At one point between songs during his performance at The Sinclair on Sunday night, Earl Sweatshirt announced that earlier that day he’d just been nominated for a BET Award. The sold-out crowd roared in approval; he did not.
“Don’t cheer that! It’s 2013!” he said in apparent disbelief. And while eschewing mainstream approval is nothing new for a rapper, particularly one as sly and subversive as Odd Future’s 19-year old lyricist-in-chief, by the end of the loose hourlong set, his sentiments felt wholly sincere.
In the most complementary of ways, Earl’s performance felt untainted by the group’s rise to cultural phenomenon status: With no introduction, he casually strolled on stage eating an apple to talk trash about his DJ Taco’s song selection in warming up the crowd, before launching into the rumbling menace of “Kill” from his debut mixtape. The groaning bass
fueling “Hive” helped spark crowd surfing and stage diving, with Earl delivering his intricate verses while dodging stage divers until finally halting the invasion (”You guys can get up here! We get it!” he quipped).
Rather than watching a polished veteran go through the well-rehearsed motions, the pleasure was found in seeing Earl figure things out on the fly: Operating without a firm set list while cracking jokes with Taco and costar Vince Staples, he had the crowd chanting the unprintable chorus of “Molasses” and snapping their necks to “Whoa.” As considerable as Earl’s talent is, his spontaneous and engaging stage presence has proved just as important.