Brick Stowell/Courtesy of We Get Press
Brick Stowell/Courtesy of We Get Press
Brick Stowell/Courtesy of We Get Press
The rapper and producer Earl Sweatshirt put out his first major label album, called Doris, this summer. Earl came up with the free-wheeling, button-pushing rap group Odd Future, then disappeared, sent by his mother to boarding school in Samoa. His friends mourned his absence loudly and when he came home in the winter of 2012, no one was sure he'd be able to deliver on his earlier promise.
Earl produced almost half the songs on Doris, which features many of his friends, including the rapper Vince Staples. Vince joined Earl in a conversation with Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley. They spoke about the music business, how to tell if a song is any good and an encounter with Sir Paul McCartney that happened right before they sat down.
FRANNIE KELLEY: What just happened in this building? Can you tell us?
EARL SWEATSHIRT: This man Paul McCartney came through, tried to fight me.
KELLEY: Did he offer you any words of wisdom?
VINCE STAPLES: He told you to listen to your old music.
SWEATSHIRT: Nah, yeah he asked me if I had a nice new album out. "Oh so, you've got a nice new album? What you got? What you doing?"
KELLEY: Why is it so crazy to meet him? There's something crazy about it. It makes me feel crazy.
SWEATSHIRT: That sums up why it's crazy to meet him because he's the type of n---- that needs that.
Courtesy of Brick Stowell
Paul McCartney and Earl Sweatshirt at NPR's New York office in October.
Courtesy of Brick Stowell
Paul McCartney and Earl Sweatshirt at NPR's New York office in October.
Courtesy of Brick Stowell
KELLEY: But he also has — have you ever tried to sample a Beatles song or anything — work with it in any way?
SWEATSHIRT: Nah. They're too, I don't know — that just seems very thirsty.
KELLEY: Well, also very expensive.
SWEATSHIRT: Right, yeah.
KELLEY: Have you ever listened to them?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, actually recently. I forget what the album title is but the s--- with "Blue Jay Way" on it and "Flying."
KELLEY: I don't know. Do you know?
SWEATSHIRT: What's it called? It's like a tour. It's called — oh my god, why am I blanking on the title of this album? Someone knows?
STAPLES: It was about life.
SWEATSHIRT: It was about life.
STAPLES: And the album's called Magical Mystery Tour.
SWEATSHIRT: YES. Thank you! I told you it was a tour. Everybody looked at me crazy.
KELLEY: Yeah, we did. What do you listen to?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't know. I've been YouTube surfing a lot lately so I'll Shazam a song that I find or some s--- and type that in on YouTube and just go through all the relateds for it. So it's been a lot of random jazz s--- lately. Like I found Lonnie Liston Smith, and Ahmad Jamal, s--- like that. So that's been very tight.
KELLEY: And what about that sound appeals to you?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't know. It's totally foreign. When I put some s--- like that on, I have no expectation for what's about to come on.
KELLEY: You produced a lot of Doris, right?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah I think, like, a little under half. My beats are pretty s----y, though. I don't know how they work.
KELLEY: I think "Sunday" — I don't understand how "Sunday" works, but I think it's crazy good.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah "Sunday" was the best one I think I made.
KELLEY: I really want to know how you made the song. What part did you find first? Where did you pull things from?
SWEATSHIRT: I just laid those chords down first and then the drums I think I did — originally I made both parts to that beat as two separate beats and then I was like, "Oooh, this s--- would be very tight together." And then I kind of formatted the beat around a idea I had for the verse.
Cause that first part of the beat, it actually sounds like I was making it for Lil B. Yeah, if you listen to the first part of the beat it makes so much sense for a Lil B beat.
KELLEY: And then how did Frank get involved with that song?
SWEATSHIRT: He just seemed like the one that would fit best on that song. My mans came through with the wild verse.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: One of my favorites is "523" and just cause --
SWEATSHIRT: I love that beat.
MUHAMMAD: I love it too. So hearing you say Ahmad Jamal to me it's — his chords, his command in piano is really crazy.
SWEATSHIRT: It's ridiculous.
MUHAMMAD: And it's dark. And so when I think of that song, especially just as an instrumental piece, it's — to me, it's of that ilk.
SWEATSHIRT: Yo, thank you.
MUHAMMAD: Why'd you put that as a short little piece like that?
SWEATSHIRT: I just — I knew I had to put it on there cause I just love that. That was my favorite thing I did. And I was trying to rap over it, but it was like, nothing good was coming over it.
MUHAMMAD: It's crazy good, yeah. It's the chord changes — it moves.
SWEATSHIRT: Thank you.
MUHAMMAD: It has a real raw — your drums, everything doesn't sound polished at all but it has a lot of movement and emotion to it.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, I've been — a lot of the s--- I've been working on recently, it all has that very distorted, that unpolished thing you're talking about. But I can't make one that's as tight as that one.
MUHAMMAD: Don't say that.
SWEATSHIRT: That s--- is ...
MUHAMMAD: It's in you.
KELLEY: Just give it as much time as Paul McCartney has.
SWEATSHIRT: Goddamn. Take a 50-year hiatus.
KELLEY: He didn't take that long of a break.
SWEATSHIRT: No, I'm just saying n---- gave it time. You talking about Paul McCartney time? That's some time.
KELLEY: I like the other short song a lot, too, "Uncle Al."
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, originally I wanted those to be the same song. But Al wouldn't get as much credit as he would if it was in the same song so we just had to give his own. That song is tight too. Originally there was an Alchemist verse on that.
