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FFO Earl Sweatshirt: MIKE, KEYAH/BLU & SOTC

Words: Dylan Murphy

In an era when the algorithm frequently dictates our listening habits we’re handpicking artists to help you leave the clutches of editorial playlists. ‘For Fans Of’ takes your favourite artists as a jumping off point for discovering new sounds and following the release of his fifth studio album, we’re zooming in on the influence of and inspiration behind the work of Earl Sweatshirt.

Right off the bat it’s worth saying that our ‘For Fans Of’ series doesn’t intend to make comparisons for comparison’s sake, nor does it try to definitively categorise an artist’s music. Rather, we want to put you onto acts that have inspired the artist in question, that share similar traits, have assisted with the creation of their work or have continued their legacy.

Earlier this month, Earl Sweatshirt released his fifth studio album SICK!. While the record largely maintains the meandering and abstract style that the former Odd Future rapper has become synonymous with in recent years, the sun appears to split the trees at points with an optimism that’s been few and far between on his last three records. Remarks like “Walked outside it was still gorgeous” on ‘2010’ are lightyears from the paranoid thoughts of 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside. Additionally, there’s more variety on this album. The point I’m making is while there’s through lines to his work, it’d be negligible to make sweeping statements about his style and consequently, I couldn’t possibly give a complete picture of Earl’s influence on the game and those that inspire him. Instead, I’m aiming to just whet the appetite.

MIKE

The poster boy for the abstract and drawn out style of rap that Earl is often credited for popularising, MIKE has took the hazy approach and ran. A one-time member of the now defunct sLums collective in New York, MIKE cut his teeth growing up between London and the big apple finding comfort in grime videos on Channel U as much as he did in the dense rhymes of MF DOOM. Frequently favouring a slow drawl approach, his confessional and heady lyrics float above loops that yawn like a stoner at an early morning alarm clock. Never one to be precious with releases, MIKE’s Bandcamp and Soundcloud are late night rabbit holes for insomniacs. The virtual shelves are filled with releases showcasing the breadth of the twenty-something’s creativity, with MIKE often providing production under the alias dj blackpower. Having cited Earl Sweatshirt as a huge inspiration to his work, MIKE has since collaborated with the former Odd Future rapper on All Star from his record weight of the world. The pair share common collaborators too, with Rob Chambres producing both ‘Tabula Rasa‘ from SICK! and Regrets for MIKE providing a brief snapshot into the inseparable soup that is the sprawling and hard-to-define scene they are a part of.

Essential listening: MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE, Disco!, Hunger’ & ‘weight of the word*’

Mavi

A Youtube comment under The Alchemist’s ‘Miracle Baby’ which features Mavi reads, “Mavi is so unique , the way he strategically writes his raps makes it so he can go off for like a minute straight without punching. Gotta be my favourite artist right now. Dude makes me feel happy, sad, optimistic, and defeated all at once”.

The anonymous user does a pretty good job at distilling the appeal of the Charlotte native. More often than not, we have little to no power over life’s events. However, we can control how we react to them and Mavi frequently finds agency being able to represent the myriad of emotions and intricacies that make up our existence in his “strategic” approach to rapping. That’s not to say he is formulaic or predictable – quite the opposite. Mavi is capable of switching up his cadence, flow or vernacular to make conflicting emotions co-exist in a way that leaves listeners feeling “happy, sad , optimistic and defeated all at once”.

Image by @keilansphotos

Essential listening: let the sun talk, END OF EARTH, ‘Miracle Baby’

Navy Blue

Supreme look-book Model, producer, rapper, professional skateboarder – is there anything cool left for Sage Elsesser to conquer? The LA-born multi-hypenate handled the art direction for Earl’s 2015 I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside and has since collaborated with him on The Mint off Some Rap Songs and ‘Nobles on The Alchemist’s This Thing Of Ours. He even has production credits under the alias “Ancestors” on the title track from Sweatshirt’s 2022 LP SICK!. While the connections to Earl are numerous and notable, they are just one part of spider-web of collaborations that simultaneously reach for and expand the outer reaches of America’s underground abstract-rap scene. While there are common themes to the sub genre and Navy often indulges in them with philosophical musings, winding rhymes and self-examination, he’s anything but one dimensional. Comfortable evoking imagery of Leicester City’s talismanic striker Jamie Vardy as he is reckoning with America’s colonial past, the young artist is making music that ponders life’s biggest questions without the pretentiousness.

Essential listening: Song of Sage: Post Panic, Half God, Mint’, ‘Can’t Do This Alone’.

