Earl Is Free
Stalking My Favorite Rapper
Illustration By Scott Valline
Like most teenagers, I decided to get out of town for spring break. LA seemed like the best option for me—it was the polar opposite of Salt Lake City—and one fateful mid-March morning I awoke in an unfamiliar UCLA dorm room with Earl Sweatshirt rhymes blasting in my head, a lyrical hangover from the night before.
I ate a banana, laced up my Converse high tops, and threw on my favorite Atlanta Braves sweatshirt (which, I hoped, was the sort of thing a member of Odd Future might compliment), and headed out the door. My quest had begun.
There was no direct road map or GPS tracker to guide me on this journey. I had no idea where I was going. All I had were Earl’s tweets from the day before, which I had already memorized but also saved on my phone just in case I blanked on any important details. He had posed a tantalizing offer to his followers, and I was determined to take him up on it. He had tweeted, “Hai. If you’re in la come to the 7-11 on Olympic and barrington and buy this jersey and meet me. I need lunch money. We’ll be there for 15.” My heart skipped a beat. My favorite living rapper, one who had been missing in action for more than a year, was now back and willing to reveal himself to anyone who would buy an article of his clothing so that he could get a bite to eat.
Minutes after landing in LA, I was once again feverishly checking Earl’s Twitter. “Back to School,” he wrote. “Damn. I’ll still sell this. Tomorrow same time at stoner doe. Maybe.” No one wanted Earl’s jersey, which was sad but worked in my favor. I had another chance. His somewhat cryptic tweet prompted me to google “LA stoner,” which, in addition to numerous references to an herbivorous counterculture, led me to a skate park near Santa Monica, just three miles from my friend’s dorm at UCLA. It was worth a shot.
I left the dorm and started walking, which turned into a speed walk, which turned into a bus ride. Within minutes, I arrived at Stoner Skate Park and sat down on the bench, trying to hide the fact that I didn’t have a skateboard. I was just waiting around, checking Earl’s Twitter, when a new one popped up: “We in da car in west la lookin to sell this jersey. Might hit the fatburger in Westwood ayyeee.” Westwood? What the hell, Earl? That’s where I had just come from! But I figured there was no point in leaving Stoner just yet; maybe he would come by after his burger. A minute passed with my pulse racing before he sent out yet another tweet: “Fatburger fasho. Breeze thru cop a jersey and the new sticker doe.”
I was off, running as fast as I could down the sidewalk, and jumped into the first cab I could find. Ten minutes later, we skidded to a stop at Fatburger, and I immediately spotted Earl in front of a red truck with the jersey in hand. I shouted, “Earl! Hold that jersey.” Then I noticed the money in his hand. I was too late. Two other fans had beat me to it. I realized I recognized them—they were the same dudes I’d seen waiting in a truck at Stoner. I lowered my head and, still out of breath, admitted defeat.
I walked up to Earl and told him that I had literally sprinted over here to come see him, hence the heavy breathing. As a consolation prize, he handed me a few stickers and I asked for a quick picture, realizing that this was my only chance to convince any of my friends back home that I’d actually met him. He agreed and after a quick high-five, he was headed back in to finish his burger alongside his friends.
Just as I was about to walk away, I turned to Earl and asked, “Can I eat with you?” That wasn’t like me at all. I’m never that bold, especially around someone I practically worship. He responded with a wave of his arm toward the door. After a deep breath, I followed. I greeted his four friends, other high school seniors still on their lunch break, and ordered my food, plunking down across from Earl, who was already digging into his fries.
The conversation was typical for a group of high school seniors: girls, college, classwork, hip-hop, and food. I asked the others where they were planning to go to college next year and let them know I’d be studying film as a freshman at NYU. I was hoping Earl’s ears would prick up and perhaps ask whether I would shoot a music video for him, but I guess you can’t ask for all of your dreams to come true at once.
I asked Earl where he was going next year, to which he responded, “The school of fucking hard knocks.” I burst out in laughter, and the jokes didn’t stop there. A group of elderly men with canes walked in, and Earl turned his head to the door and shouted, “Here come my real fans.” The same joke was recycled as a group of toddlers stumbled in, their mothers behind them.
Lunch continued. My heart rate eventually returned to normal, and before I knew it my burger was gone. I offered to buy the crew milkshakes, which Earl quickly turned down, claiming that he knew I was “harder than that.” It was as if he didn’t want to take full advantage of his stardom, or maybe he just didn’t know how much people liked him. Before getting up, Earl told me to tweet the picture of him, goofily calling me “cutie.” I happily obliged. As he was getting ready to go, I snapped a few more pictures of him and asked him to autograph my sticker. He signed it “Jesus.” I thanked him and exchanged another high-five, mentioning that I hoped to see him at the Atlanta Odd Future concert. He said he wouldn’t be able to make it and quickly waved goodbye with a smile. And just like that he was gone—disappeared yet again.
It took me a few hours for it to all sink in. I had met Earl Sweatshirt—the teenage rap superstar who had vanished at the peak of his popularity. I’d found him. Unable to do much of anything but smile, I slowly began strolling through Westwood, waving to people, holding doors open for others outside random stores, and enjoying the dazed high from my encounter with the missing hip-hop prodigy. As I checked my phone to see what time it was, up popped a Twitter notification: @earlxsweat had retweeted my picture. Followers started flooding in, totaling 70 by the end of the night. Countless Earl fans I had never met were asking about my experience. They tweeted how lucky I was, how I looked like Tyler Craven, how my twitter name,
@thefrajo, was so dumb.
Of course, all things considered, my life remains unchanged. I was not inducted into Odd Future. I was not asked to make a video for Earl. I am just another white, adolescent fan who thinks that their music resonates deeply with my generation and its culture. Amen.
Excerpt from the Novel ‘Family Life’
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