KELLEY: Oh, really?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah. He was talking crazy on it.
KELLEY: So is it true that people just go to his house and hang out and get work done?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, he has a good working environment. Sometimes you just go over there and get way too high and don't do s---. But, yeah.
KELLEY: How did you write for this album? Was it all spread out?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, it was very spread out. There was different times. There was, like, right when I got back — second or third day I got back we did "Hive." That was the first beat I made and s---. We did that song so fast — we did that s--- in like two hours.
Then there was the summer sessions when we was at Om'Mas' — Om'Mas Keith from Sa-Ra — for like two months. That was around the time we did the first song on the album. And what else?
STAPLES: The Pharrell s--- and the RZA s---.
SWEATSHIRT: Oh, yeah, there was that time too.
STAPLES: When RZA had chicken?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, when RZA was — oh my god, this man RZA.
STAPLES: He's crazy.
SWEATSHIRT: Is out of his mind.
MUHAMMAD: How'd that come together?
SWEATSHIRT: We just went to the studio because it was RZA day at the studio.
STAPLES: And RZA popped up with fried chicken and — what was that dude name?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't know what his name was but he had the blunt and then after RZA smoked it, he spoke for four hours.
KELLEY: RZA spoke for four hours?!
STAPLES: Yeah, he freestyled.
SWEATSHIRT: Yes, and he also dropped the based freestyle. Twelve-minute based freestyle. The hook for that song, we lifted it from — he was just saying random s--- over that beat and we just lifted that from it — we lifted the hook from there. That man said some wild s---.
STAPLES: He's crazy.
SWEATSHIRT: "Music calm the savage beast. Hundred thousand on the armored jeep." He was talking — he was, oh my god.
STAPLES: He had, like, a thirty-bar about his purse.
SWEATSHIRT: Yes! What he says at the beginning of the song, he says, "Search inside my purse to find something worthless." That was some other s---.
STAPLES: He was barred out though.
KELLEY: Is that the first time you met him?
KELLEY: Those are two different studios?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, and then there was — what would you say the time periods of that album was? It was the beginning, like right when I got back ...
STAPLES: And then right before you turned it in.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, then right before I turned it in. Then there was, like, a me and Tyler time, where we did "Whoa" and "Sasquatch."
MUHAMMAD: When did you guys do "Centurion?" That was my favorite.
STAPLES: That was right when you came back.
SWEATSHIRT: No, but that song, you put your s--- on the beginning of that song, I put the first verse down, and then they redid the beat and then the beat became what it is now.
STAPLES: RZA Day.
SWEATSHIRT: RZA Day they redid the beat — Christian Rich did. And then, because I didn't know what I was gonna do for the second verse at all, we just had the hook, his verse and my first verse. I couldn't write that s---. And then RZA Day I wrote the second verse of that song. Yeah, "Centurion" is probably one of my favorites on there too.
MUHAMMAD: Then how'd you hook up with Christian Rich?
SWEATSHIRT: They just set up a session with me and them one time and then it just clicked perfectly cause they were on the same page with, like — n----s had the same ears basically, you know what I mean? The Pharrell chords and that s---. It worked out very, very well.
MUHAMMAD: Was there any point in this — so it's like a little bit more than a year making the record — just shy of a year ...
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, there were so many different versions of that album. There was a fully finished one that had, like, four or five different songs on it that we ended up swapping out and like --
MUHAMMAD: Was there ever a point that you — in making this record, you felt like you didn't want to do it?
SWEATSHIRT: So many times.
MUHAMMAD: Just like, forget this life. Making music — I don't want to do this.
SWEATSHIRT: Oh my god. Yeah, hell yeah, so many times. I would call this n---- and complain so often.
MUHAMMAD: What was going through your mind at that time? Like what was happening?
SWEATSHIRT: I would just get frustrated like — oh my god, there was that period of time when no one from the label got what I was trying to do so they was trying to put me in the studio with, like, just the wrong n----s. I got a beat that had a John Legend hook on it already. It was just very messy for a period of time and I was just like, "Oh my god, I'm f---ed." I'm gonna have to put out an album that I do not f--- with at all.
MUHAMMAD: How'd you handle that? Did you tell people, like, "Yo, I'm not doing this. I'm done." Like, "Leave me alone." Or was it like ...
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, well, I didn't understand. When I got home, I was trying to figure out how to be home. Like, be home in a sense that had nothing to do with music. You know what I mean? It was already difficult as f--- trying to figure out how to be home.
And then — so I didn't know how to say, "No." I was very passive when I got home because I didn't know. It was just like, "Oh, I guess. I don't wanna really do ..." They'd be like, "What?" "Whatever." So, yeah. I'd probably say that's one of the most valuable things I've learned in the past year. Now I kind of say no to everything, even s--- that I shouldn't say no to. But it's kind of safer that way.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that's the position. That's — you earn those stripes, man. How did you push forward? Because obviously you got a very popular crew who — I don't know what type of motivation you guys have — you guys, Odd Future together — but in just saying, "Alright, this is me. This my solo. I'm doing this. I'm on major label. I can't really quit." Because I know deep down inside you want to just do your thing. Is that right?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when I came home and didn't jump back into the position that was kind of reserved for me by everyone, that kind of set the tone for that whole year. So it was kind of like — for especially me and Tyler, we kind of reset right when I got home cause he didn't really get what I was trying to do, which — a lot fell on me for that because I didn't know how to f---ing articulate myself. So he was confused. Like, "What is this n---- doing?" He thought I'd just went away, f---ing lost my mind and came back like trying to be on my own s---.
