A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this music.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Earl is an ultraviolent, highly explicit teen rebel fantasy played out over the course of a dense and brilliant rap album. As with the rest of his Odd Future group mates (such as Tyler, The Creator), Earl Sweatshirt (only 15 and 16 years old when he wrote this record) relies on shock value and psychotic storytelling to grab the listener's attention, then uses his lyrical wizardry to reveal a deeper exploration of youth and skater-punk subculture. There is plenty to watch out for here, with every curse word under the sun making an appearance and graphic and offensive references to sex, violence, and drugs. Earl is not appropriate for kids. However, with parental approval, some very mature teens, particularly those with budding lyrical or rap inclinations, could find much to admire in the young prodigy's work.
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What's the story?
EARL is the debut mixtape from Earl Sweatshirt, the youngest member of Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future (also known as OFWGKTA). Written and recorded when Earl was only 15 and 16 years old, the tape attracted major buzz and received much critical acclaim, particularly in the blogosphere that embraced Odd Future's brash and over-the-top style and lauded Earl as the next great MC. The collection was originally released for free online via the group's Tumblr site, similar to much of OF's early catalog.
Is it any good?
Even putting aside Earl's precociousness, his virtuosity as a lyricist is stunning. His unmistakable deep, husky voice spits out rhyme after rhyme, his words an avalanche of tumbling metaphors and cultural references. Although some parents may be terrified of the often-shocking content of his songs, it's impossible not to marvel at the depth of his poetry and his ability to connect with angst-ridden teenagers bored with high school life. There's a true profundity here that is easily lost in all the rape and murder posturing, a sensitive kid who's clearly disillusioned with life and love: "She's gorgeous, when n----s see it, jaws hit the floor / so when she left, it didn't break my heart, it broke my torso / Making my eyes ache, stalking her MySpace / Posted a new pic, I mean it when I say that I f--king hate you, but / maybe if you looked in this direction / I'd pick my heart off the floor and put it in my chest then feel the f---king life, rushing through my body / but you got a guy, it's not me, so my wrist is looking sloppy." Since this tape was released in 2010, Sweatshirt has matured and improved immeasurably as an artist (and even a role model), with his studio album debut, 2013's Doris, providing a more adult window into a complex and creative mind.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the improbable rise of Odd Future. How did these high school kids with an Internet following become commercially viable rap stars? What does it say about the power of blogs and Tumblr?
Why do you think shocking or explicit lyrics can be tantalizing for young listeners? Do you think it's a legitimate outlet for rebellious teenagers? Does it resonate more since Earl himself is so young?
It's been more than 10 years since Eminem shocked the world with his version of "horrorcore." Why do you think people continue to be shocked and outraged over violently explicit content? Is it something children need to be protected from, or is it just another part of youth culture at this point?