April 12, 2013
It was past midnight in Coachella's Gobi Tent when Tyler, the Creator climbed the scaffolding like a gargoyle. He clung to the metal bars above the stage with one arm, ready to pounce on the crowd at any moment. Earl Sweatshirt rapped with a black bucket hat, a blue-green tie-dye t-shirt, and the laid-back intensity of a smoked-out teenager who takes nothing seriously but his raps.
Flying Lotus operated as Earl's DJ, weaving artfully at the turntables, remixing on the fly. This is what you hoped for from Odd Future, but maybe not what you expected.
Two years ago, the L.A. enfant tumblribles made their debut at Coachella. The entrance occurred at the apex of the frothing hysteria then surrounding them. They were archetypal products of the Internet era: discovered on Hypebeast and their own Tumblr, threatening both the blogs that wouldn't post them (2 Dope Boyz), and Steve Harvey.
Their 2011 set was full of rowdy stage-dives and a Pharell Wiliams guest spot. It was inconsistent but electric, and it stamped their arrival as a legitimate phenomenon.
The performance was a certified Coachella “moment,” one of four or five that happen each April. But at that show, Earl was AWOL. Speculation ran rampant to his whereabouts. Was he in military school? Was he on a top-secret mission from the illuminati to control the world's supply of do-rags? Would he ever return to rapping or would he turn out to be the rap game Kerry Wood, a prodigy who never realized his full potential? It was later revealed that Earl was attending boarding school in Samoa, which was arguably the least “hip-hop” explanation any of the old guard had ever heard.
In any case, at the show last night, Tyler was finally reunited with Earl at Coachella, performing their latest viral video, “Whoa” before a berserk mob. The set was billed as a Earl solo set, his first real one in the L.A. area since his return home approximately a year ago (there were two brief surprise sets at the Low End Theory club).
Of course, there were initial nerves and tentativeness that reminded you that Earl is 19 years old and this was one of his first solo shows. But that caution evaporated immediately when Tyler joined him for “Whoa.” Placed on the same stage, the pair generated electricity unmatched by almost any rap crew. It reminded you of a younger version of Clipse, if Pusha-T and Malice had memorized all of Madvillainy.
The EarlWolf duo demolished “old” classics like “Orange Juice,” they did synchronized, ironic Temptations-style dances, Tyler grabbed a cowboy hat and started spinning in circles like Michael Jackson. Earl did a jelly-limbed arm wobble dance that he looked like he stole from an old 504 Boyz video. Aided by Domo Genesis, they ran through “Rusty” from Tyler's new record, Wolf — an album that might have achieved an Odd Future first: being severely underrated.
See also: Our recent Tyler cover story
The set fittingly closed with “Earl,” the crew's first big hit, featuring a video with levels of shock that even Eli Roth would envy. There were no blenders of pills or fake seizures this time. Instead, it looked they were having more fun than anybody else at the festival, and that energy was infectious. The crowd rapped along to every word. If we're lucky, we'll look back and remember it as the moment when Odd Future finally became the present.