MUHAMMAD: Right. Because when you came back then was it — you had your own representation and everything was sorted.
SWEATSHIRT: Right, so it was crazy for him. I know it must have been crazy for him because he spent that whole two or three years or whatever riding so heavy in my name, and then I came back and he felt like it was just like, "Hey, thanks bro."
MUHAMMAD: You said you called Vince up when you felt like, "I don't want to do this anymore." What did you say to him?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't want to do this anymore.
STAPLES: What did I tell him? I told him to shut up.
STAPLES: I told him to shut up. There's no time for that s---. You gotta work. You gotta do it. Who else gone do it if you don't do it?
MUHAMMAD: So what came after that on the record?
SWEATSHIRT: "Pre," the first song. Yeah, that was at a point in time where — we should have kept going right after that. That was a very good streak of songs that got done. Cause SK La'Flare was f---ing on that summer, too. That n---- made ...
STAPLES: SK La'Flare's a legend, bro.
SWEATSHIRT: SK La'Flare's a legend. It was me, him and Vince, and Frank would come through sometimes and s--- and he was, like, fully rapping. N----s was on it.
STAPLES: Yeah, he had a rap phase.
SWEATSHIRT: He had a full rap phase. I'm pretty sure he's still in it right now though. Nah, he played me some s--- a couple weeks ago that was like, "Oh, bro, wow!" Yeah, Frank Ocean think he a rapper.
MUHAMMAD: So what do you think about the music business?
SWEATSHIRT: It's pretty retarded. Yeah, it's a mess right now.
MUHAMMAD: It's always been a mess.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah. I just feel like it's especially a mess right now cause people are so desperately holding on to these retarded old ideas of what s--- should be or, like, paths to follow with it.
MUHAMMAD: How's things going with the record? You touring now?
SWEATSHIRT: Touring with the record out — shows are so much more fun now that n----s know what I'm talking about. Cause I had to be doing all these shows for this past year or whatever doing songs from when I was, like, f---ing 15, 16, and then new s--- that no one knew what the f--- was going on. So it was like, "Oh, this — good, good. I like that."
MUHAMMAD: What do you like more: the recording process, searching, looking for music, or touring and performing?
SWEATSHIRT: This is pretty fun now. Before I didn't like it cause that s--- was not fun performing new s--- to audiences that had no idea, had no clue what was going on. But now that it's out I really like it.
I've been trying to record s---. I've done a couple new songs, and they've been pretty tight but I'm just waiting for when — so I'mma just ride the touring and performing s--- out and hopefully whatever comes of that makes some tight songs when we get in the next recording process.
KELLEY: I was there last night [at Bowery Ballroom October 7th], and it was really fun. I didn't think it was gonna be that fun.
SWEATSHIRT: You thought it was gonna be Sad Earl?
KELLEY: Yeah. But you gave us a heads up. You're like, "It's gonna be sad everybody, right now, it's about to be sad."
SWEATSHIRT: Oh, for that song? You always have sad time for that song.
KELLEY: Mmhmm, the blue lights.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, ominous.
KELLEY: It's very relaxed. I mean, you guys sort of break the fourth wall. You talk to the crowd and the crowd talks back to you, and you let people pick the next song.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah I don't — we don't have a setlist at all. We have a rough one but, like, we figure s--- out as we go along. It's more fun that way. Rather than having it try to be — because if you don't break that fourth wall then you have that distance between you and that s--- is just not fun for anyone, you know what I mean?
KELLEY: Because it lets the crowd participate.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, cause I used to just try and pretend like the crowd wasn't there. Which was some weird s---. It's a very weird concert when the n---- on stage is trying to pretend like it's no one there.
KELLEY: And then also there's the "It's Getting Hot In Herre / Milkshake / Ignition (Remix)" moment.
SWEATSHIRT: That s--- was hot.
KELLEY: The happiest you looked was when "Milkshake" dropped.
SWEATSHIRT: Yo, dropping that s--- is so funny because n----s the whole time listening to songs like "Hive" and "Kill" are like, "I'm about to sock this n----," and then you throw on "Milkshake" and it ...
KELLEY: It popped off.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah. "Milkshake" goes up, "Ignition" went up. "Hot in Herre" went up.
KELLEY: I really noticed how different those songs sounded from your stuff — the way that they were layered and the tones of them. It really set things in opposition.
SWEATSHIRT: You gotta have that. You can't have sludge for a whole hour because it's gonna get old. We do that in the middle of the show to make, you know, like re-energize everyone.
KELLEY: Yeah, it works.
SWEATSHIRT: The s--- goes up.
KELLEY: Do you ever get nervous about performing?
SWEATSHIRT: Not so much anymore cause — the first show of the tour I did because I hadn't done s--- in like a month. But once you get into a rhythm with it, it's like, just keep running with it.
KELLEY: You're not afraid of making mistakes, either.
SWEATSHIRT: Nah. I feel like the whole s--- is a mistake. I'm mistake boy.
KELLEY: Were you supporting Eminem at one point?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, that s--- was crazy.
SWEATSHIRT: Cause it was, like, 80,000 white people in Scotland. Maybe about 40 came specifically to see you. But it was tight. We got — the first show, it just kept getting better cause we started figuring out how to get the crowd on our side.
SWEATSHIRT: Just had to keep going up. And also once you understand that they're all just drunk, then it's a lot easier. That s--- was crazy. That was wild.
KELLEY: The crowd or him?
SWEATSHIRT: Just that whole experience.
