I had lost 12 lbs before realizing what had happened. I hadn’t gone to class in 2 months and I am very good at lying to my family and friends about the reality of my depression. It’s apart of my story and something I purport to be above all at the same time. But like most of my favorite artists, it creeps back up when you least expect it. When you have no time for it.
Mental illness in the abstract and literal are hard to grapple with, speak about, exist with and see in others. Like most music writers, my love for my favorite artists is fueled by a personal narrative that is hard to let go and keeps me coming back to blank Google Docs to speak into the void about music that has shaped my life. It is through music that we find a soundtrack to our lives that we didn’t know we needed.
My love for Earl Sweatshirt’s music showed up again recently, in conversation about the best rappers and I somehow allowed myself to forget about his work. The consensus was that he had “fallen off” and that he was “hurting his brand” by canceling shows in light of his father’s most recent passing. So I went back and heard “Balance” ft. Knxledge, a ballad that placed Earl and I again in the same place. Still, scared, numb and aware of the smoke but not willing to call it fire.
I’ve been trying tell a different story/
Find Balance and I’m tippin off/
Watch the wall collide with my fist/
Mostly over problems that I know I could fix/
In the four years since I met Earl, he has released two critically acclaimed albums Doris (2013) and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015) both are stories of Sweatshirt navigating himself as an artist and voice for his reality. “I feel like this is my first album. This the first thing I’ve said that I fully stand behind, the good and the bad of it. I’ve never been this transparent with myself or with my music.” said Sweatshirt in regards to his latest 2015 album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
I was 18 when I met Earl Sweatshirt. I had finessed an internship with a promoter who was hosting Sweatshirt in Charlotte, NC. He was smarter than everyone and had an aura of carefree energy that I earned to understand. Earl and the entire Odd Future squad was the subculture I fell into, a group of fucked up black kids looking to make white people uncomfortable and warp the industry. Odd Future gave me and a lot of black kids in the early 2010’s what we couldn’t find on the radio, space to be boastful, in love and depressed all at once.
Most of my heroes are/were just as fucked up as me. In high school, all I listened to was, Kid Cudi, Odd Future, Phony Ppl, and Frank Ocean who all gave me the language to the depression I couldn’t name at 16 years old. I just knew to sleep 16 hours a day wasn’t what most people did. There have been many times in my life that I think I have defeated depression, whether it be through accomplishments and visibility. I tell myself I’ve conquered the thing that chokes me but that’s not true. In reality, it changes; one year it’s not eating, another year it’s smoking weed all winter break, this year it’s avoiding writing because I feel disconnected from my own voice. I have never defeated depression, she simply molds herself a new body. A new grip around my neck that becomes easier to ignore day by day. That’s where we connect, Earl and I, as two young people facing mental illness and trying to navigate a world that deems us useless for not being as productive as everyone else. When capitalism and anxiety collide, it stops and starts us every day. We are a spoiled talent that folks will speak of in whispered conversations about the ones who could’ve been great.
It isn’t productive to be ill or fun. You become a master at excuses and avoiding the reality of what your world is. It’s a dichotomy you can’t avoid but somehow still end up in every day, in my case avoiding writing but always having ideas, a vicious cycle of the ego building and cutting you down at every turn.
There are no answers, there are no simple solutions to the things that nobody wants to discuss except to believe and hope that passion will get us through it. That the love for what makes you happy will get you out of bed today even if I know that isn’t always true. I hope that Earl Sweatshirt is okay, even if he never makes another album or even if he never gives us another verse. I hope that he still gets excited about his work. That we all can live in a world that cares more about people than their ability to produce music, articles or content at the expense of their mental health.
While I’m no longer the Odd Future obsessed highschooler listening to the latest OF album off of Ayinde’s Zune, in a lot of ways I still am. I’m still writing album reviews at 3 AM, downloading albums illegally and praying that there is a better world in the future that has space for kids like me.