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Live Review: Earl Sweatshirt @ Northcote Theatre

18 October 2023 | 3:45 pm | Noah Redfern

This show proved Earl Sweatshirt has become a modern-day rap legend.

Earl Sweatshirt

Earl Sweatshirt (Credit: Ryosuke Tanzawa)

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On Tuesday night, I was blessed to catch Earl Sweatshirt in the flesh at the Northcote Theatre in Melbourne. Delivering a lively and fun show packed with wit and humour along with deep cuts galore, the crowd understood that it wasn’t a gig to get lit to, but, instead, a moment to sit back and listen. Earl, an underground rap icon, is no longer defined by the teenage angst he shared with Odd Future contemporaries Tyler, The Creator and Domo Genesis. He has become a modern-day hip-hop legend.

Thebe Kgositsile, known by his stage name Earl Sweatshirt, has gone on a journey throughout his now thirteen-year career. Dropping his first mixtape in 2010 and his debut full-length record in 2013 after a brief stint in a boarding school in Samoa, Earl has since remained grounded in his home of Los Angeles. Steadily improving his craft as a beatsmith and lyricist, Earl Sweatshirt is no longer the young punk he was in his Odd Future days. He is a poet, a storyteller and a father.

Opening the show with the instrumental track Riot, which ends his 2018 critically acclaimed album Some Rap Songs, Earl waxed lyrical with the crowd, goofing off and welcoming the fans. Breaking into one of many recent collaborations with producer The Alchemist, E Coli followed and swayed the crowd into the slow, stoner rap vibe that much of the rapper’s back catalogue delivers. 

For some tracks, Earl would throw an introduction into a song; for others, he would share a strange anecdote that came to mind. Asking us, “Remember what that white girl said, ‘Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?’ What did she mean by that? I’m gonna ask you again after this song”. Who knew Earl was a Katy Perry fan?

Focusing mainly on his latest few records, Earl played several tracks from SICK!, Some Rap Songs and his new collaborative album with the previously mentioned The Alchemist: VOIR DIRE. The goofy fan favourite, EAST, is still a song I can’t figure out, but it always makes me laugh. Meanwhile, the back-to-back album tracks of Ontheway and The Mint made for the perfect transition.

The twenty-five-track deep-cuts-only set was punctuated by earlier career highlights, Molasses and Grief, but the true treat was the encore track New Faces v2 from the late Mac Miller’s 2014 mixtape Faces. Yet another hip-hop artist gone too young, Miller’s influence on Earl’s career shone through from his early years—a sad but powerful ending to a set of fan favourites.

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At only 29 years old, Earl Sweatshirt has built a career with all killer, no filler. Earl, an artist beyond his years, has already left a legacy of lyrical and groundbreaking hip-hop built to last and transcend.

Translating into the live experience is often a difficulty for some artists, but even with his well-known disdain for the spotlight, Earl delivered the energy of his records and then some. I felt as though I had shared an evening of great conversation with an old friend that I see once in a few years.

Quite possibly the best live hip-hop experience I’ve ever had, Earl Sweatshirt has become a modern-day rap legend.