KELLEY: Can you see any of the crowd when you're up there in front of 80,000?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, you can see all of them.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, it's f---ed up.
KELLEY: That's terrifying to me.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah. Well, you kind of just gotta party with the 17 people that are f---ing with you.
KELLEY: Right up front, those people?
MUHAMMAD: The terrifying part of that for me is if it's happening in summertime and everyone's got short sleeves on, you just see a wave of, like, light arms moving — you know, 80,000 arms moving like that. I don't know about for you, but for me that freaks me out.
MUHAMMAD: I don't know, it feels like a movie or something, a horror flick or something bad's about to happen.
SWEATSHIRT: A lot of people doing the exact same thing is crazy.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, it's just you and it's a whole lot of them.
SWEATSHIRT: And you're in full control.
KELLEY: You feel like you're in control at that time?
SWEATSHIRT: They f---ing prostrated themselves. You know what I mean? They do what you say. That s--- is crazy.
MUHAMMAD: Do you carry that feeling back in the studio or do you — it just melts, it's behind you and you go back into your own zone?
SWEATSHIRT: I just smoke weed and drink coffee so it kind of melts away. And then whatever comes after I do that, happens.
KELLEY: What about when you're writing?
SWEATSHIRT: Smoke weed and drink coffee.
KELLEY: That's very confident.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah? It's kind of like flinging s--- at the wall and whatever stick that's very tight, like, "Wow, that. We're keeping that." I don't have a process process. I just try s--- out 'til it works.
MUHAMMAD: If you don't have a process, do you have a purpose?
SWEATSHIRT: I suppose so.
MUHAMMAD: I know you do. Do you know what it is though? You have to. You're not doing this just to be doing this.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, but I haven't fully realized it yet. You know what I mean?
MUHAMMAD: That's fair.
SWEATSHIRT: But I know something's there, and hopefully it comes when I fling the s--- at the wall.
KELLEY: That's 100.
MUHAMMAD: I was just about to say, that's life. You just programmed to wake up. We programmed to wake up. We can't un-program ourselves unless we jump off a building, so you're programmed to wake up.
Some people when they open their eyes first, they know. But most of us don't know what our purpose is. I mean, it's fair but I just want to say it's clear you got a purpose, man.
SWEATSHIRT: Thank you. That's crazy. I don't like to think about s--- like that. It's too heavy.
MUHAMMAD: I know.
SWEATSHIRT: That's why I smoke weed and drink coffee.
MUHAMMAD: I didn't want to be that dude in the room to do that to you, but, yes, I am that dude because I lived it, you know what I'm saying?
It's not for everybody. There's a lot of people — and, Vince, I'm sure you come up against this as well — they think they want to do this, they think they have a purpose in making music and putting that life onto the music, but it's not for them. And they should stop.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, yeah. Wow. I feel you 400%. There's a lot of n----s that should stop.
MUHAMMAD: So you two guys, I'm like, "Thank god. Music, the art's gonna live on. The genre's gonna live on."
SWEATSHIRT: Yo, Vince was talking about this yesterday. He was saying everyone that we know is tight. Everyone that we don't know is not tight. Say what you said.
Courtesy of the artists
Vince Staples, in a still from the video for "Hive."
Courtesy of the artists
Vince Staples, in a still from the video for "Hive."
Courtesy of the artists
STAPLES: That's what I said.
SWEATSHIRT: Say more what you — elaborate.
STAPLES: I mean, the people that know what they doing are doing it for a certain reason.
SWEATSHIRT: And all know each other. It's so crazy. There's like a big ...
STAPLES: It's not even big. But it's a lot of people. It's easy to do.
SWEATSHIRT: It's about 17, 18 people.
STAPLES: You gotta understand, bro, the Internet. People live on the Internet. The Internet is life now. Literally in every single way. You inside, you on the computer. You go outside, you on the computer. You feel me? You want some food, you get it on the computer. You know what I mean?
So motherf---er — you see somebody doing something, it's like, "Oh I can do that," only cause you know how easy they did it. You know what I mean? You can talk to motherf---ers nowadays. When you was young, you couldn't be like, "Yeah I'm about to tweet this n---- Jay Z and tell him how I feel about 'Big Pimpin.'" That didn't exist. It was untouchable.
SWEATSHIRT: Like, "Let me holla at my mans."
STAPLES: It was untouchable, so it was like you had to go a long way to get where you wanted to go. Now, the people can choose who do what and the people is f---ing stupid. There's no hierarchy, there's no — you feel me? — type of s--- like that. It can be — it's 100,000 idiots right now.
SWEATSHIRT: It's a lot of f---ing artists.
STAPLES: No it's 100,000 stupid motherf---ers probably on this street, and they can give somebody 100,000 views on YouTube and I can give somebody a deal.
STAPLES: And that's all for one block. You get what I'm saying? So you add up 10 blocks of stupid motherf---ers, you got a n---- who just went platinum.
KELLEY: What do the 17 people have in common?
STAPLES: I don't know, man.
SWEATSHIRT: I don't think it's something you can put your finger on.
STAPLES: It ain't nothing that we have in common. I ain't nothing like none of my friends.
KELLEY: How do you know if something's good?
STAPLES: You don't.
SWEATSHIRT: Nah, you do. You always know when something's good.
KELLEY: You just said you know.
STAPLES: You don't know if it's good. You know if you understand it, cause what makes it good?
SWEATSHIRT: If it's good, n----.
STAPLES: You think Lil B is good.
STAPLES: A lot of people don't, but they don't understand it, so what makes it good or bad?
