and plead for the two to finally collaborate on the full-length Earlwolf album, but their desires were met with a cold shoulder.
Two years later, it wasn’t until I sat with both I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and Cherry Bomb that I realized that the two were no longer analogous brothers but outsiders standing on opposites sides of adulthood. As teenagers, they were tied by their passion for rebellion, disdain for authority, love for stupid YouTube videos and a similar outlook on life. You don’t stay teenage-minded forever, maturity has a way of dividing circles. From the music they make to how they live their lives, Tyler and Earl now feel divided.
The loud, vulgar, walking middle finger has transitioned into a loud, vulgar, successful businessman. He came into the industry as a menace, adults feared his message would brainwash kids to rebel, now he’s inspiring kids to follow their dreams. Tyler’s name is fitting, he’s a creator that makes whatever his imagination envisions. He doesn’t smoke weed, drink from double cups or pop whatever pill is popular, he’s too busy plotting carnivals, creating art that ranges from music to furniture and pushing his brand to the next level, for example, the latest Golf Media application. The Cherry Bomb album represents reflecting on the rewards that unrelenting dream-chasing has made available. He’s off his grandma’s couch into his very own mansion, replaced his Slater 12 speed bicycle for a 1991 E30 BMW, no longer stalking women outside their bedroom windows but having their hair blow in his passenger seat. He wears success instead of Supreme, happiness instead of loathing. He’s still childish, but his business has made him into an adult. He accomplished all his goals without turning down the enormous personality, still the hyperactive, man-child resisting growing up in the traditional sense.
Cherry Bomb is about finding your wings, while Earl’s, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and Solace represents plummeting, hitting rock bottom, hiding. Earl eclipses listeners in his darkness, documenting moments from an internal war, self-reflective self-destruction. In his interview with NPR, he considers this timeframe in his life “hell,” real sin and debauchery. He’s still very much a brilliant wordsmith but more transparent than ever. It’s like listening to his descent through the abyss, grief in the form of anvils tied to his legs, he falls while being candid about the world that surrounds him. On “Grown Ups” the once proud atheist wonders if that’s why GOD has forsaken him. He speaks briefly on “Faucet” trying to mend the fractured relationship with his mother, while “Inside” and “DNA” are dedicated to being consumed by vices and dealing with being 20-years-young and in the spotlight. Solace, the ten minute EP dedicated to his mother, sounds like sinking into an even darker hole of despair. On “The Truth” Earl vomits honesty and guilt, drowning in an ocean of self-loathing, inspired by the death of his grandma weighing heavily on him. On "Burgundy" from his album Doris: “My grandma passing, but I’m too busy trying to get this fuckin album cracking to see her, so I apologize in advance if anything should happen, and my priorities are fucked up, I know it, I’m afraid I’m going to blow it.” Poor eating habits, missing friends, insomnia, doubt, those are the foundations of Earl's music.
A few days ago, Tyler went on a Twitter spree about someone that has the potential to be the best but is wasting his promising talents doing drugs. He ended the rant with a tender “Love you bud.” Last month he randomly Tweeted, “keep that negative dark downer depressing energy THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.” Tyler is a fan of music, he shares his excitement but had very little for Earl’s project. His promotion was minimal, I can’t remember a single word of praise. That tweet could have been aimed at Earl, maybe not, but it still seems to apply to their growing rift. In all his interviews, from Tavis Smiley to Big Boy, Tyler is constantly preaching optimism about how anything is possible. Not just for his friends but anyone with the drive to make their dreams come into fruition. He glows positive energy. He found his crown and wants you to find yours.
It’s worth noting that in a recent interview with Billboard Earl confessed to removing himself from the drugs and focusing on his health. The moments that exist in these albums document what happened in the past tense and the clarity that one is presented once you fall from grace. Tyler’s enlightenment came once he began to soar, Earl’s came once his face hit the cement. There are various moments on IDLSIDGO (especially on "Grief") where it felt like Earl was sending subtle jabs at his former older sibling, but confessed missing his “friends” on “The Truth.” Earl reconciling with his mother could possibly be the biggest divider between the two. Ironic that Earl and his mother grew closer while he drifts further away from Tyler.
Growing up means growing apart. It’s a life lesson that you won’t learn until it’s too late. My friend has started the rest of his life, enlightened by his religious beliefs, enriched by his soulmate, entering a phase that I see in my parents. I’m still lost in the madness of adolescence. Living in an apartment that is constantly filled with booze and bodies. My brother and his friends, all college graduates, still party like college freshmen. NBA Playoffs, boxing matches, they always find a reason to turn up and somehow make it into work the next morning. There have been holes knocked in the walls, bullets through the floor, half-naked strangers barging through the door, beer cans stacked to the ceiling, empty bottles filling the trash can, and we have only been here for 30 days. Much like Tyler and Earl, our lifestyles are just different. We are no longer the kids racing from the bus stop, carpooling to teen clubs, and arguing Batman vs Superman. It doesn’t mean I love him any less, just accepting that things change, people change, even your best friend and brother.
By Yoh, aka Yoh The Sweatshirt Creator, aka @Yoh31