Doc Zeus caught him at the red light – on Putnam Avenue and Franklin, where they used to heat up the cipher with a shot that was hyper than your average JFK sniper.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
The boy’s face has grown ragged. It has acquired the sunken jowls of someone who has been gone longer than eight months. Indeed, that was the last time we saw this baby-faced gremlin threaten to cut the arms off bloggers. We are sitting at a booth in one of those deserted, lonely diners that you only seem to find in the movies. His eyes dart rapidly around the room, scouring for some unknown menace, even though we’re alone save for the frumpy waitress serving us coffee. It’s as if we’re on the run from some unseen, powerful forces. Earl Sweatshirt, 17 years old and the missing member of the hottest group in rap music, Odd Future, is noticeably paranoid and trying to determine if this place is safe for us to talk.
The waitress brings us our food and it seems as if for a moment, she lingers on Earl as she hands him his pancakes. He tenses up every so slightly and his eyes follow her like a strung-out hawk coke fiend as she disappears back into the kitchen.
“Fuck this, “ he says as he leaps up from booth and starts to hustle towards the diner’s exit in the front. He’s out the front door and disappearing into the night on his bicycle before I can grab my coat and chase after him. Now what? My chance to discover the truth behind music’s most mysterious disappearance since Lauryn Hill’s sanity had just left me holding the check. Jesus Christ! Now what? I cursed as I headed back into the diner to pay off our tab. What or who was he so afraid of?
As the buzz and popularity around hip hop’s newest It group, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, has grown exponentially in recent months, the circumstances surrounding the absence of the group’s youngest member, Earl Sweatshirt, have become increasingly more bizarre and mysterious. With each innovative new video, each Jimmy Fallon appearance and each breathless, critical think-piece, Earl’s disappearance from the group has become increasingly more implausible. Earl’s debut album, Earl, was arguably the group’s most well-received effort thus his absence from the group as their popularity exploded was becoming increasingly difficult to comprehend.
Innuendo had bled into rumor and gossip had enjoyed a relationship based on casual sex. Every fan, critic and arm-chair commentator offered up their theory surrounding Earl’s puzzling disappearance. Had his religious parents sent him to boarding school upon hearing his music? Was he locked up for living out the rape fantasies that permeated his music? Boot camp? Scientologists? Government conspiracy? Aliens? The only thing we knew for sure was the rest of the group was simply not talking about his disappearance, electing to dodge and evade the question when asked by enterprising journalists. The truth behind his disappearance is far more bizarre and nefarious than anything that’s been previously leaked.
The mystery behind Earl’s disappearance ate at me on a personal level. It bothered me that no enterprising music journalist had taken it upon himself to track down the juiciest story in music in years and instead chose to waste their time writing endless think-pieces about the content of their music and the “sociological implications” that it entailed. After a nearly an endless stream of masturbatory ridiculousness regarding the innovative notion of violence in rap music, I finally realized that nobody was going to write this piece and if I wanted it done, I had to discover the truth.
I started searching school records, police blotters, Twitter feeds and garbage cans hoping that I could crack the DaVinci code surrounding Earl, but my efforts bared no fruit. Nothing. Nada. Snakes Eyes. At times, it seemed as if this kid had never existed at all. Even my efforts to find a government name or a simple birth certificate was met with a silence so deafening that it would make Beethoven cry. It was as if everything but his music had been erased from the planet. He had simply vanished.
I had almost given up on my search for Earl until emails started trickling in from a mysterious source that claimed that he knew what really happened to the teenage prodigy. The source had claimed that he had been following my work closely and I was being stonewalled by dark figures far beyond my control. I initially had ignored the emails obviously assuming it was a hoax until one evening as I was watching “Gossip Girl,” I received a message on GChat from somebody calling himself “LuperBoy94” who claimed that he had information vital to my search.
The following is transcript of the GChat conversation that took place on March 14, 2011:
9:51 PM LuperKid94: why havnt you been responding to my emails?
ChuckBasscot69: Shhhh. Dan and Blair are about to make out. Sooooo excited.
LuperKid94: u don’t believe me?
ChucBasscott69: I believe in nothing…except Josh Schwartz’s ability to produce
compelling television. GG is the bizness.
LuperKid94: U WANT TO KNOW WHERE EARL IS OR NOT?!?!