SWEATSHIRT: Good point. I don't know. However you relate to it.
STAPLES: That's how it make it good though. What make it good is you being able to relate to it. Because you can really dissect — remember we was talking about ol' boy earlier that everybody f---ing with, and it don't make no sense when you really think about it?
STAPLES: But it just that a lot of people relate to it and that's what make it good to them. But you gotta understand how many people ain't bout s---, or how many people are stupid.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, but n----s are thirsty to relate.
SWEATSHIRT: N----s are thirsty to like some s--- now. I don't know why. That s--- is weird.
STAPLES: Cause rap is cool. Rap is what skateboarding was when we was in ninth grade.
SWEATSHIRT: True fact.
STAPLES: When TK came out and every n---- was either watching or was trying to do it, that's what rap is now. These motherf---ers I went to school with, I know didn't give a f--- about music. They hit me up every day like, "Yo, the Jay Z from '96." I'm like, "My n----, shut up," cause — you feel what I'm saying?
STAPLES: It's what's popping right now, and it's a bunch of motherf---ers that's gone hop — it's like when And 1 was out and every n---- played basketball. That's just how it goes. It's rap's turn to be that right now — everybody's a rapper or they a critic.
KELLEY: It's trendy? That what you're saying?
KELLEY: That scares me.
STAPLES: It shouldn't. It's gonna be over in a minute.
KELLEY: How can you tell if somebody's being honest on a song?
STAPLES: The problem is you can't these days.
SWEATSHIRT: Nah, you can.
STAPLES: You gotta see 'em first though. You know what I mean? And motherf---ers live on the Internet, so it's hard to get a really close interaction with somebody to see if they full of s--- or not.
SWEATSHIRT: Nah, it always comes out one way or another, though. Time always tells. If there's a consistent — if there's a consistency to a person, that's normally when you can tell if they're being honest. Like when there's a common thread throughout their s---.
STAPLES: But who's really getting more than one album out these days, or, like, more than two mix tapes?
SWEATSHIRT: That's a lot nowadays and if it's consistent through — bro, that's a lot of songs. Two mix tapes, call it 30 songs. If there's a common thread through 30 songs that you do — that's a lot of f---ing songs.
STAPLES: Yeah, but I'm saying somebody could probably bulls--- 30 songs.
SWEATSHIRT: No, you can't. You can't bulls--- 30 songs, bro.
MUHAMMAD: We know you guys are real. Better be real. I'mma be real angry with you if you're not.
SWEATSHIRT: He gonna beat your ass.
STAPLES: He gonna beat your ass first. You smaller.
KELLEY: I have a question about something you said in another interview, Earl. You said, "Lyrical is the worst word in the entire world."
KELLEY: Why? I mean that's a big debate in hip-hop, right?
SWEATSHIRT: Cause n----s just fall back on it now. Like, any n---- that's not retarded is lyrical. I hate that word so much. I hate the fact that I'm saying it. Lyrical.
STAPLES: Lyrical s--- don't make sense though, when you really think about it.
KELLEY: What do you mean, it doesn't make sense?
STAPLES: If you play me your favorite lyrical song right now, and I stop it and ask you what he just said, I guarantee you you won't know.
KELLEY: Like I won't know what he means or the actual words?
STAPLES: You won't — you'll probably know what the words mean. You'll know the definitions, but you not gone know — what did you get from that?
KELLEY: Right, like it's too much?
SWEATSHIRT: Well, all I'm saying is, s---'s been sectioned off into two things. It's like, "Bro, hey, turn up," or "Damn, this is real rap. Like, this is real lyrical."
STAPLES: Big conjunctions. F---ing four-syllable words.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, four-syllable words.
STAPLES: That motherf---ers don't even know what they mean. They went on rhymezone.com.
STAPLES: Because I know people that use rhymezone.com. It's pathetic.
MUHAMMAD: What's rhymezone.com?
STAPLES: What it sound like? Rhymezone.com. You put the word in, what rhymes with it?
KELLEY: It's a rhyming book.
STAPLES: What rhymes with clever? Letter, better, s--- like that. And it's real. Motherf---ing rappers. I walked in the studio one day, and I seen a n---- using it and I was like, "Whatchu doing?" And he just looked at me. It wasn't no regular motherf---er. Motherf---er on the label, on rhymezone.com.
SWEATSHIRT: Just pick out three-syllable words and find as many other three-syllable words that go with that word. N----s are so corny, oh my god.
STAPLES: But if you use big words, then you smart. If you smart, you lyrical. You don't gotta say s--- no more.
SWEATSHIRT: You don't gotta say s---.
STAPLES: If you look at motherf---ers that people put in the Top 10s or whatever --
SWEATSHIRT: Dude, you just have to be not retarded.
MUHAMMAD: So who do you guys look up — I don't wanna say look up to, but you just admire?
SWEATSHIRT: Currently? My friends. Nobody else.
KELLEY: Name names.
SWEATSHIRT: I'm saying, this is what we were talking about earlier — the n----s I know is n----s I'm fans of.
MUHAMMAD: Name names. You want to know why? Cause I got a few friends — I don't have a lot of friends, and my network is pretty small, but I know the strengths and weaknesses of my friends. I'm just saying.
SWEATSHIRT: I'd probably say Vince Staples, Tyler, Doms, Q. I f--- with Schoolboy because a lot of times that n----'s not out here trying to be, like, Mr. Lyrical. He's out here trying to capture the energy of a f---ing pit bull and does it very well.
