Review: The Evolution of Earl Sweatshirt: Fire it Up! at St Andrews
Earl Sweatshirt’s Fire it Up! Tour comes on the heels of his latest project, Some Raps Songs, a seemingly abrupt departure from his past work that at the same time, fits well within the context of his work and life as of recent. His release Doris, had some hints, but what really became apparent in I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is Earl’s ever-present sharp-witted lyrical dexterity, however the subject matter and sonic arrangements have become progressively darker.
This evolution culminated in a musical hiatus, resulting in perhaps his most well-crafted and poignant project to date. Both the lineup and his set for the Fire it Up! tour included elements of two distinct styles; the louder, more abrasive nature of his work with Odd Future, and the subtly brilliant presence of his most recent release.
Sweatshirt touched down in Detroit at St Andrews Hall with a killer supporting line-up that brought his hungry fan base everything they had been missing, and more. Supporting artists including L.ive, and BbyMutha rounded out a turned up Sunday, culminating with an after party at Deluxx Fluxx ending the night on a high note.
L.ive made her way onstage to start off the night with energy that projected both ease and assurance, as she owned her set taking on the role of her own DJ, hype-woman, and performer. Bantering with the audience and commenting on the crowd-dynamics before launching into her set, (which was equal parts assertive and soulful) she brought her sound to listeners primed for a unique and meaningful experience. An opening set can be tough with a crowd of people waiting to see the next acts, but far from making the crowd impatient, L.ive’s performance was a meaningful contribution to an overall impressive lineup.
What can be said about BbyMutha that hasn’t already been said? Apparently a lot, based on her reaction to a few of the most recent reviews that mentioned her from this tour. To begin, the term “soundcloud rap” is no longer relevant. What began as a term for a recent surge in popularity for an otherwise troubled platform, has now become a lazy way to describe any type of rap music that isn’t ‘old school’ or ‘conventional trap.’
BbyMutha knows that her art may be controversial to some (as if her name wasn’t enough of a hint) but that’s part of the point. If listeners are able to move beyond their initial misconceptions about who she is and what her music is like, they will see that her artistic expression is both self-aware and self-confident, taking the worst of what people think she is and turning it into material that has brought her critical acclaim. Regardless of whether or not something is your personal taste, you have to respect when it’s passionate and well-executed, and with the help of DJ Mia Carucci her performance was just that. If the crowd’s reaction to her set was any indication, BbyMutha is someone to look out for. I listened to The Bastard Tape, Vol. 1 on my way to the show, and I was happy to figure out that one of my favorite tracks from the tape “Sick” is also one of her favorites to perform.
I saw Earl perform in 2013 when he was on Mac Miller’s Space Migration Tour. In line I saw these two kids near me, maybe 14 or 15 years old, in cut-off jeans with odd future t-shirts cut into tank tops. This really wasn’t surprising for an Earl show at the time, but seeing them next to people in white cartoon Mac Miller sweatshirts pretty remarkable to me. They had come to see the opener, and they were fully ready to treat it like an Odd Future show.
I wonder if those same kids were attended this latest tour, and I wonder how much they would resemble the people I saw in line back in 2013. Earl has certainly grown as a human and artist in that time, hardened by struggle and redefined in his style. As I was on my way to St. Andrews, I tried to guess how many of his die-hard original fans would be there. I was pleasantly reassured when Black Noi$e teased the first song before Earl started with “Molasses,” a song off of Doris, as everyone in the front half of the venue knew every word. He followed with “20 Wave Caps,” another cut off of his debut album (one of my favorite tracks) performing an ode to his Odd Future days in the form rapping Domo Genesis’ opening verse before diving into his newest material with “December 24th.”
Earl’s latest project, Some Rap Songs, is deliberately challenging in some ways. It is a sharp left turn from his past work. Hi vocals are mixed in such a way that made me wonder if he might hide to the side of the stage and perform from there, letting his voice melt in and out of the beat like he does on the recorded project. Instead he brought the power he has always had as a performer (though a version of it that many might not recognize), giving an added emphasis and depth to the tormented and profound lyrics he laid down on SRS.
The beauty of that project is actually pretty simple, Earl felt comfortable enough to release the type of album that he wanted to make, not the album that he thought people wanted to hear, and the fans that have progressed with him on his artistic journey are rewarded with a deeper sense of appreciation for the music he is making and why he is making it. As fans funneled out of St. Andrews and headed to Deluxx Fluxx for the afterparty (which featured DJ sets by Black Noi$e and Mia Carucci, along with a surprise set from BbyMutha), I’m sure they felt that they had plenty to celebrate.
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