Black Noi$e

Detroit producer and DJ Robert Mansel AKA Black Noi$e released his latest project OBLIVION through Earl’s imprint Tan Cressida. The record’s dense, off-kilter and warbling production sounds like a bad trip you can dance to and features guest spots from MIKE, Liv.e, Earl and more. Underpinned by a frenetic energy, his releases have a distinctive texture and aesthetic that remains opaque regardless of genre. Like many of the inclusions in this feature you’ll only find some of his best releases outside of streaming services. Bandcamp is your best friend in this case.

Essential Listening: Oblivion, Soul Golden, ‘Let’s Go (Space Boogie)

Standing on the Corner

Taking the road less travelled at every opportunity, New York’s Standing on the Corner are impossible to pigeonhole. The ensemble’s 2017 record Red Burns incorporated samples, live instrumentation, jazz motifs and elements of hip hop and rock amongst other sounds. What’s more is, it was released as an uninterrupted piece clocking in just over an hour and on Spotify it’s distributed as just two songs that sit over the 30 minute mark. Over time members have come and gone, with the likes of Slauson Malone and Caleb Giles becoming influential figures in their own right. However, the crew’s genre-agnostic approach has continued to inform and inspire artists of all statures. Their footprints are found all over Solange’s When I Get Home and their visual project “The Atmosphere Phased at 120”, also enlisted the help of the GRAMMY winner. Elsewhere they’ve also provided production for Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, MIKE and and a host of other acts.

Essential Listening: Standing on the Corner, Red Burns, Riot!’ (Earl Sweatshirt), G-E-T-O-U-T!! The Ghetto.

Lord Apex

There’s a venn diagram out there somewhere that neatly captures the crossover of stoners, Earl Sweatshirt fans and future Lord Apex listeners. While for some time he was a hidden gem that was coveted quietly by selfish Youtube algorithm explorers and hip hop heads alike his latest album Smoke Sessions 3 propelled him to new-found heights in 2021. With a mountain of music available, a good place to start is on Youtube with the first edition of Smoke Sessions in full with the accompanying video of APEX chilling with the Elevation/Meditation crew. It’s a ritual he continued with each edition of the series and coupled with his nocturnal verbal ambling it makes for an inviting introduction to the dojo of one of the underground’s most consistent fixtures. Moreover, with a support slot on Freddie Gibbs’ European Tour on the horizon it’s gearing up to be a huge year for the Londoner.

Essential Listening: Bamboo Forest, Smoke Sessions 1, 2 & 3, ‘Em3’, ‘Like You Know’

knxwledge

GRAMMY-nominated, production credits on Kendrick Lamar’s TPAB, a cult-listenership and an approach to remixing that influenced a generation of Soundcloud producers, knxwledge is an artist in his own lane. Part of enjoying the LA producer’s art is surrendering to the idea that you may never truly internalise it all. His collection of beats, reworkings and sample flipping is all available on his Bandcamp, but is it so vast and intimidating it feels more like hip hop’s answer to the library of Congress than a record shelf. Inevitably, it’s hard to say where to start with the enigmatic beat wizard, but his most accessible work comes in the shape of his joint project with Anderson .Paak – NxWorries. In terms of solo material, it ranges from immaculately chopped soul and gospel samples to full remix projects of Meek Mill songs. Though he rarely gives interviews, his Redbull Radio series on Apple Music with Earl Sweatshirt is a great starting point for becoming familiar with their respective influences.

Essential listening: Hud Dreems, NxWorries, 1988, MEEK.VOL 1-6, ‘Lyk Dis’, ‘dont be afraid’

Maassai

New York rapper Maassai shared one of our favourite projects from last year in With The Shifts. Wandering without ever feeling lost on the way the burgeoning MC interrupts the slow-sprawling jazz instrumentation with cutting commentary feels like that cool university lecturer that can jolt their students on even the most lethargic Monday.

While the textures provide a cerebral feel, the tales of growth from hardship keep the nine tracks grounded firmly in reality. One for the late night over thinkers.

Essential listening: With The Shifts, take a hold’, ‘Grace Jones’

KEYAH/BLU

Don’t let the featherlight delivery of KEYAH/BLU’s words deceive you, there’s a quiet ferocity that courses through everything she does. When you have music that is inherently confrontational, whether that be confronting one’s own problems or modern injustices, delivered with the urgency of someone deciding on a snack from a vending machine, naturally, it breeds curiosity. The gravitational pull of her singular sound only grows stronger with every song and 2021’s ‘Icey Go’ with long-time collaborator Denzel Himself that puts her increasing versatility into full focus.

Essential listening: Sorry, I Forgot You Were Coming, ICY GO’, ‘Choker’

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