I don't know. The s--- that I run into a lot now is that I'll like a few things that a person does but not their whole aesthetic or their whole brand or whatever.
KELLEY: Do you have any additions or subtractions?
MUHAMMAD: You dropped a gun son?
STAPLES: No, I'm retired, bro. I don't got no influences and I don't look up to none of these n----s. I always say that too, and then motherf---ers be like, "You got to!" And I'll be like, "Think of one. Think of one person."
SWEATSHIRT: I know, Vince Staples sounds like Vince Staples. That's why I f--- with Vince Staples.
MUHAMMAD: Who's Larry Fisherman? Since you're here I just wanted to ask.
SWEATSHIRT: F---ing Malcolm.
STAPLES: Malcolm, little Malcolm. It's one of his many unnecessary names.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, it's big Mac.
STAPLES: Mac's crazy, bro.
SWEATSHIRT: I f--- with Mac. Mac's one of my better friends.
MUHAMMAD: Why'd you guys slow that song down? What song was that?
SWEATSHIRT: It just — it fit for that song. Mac voice sounds very tight slowed down.
MUHAMMAD: What was the process of that?
SWEATSHIRT: I made that beat and then was — I f--- with that song very heavy because it was one of the songs that I stayed fully focused on from the beginning to the end of it. I set up a puzzle and then it was like, "Alright, Mac, you put this piece here," and I got it, and it worked out perfectly.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope.
SWEATSHIRT: I started making that beat when f---ing MTV was at that n---- house and I will never rap for MTV on camera. I'll never finish a song for MTV on camera, and they was pressing me. They was like, "So, are you guys gonna finish the song?" And I was like, "No, no, I don't have any ideas for the song. It's just a beat. Oh, I don't know." Yeah, then we just knocked that out that night. I was tremendously high.
MUHAMMAD: It sounds like it, but in a good way.
MUHAMMAD: I like that song. It caught me off guard.
MUHAMMAD: I was like, "Oh!" And it drew me in.
SWEATSHIRT: N----s aren't expecting to hear Mac Miller — I'm mad that song came out before the album. I did not want — I had to give that song to Fader in exchange for — I didn't want to give them anything else off the album so I gave them — it was a rush decision but I really didn't want that song to come out before the album. I wanted n----s to see the Mac Miller feature, be like, f---, "This n---- stink. He blew it." Like, "He doing s--- with Mac Miller," and then that song comes on and it's like, "Oh."
I f--- with Mac. I hope he keeps following that trajectory. I f--- with Mac because I wasn't home when this n---- came out. I've never — I don't listen to none of that n----'s other music. Taco took me over to his house, I'd only heard a few things about him, maybe heard like one Mac Miller verse. Was like, "That was pretty trash, whatever." Then I went over to that n----'s house. We was on the same page, became friends and then just naturally started doing music. So it was like we started on a completely fresh slate. I had no idea, so it worked out tight.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope. It's what producers do. So you thinking the next record?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, I'm starting to get ideas down for it. I actually did another one with Mac that I'm probably gonna use for it — at his house just f---ing around the same way we did "Guild."
MUHAMMAD: Are you gonna produce something for Vince? Is that happening? No?
STAPLES: You don't be finishing beats. And you got competition.
MUHAMMAD: You gotta finish some. Yo, you a good producer.
STAPLES: And you know who making all the — most of the beats — now so you gone have to really, you know what I mean?
SWEATSHIRT: Yo, you know who's very tight? This n---- Nottz.
KELLEY: He got a lot of work out right now. He's got a song on that Pusha album, too.
SWEATSHIRT: Yep. That s--- is hard. I don't care what you say.
STAPLES: The beat cool. I like the beat. The beat is crazy.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, the beat hard as hell. Pusha sound like he used to sound on that song.
STAPLES: I just don't like diaper rash. "No wonder there's diaper rash on my conscience."
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, well I like f---ing, "If he cries, he cries."
KELLEY: I like that part too.
SWEATSHIRT: He's so crazy. Pusha's so — he rap like he crazy. He rap like he --
STAPLES: With the hand gestures and s---.
KELLEY: He raps like he's smiling.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, he raps like he looks in that video.
KELLEY: Yeah, exactly, like he can't stop himself from smiling.
SWEATSHIRT: Like a Miley face.
STAPLES: It's cool. You know I don't be listening to rap music, so.
SWEATSHIRT: Yo, Vince listens to very trash music. Vince only listens to hood remixes of bad songs.
STAPLES: That's the s---.
MUHAMMAD: What were some of your [Earl's] influences though? You [Vince] say you have no influences. I accept that.
SWEATSHIRT: I got obvious influences though.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, like?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't know. Earlier it was Doom but even when it's like n----s like that and — it's no disrespect — it's just time is f---ing doing what time does. Which is moving right along. S--- that once was, is not ...
STAPLES: Everybody lose they jump shot, bro.
SWEATSHIRT: That n----'s still like, every time I hear some new Doom s--- — I'm fully biased towards Doom. There's s--- that I know isn't what it used to be that I'm fully down for.
MUHAMMAD: It's true. Some people do lose their jump shot. In terms of music though, sometimes you're like, "That was new, and I heard it now and now I'm looking for something different."
MUHAMMAD: So we become accustomed to it, we absorb it and then we just push it out of our booties.
KELLEY: Did you ever listen to Tha Alkaholiks when you were a kid?
KELLEY: Sometimes you do Freestyle Fellowship type stuff.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, like with the extra'd out rappity raps.
STAPLES: That's cause you used to watch battle rap.