10:17 PM ChuckBasscot69: Okok. Why should I believe you?
10:19 PM LuperKid94: because im earl faggot!
meet me at tonys diner in riverside county in three days if you want to know the truth.
LuperKid94: tell no one. ur in grave danger.
Could this really be the boy that I was looking for? Or was somebody trying to play me? I couldn’t know for certain unless I went to California. For the next day, I feverishly debated whether or not I should make the trip. But there was something in his words that spoke of the truth; that I was talking to Earl Sweatshirt himself and he needed my help. I couldn’t ignore it.
After booking a hotel room, a rental car, and a flight to California on Priceline using my roommate’s “missing” credit card, I hopped on a plane and after I landed, I traveled a few lonely hours on a winding highway into the desert. The restaurant seemed to appear on the horizon, but as I drove on through the night towards destiny, it was as if my car could drive no closer. Time melted into oblivion. Finally, I pulled my car into the dusty parking lot. I slammed the car door shut, swallowed down the knot in my throat and walked into the diner. To my surprise, he was already waiting for me in one of the booths. It was Earl Sweatshirt, live in the flesh.
He certainly looked like hell. His cheeks were hallowed out and his eyes seemed to have sunk deep into the recesses of his skull. His eyes were dull, his skin grown pale and patches of prepubescent beard had begun to sprout across his sharpened jawline. I admit upon my first view of the young rapper, my mind concluded on drugs. I thought that Earl had fallen victim to the temptations of a burgeoning rock star lifestyle that many musicians succumb to upon reaching fame. Clearly, he must have been in rehab. In a way, it made sense. His bandmate’s reluctance to speak on the issue was clearly because they were protecting their youngest from the realities of a cruel media eager to feast on the pain of the fallen.
We sat in silence for a moment as we ordered our food and I searched for clues that would bolster my conclusions. Certainly, his shiftiness and the erratic way he spoke to habitual drug use. I began to ask if he had spoke with the rest of his crew or knew about the critical mass that was building around their success. To my surprise, he hadn’t. He hadn’t heard about the group’s appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” or the Billboard Cover or the 4.5 millions hits and counting that Tyler’s video for “Yonkers” has drawn on YouTube. Upon notice of each success, his only response was an amazed “Word?” I showed him “Yonkers” on my smartphone and midway through the video, Earl put his head in hands and started to cry. The sight of a seventeen year old break down in front of me was simply unbearable. I couldn’t take it and went to the bathroom so I could compose myself and prepare myself to ask the questions that was the reason for my journey.
I sat back down as the waitress delivered our food. I could instantly tell something was wrong. Earl was upright in his booth and noticeably more tense than how I left him. The tears were gone from his eyes and his eyes were searching the room for something. The waitress, a graying woman in her 50s, brought us at our food and there must have been something in the way she looked at him because when she disappeared into the back. Earl bolted out of his seat and was out the door before I could react. I chased after him but he was gone.
I cursed myself for not asking him the questions about where he was the last eight months when I had the chance. I went back into the diner and sat back down in the booth. I was no longer hungry so I called for the waitress to bring me my check. There was no answer. I called again. Still no answer. Curious. I decided that I didn’t want to wait so I reached into my pocket to scrounge out what I thought the bill would roughly cost which was when I discovered it in my pocket. I pulled out a crumpled slip of paper and started to unfold it in my hands.
It simply read:
Get out. Now.
It was then when I noticed the thick red pool oozing out of the kitchen door and into the dining room. Perhaps, it was fear or a momentarily lapse of my better judgment but I got of the booth and slowly started to creep towards the pool of blood forming at the base of the kitchen door. My heart banged violently against the cavity walls in my chest as I crept closer and closer to the kitchen. I pushed the door open and my heart leapt from my chest. The waitress was dead on the floor. Her head taken clean off the body.
My legs carried me faster out of the diner than I had ever ran in my life. My head felt numb and my body weak at the knees as if I was dreaming and my legs were giving out as the monster approached. Yet somehow I made it to my car, turned the ignition and left a trail of dust in the parking lot before I could even process what had happened. Where was I going? I hadn’t even checked in at the motel yet so I couldn’t go there. All I knew is I wanted to get as far away from the diner as possible. China seemed like a reasonable destination. I do like “Wonton Soup.” It must have been a 15 minutes of driving before I realized my cellphone was buzzing in my pocket. I had received a text message from an unknown number.