KELLEY: All of them syllables.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, you watch battle rap.
STAPLES: I know but that's the s---.
SWEATSHIRT: Yo, you know who you can tell been watching battle raps? This n---- Drake. When he does the f---ing, "Aye, B, I got your CD. You get a E for effort." You are thirsty, Drake.
KELLEY: What's gonna happen next? If rap stops being trendy then what happens? What becomes trendy instead, and then what happens to rap when people stop paying attention and striving for it all the time?
SWEATSHIRT: I have no f---ing idea. N----s are doing very wild s--- though. N----s are doing crazy s---.
KELLEY: What do you mean?
SWEATSHIRT: S--- is just so f---ed up. It's like everything is in this big f---ed up melting pot right now where everything — there were certain lines. And I'm all for combining s--- that's not expected, but there's some s--- that is not being done correctly.
There's a way. I've heard people combine electronic s--- with rap s--- in a way that's — even though I may not f--- with it because I'm not an EDM type of n----, you can hear that it's creative. Like Azealia be doing that s---, and I always listen to Azealia's new s--- when it come out, once. I'm not bout to be the n---- that's driving around listening to that s---, but I listen to that s--- and she go in. Like, "Damn, she went in." Even Nicki. Nicki has some s--- where it's over some crazy EDM s--- but it's, like, "Damn, she did her thing anyways."
But then there's s--- that's just f---ed up. You can hear when n----s have these awful attempts at being the one that ...
KELLEY: Is it a bad idea or is it bad execution?
SWEATSHIRT: Bad execution cause you are not the one. There's a lot of n----s that's not the one.
KELLEY: And they have money behind them you think or it doesn't matter?
KELLEY: You're not gonna name names in this regard?
SWEATSHIRT: I can't even think of names. It's just s--- that I hear.
STAPLES: That Big Sean in the forest video is tight as f---.
SWEATSHIRT: I haven't seen it.
STAPLES: I just had to say that.
MUHAMMAD: I haven't seen it either.
STAPLES: It's tight as f---. He in the forest with a megaphone.
SWEATSHIRT: That's tight.
STAPLES: It's tight.
KELLEY: Are you gonna shoot videos for Doris?
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, we're about to do some tight s---. I'm not gonna divulge any secrets but we're about to do — hopefully it turns out tight.
KELLEY: Videos matter more and more.
SWEATSHIRT: Absolutely videos matter more and more. Vince Staples.
STAPLES: Don't look at me.
SWEATSHIRT: You seen a Vince Staples video? Neither have I.
STAPLES: I don't need them yet.
SWEATSHIRT: Yes, you do. N---- you are not exempt.
STAPLES: I didn't need 'em yet. It ain't hurt me.
KELLEY: It's how people pass things around though. It's like a quick hit.
STAPLES: Yeah, that's they problem.
SWEATSHIRT: What are you talking about? You're drunk.
STAPLES: I can rap. What I need to do a video every other song for?
SWEATSHIRT: You don't need to do video every other song. You need a video. You need one. N---- it's not every other song, it'd be different if ...
STAPLES: We gone put one out. We ain't need one yet. I do got a video out. It's on MTV.
SWEATSHIRT: What? Oh, f--- you.
STAPLES: Thank you.
KELLEY: Why do you want to make a good video? Why do you care about your videos?
SWEATSHIRT: Cause that s--- is tight. Like a good video — good videos have always been — makes you want to listen to the song more, and then you think of the video when you're listening to the song and s---. Sometimes videos f--- songs up though.
SWEATSHIRT: Sometimes videos really f--- a song up. Sometimes videos make a bad song very tight.
KELLEY: I had thought about asking you guys about your relationship to music journalism and doing interviews and stuff — is it something that you think about?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't like s---. In the same sense that I don't like s--- with rap music, I don't like s--- in rap journalism. I don't know, man, that s--- is just so corny.
STAPLES: It just the people, it's the writers, it's not a lot of writers --
SWEATSHIRT: It's the n----s doing it. It's not a lot of writers that have a good foundation of knowledge of what the f--- they're talking about, and you can see it just like how you can tell when a n---- is not about his s--- when he's doing music. You can tell when a n---- is not about his s--- and writing. I don't read s--- no more.
STAPLES: And ain't a lot of Nozes, bro.
SWEATSHIRT: There's Andrew Noz ... Hey, he's G.O.A.T. He's the best. And then there's f---ing Will. I don't know if you know him. Will's tight.
STAPLES: Yeah, Will's tight as f---.
SWEATSHIRT: Will's very tight.
KELLEY: From where? Who?
STAPLES: I don't know his last name.
SWEATSHIRT: Staley I think.
KELLEY: Oh, he did that Times Magazine thing with you.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah. Dude, I didn't even realize who he was when he was interviewing me. Cause I, like, read his s---. He came in, and I had just so much s--- that day that it was like, I was expecting that to be butt and then it was the best one of the day.
KELLEY: Yeah, I really liked that, the product that he put out.
STAPLES: Radio is better than writing because they can't lie. Cause sometimes writers be straight lying, bro, and these headlines be making me mad. What did he put for your headline the other day?
SWEATSHIRT: "Earl Sweatshirt finds his happy place."
KELLEY: Headlines are tough cause it's not even the writer that has control over them most of the time. It sucks. It sucks for everybody.
SWEATSHIRT: N----s ask you the same questions. N----s don't know what's going on.
KELLEY: Well, what would make it better?
STAPLES: I think it's just hard to write out a conversation without it being too long and boring.
SWEATSHIRT: You need people that's — the best interviews I've done is where I've felt that the person knows more than me. Like when you talking to a n---- that clearly --
STAPLES: Googled you.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, you're answering questions like, "Yeah, that did happen. Yeah, that was crazy. Yep, that was absolutely wild. It's so wild."
KELLEY: What do you get, as a musician, out of good music journalism?
SWEATSHIRT: It's good writing.
KELLEY: So you just get to read good writing?
SWEATSHIRT: Whether it's music journalism or not, it's good writing. And that happens maybe once every, like, four months that you read something that's genuinely like, "I'm so glad I read that."
KELLEY: So it's about your enjoyment as a person who reads music writing? Is it about your career at all or helping you understand what you're doing or people helping explain what you're doing to other people?
SWEATSHIRT: I don't know. It's just like a good way to gauge someone. Cause especially in a world where like everyone's so accessible now, to say something new in an article that you can't find out about a n---- through his Twitter or like Googling him or some s--- is rare. Just like how a good song is rare, you know what I mean?
KELLEY: Yeah, it makes the world bigger.
SWEATSHIRT: But s--- is just getting more and more f---ing desolate. Everything's getting narrowed down to a few good things. I don't know what's gonna happen. I think this is the trajectory of death, though.
STAPLES: Yeah, somebody gone die.
SWEATSHIRT: Physically and just overall this s--- is just gonna become such a mockery of itself.
STAPLES: It already is, bro.
KELLEY: Well, then you get layoffs, right? Then you get layoffs at labels and publications. But then you get kids that will write for free.
SWEATSHIRT: Then you get s--- that comes from the rubble.
KELLEY: Right, so I'm just trying to figure out what's gonna happen after that.
SWEATSHIRT: Fresh start, fresh slate.
STAPLES: It's gonna start over. It's like 2003 all over again.
KELLEY: That would be good.
SWEATSHIRT: It would be great. N----s stop tryin to hold onto these f---ing archaic ideas of what's supposed to be going on.
STAPLES: It's not even that. What you really gotta understand, bro, is as far as the system, it's nothing wrong with the system because this s---'s the same s-- over and over. It needs to be new people to make the system work. You feel what I'm saying?
Like, the same system is the one that had Wu-Tang, the one that had Method Man, the one that had Kanye and 50. But who was hot before Drake was hot? Who was the rapper that was hot before him?
SWEATSHIRT: Juelz Santana.
STAPLES: That was a gap cause — you remember it was Charles Hamilton, Mickey Factz, all of them n----s. But who was — you can't even think of the hottest out of them.
SWEATSHIRT: Who added some consistency to it.
STAPLES: It was never. It's always gotta be that one. It's Kanye, 50, when Jay start poppin', when Ja Rule was hot. The people gotta be implemented to make the s--- work.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, but even that s--- is getting old.
STAPLES: Yeah, but, see, it's not getting old because it's happened since the s--- started. You just don't ever realize when it start over. But it's always gonna start over.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, I feel you. I feel you 100%.
STAPLES: But since there's so many mother---ers rapping, it's hard to find the mother---er that's supposed to make this s--- start over, you get what I'm saying? And they want it so bad that they just naming any n---- who's hot or who got the song.
SWEATSHIRT: That's why people are so quick to be overwhelmed by "Best Rapper." Like, n----s love finding the best rapper.
MUHAMMAD: What if that was part of the design to keep it — to bring it to its ultimate death?
SWEATSHIRT: That's what I'm saying.
MUHAMMAD: But I'm saying from the perspective of — continue to make it so that there will never be a regeneration of that one person to reset it.
STAPLES: I mean I don't think that's possible.
SWEATSHIRT: I think that's fully possible.
STAPLES: How is it gonna be possible though?
SWEATSHIRT: When the s--- dies and everyone's just like, "F---."
STAPLES: But I'm saying, remember when pop was real hot and then real songwriting and s--- was dead for — probably like 10 motherf---ing years and then Adele came out and n----s was cracking off the Adele even though that s--- was dead? It's always gonna be gone, you feel me? But n----s can't just stop making music. N----s ain't gonna stop.
They re-making every movie that you've ever seen right now because n----s have no good ideas. But that don't mean they're gonna start shutting down movie theaters my n----a, you feel me? It's always gonna be — that s---'s always gonna need to be there, be made. It's just not gonna be as hot as it once was at one point in time.
SWEATSHIRT: I don't know. That's why I feel like you need a few people flinging s--- at the wall.
KELLEY: I think somebody just found his purpose.
SWEATSHIRT: Hey, yo! What do you do, Vince? I figured out what I do.
STAPLES: I don't know. He [Ali] told me what I was supposed to do last time we met, so.
STAPLES: Low key.
SWEATSHIRT: I complain too.
STAPLES: Everybody complain. If you ain't complaining, what the f--- you doing?
KELLEY: That makes sense to me.
SWEATSHIRT: I'm gonna try to put out the best rap album next time.
KELLEY: You want to enter in to this debate then? The melee?
SWEATSHIRT: No, not like that. I just mean I was skeptical or, like, tentative about a lot of s--- because of the situation that I was in, but no one is that good. Like, all this s--- that n----s are naming is the best is not that good. I swear to God. N----s are so quick to get excited about s--- that is maybe a six or a seven.
KELLEY: So next album you're just gonna go for it.
SWEATSHIRT: Yeah, I think I have to or else I'mma fall off.
STAPLES: Yeah, I tell you that all the time.
KELLEY: On that note, thank you. Thank you for coming by and spending all this time with us.