“Meet me at 243 Montrose Rd at midnight. Come alone. – Earl”
I was torn. It had not even been a half hour since Earl ran out of the diner and I discovered a bloody corpse left in his wake. Admittedly, I was terrified but I had come for the truth beyond Earl’s disappearance and it seemed that reality was inches beyond my reach. I turned the car around and headed back towards the town.
I waited in my car for an hour outside the burnt out factory that was 243 Montrose waiting for Earl to show up. My mind had started to significantly calm down and I began to wonder if this was, once again, just a hoax. After all, this was Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. A few weeks back, they had tricked venerable hip hop blogs (and their sworn blood enemies), Nah Right and 2dopeboyz, into posting viral ads for Tyler, the Creator’s upcoming album, Goblin, on their website without their knowledge. Could I have been victim of some gross publicity scheme for the group too? I began to grow angry with myself for believing in such ridiculousness. The emails? The clandestine meeting in the desert? A little too atmospheric and scripted to sneak by a jaded critic like myself. The waitress? Clearly, an actress hired by the record label. The dead body? Nothing but Hollywood trickery. I felt foolish for even falling for it for a second. It was at that moment when Earl appeared out of the darkness and rapped his hand against the windshield.
“Come on. I’ve got something to show you.”
Earl has to break a window and climb through to top open the door so we can get inside the building. Visibility was low but I sensed that there was something in the air that suggested the rot of despair existed here. Earl pushed us down some dark steps leading into the building’s basement. I gasped as we stepped into a gigantic room and my eyes stared in disbelief at what was before me.
“This is what happened to me,” Earl softly says as he turns away from the horror.
There were rows and rows of benches, tightly packed, stretching deep into the cavernous oblivion before me. A small, old-fashioned sewing machine sat perched upon each of the benches, waiting for some unfortunate soul to use them. I soon found the urge to vomit overcoming my body and the contents of my stomach spilled out on the floor. I was standing in the world’s largest sweatshop and every fiber of my being wanted to desperately to flee.
“He has to use children because they cram the benches in here too tightly for adults to be able to use them,” Earl solemnly declares. “Mostly runaways and orphans. Kids that nobody will come looking for them if they suddenly disappear. I can hear their cries even now. It’s hard to tell whats even real, anymore.”
He turns to face me to make sure that I listen intently to what he’s saying.
“It’s torture, man. He’s an animal. We don’t sleep. We barely eat. All we do is sit hunched over these machines, breaking our backs, as we make his suits. Those fucking hideous suits he wears.”
“Whose suits?” I finally asked.
“Don’t you see he must be stopped! He presents himself as this likable, everyman comedian but it’s just a front. His real business is the suits. That’s all he cares about. Fuck his syndicated radio show and the standup comedy tours. He won’t stop until we are all dressing in garish, checkered three-piece suits combo. It’s an obsession.”
I finally blurt out in desperation, “EARL! WHO ARE YOU TALKING About?”
“Steve Harvey. Duh.”
I found myself vomiting again. It had suddenly became so clear. Steve Harvey, noted comedian, actor, best-selling author, television & radio personality and atheism scold was responsible for the disappearance of Earl Sweatshirt, eight months ago shortly after the release of the video for his self-titled single, “Earl.” According to Earl, Harvey took umbrage with Odd Future’s chants of “Fuck Steve Harvey” in their songs and decided that one of them must pay for their sins. On a rainy evening in August, Earl was snatched from his bed in the middle of the night and brought to this sweatshop to work endless hours making garments for Harvey’s fashion line, the Steve Harvey Collection.
“Steve would often come to visit to and force some of the older kids to fight in death matches for their lives. The winner would supposedly win their freedom but we all knew better. Where do you think he gets that thick lustrous mustache hair?”
Earl starts to give me a tour of the facilities and shows me a wall where they would project a video of “The Original Kings Of Comedy” on an endless loop as a form of torture against the workers in the factory.
“He had the guards cut out the Bernie Mac stuff! Do you know what it’s like to watch D.L. Hughley do standup for 24 hours a day straight? I feel as if God raped my soul.”
We exit the building and start to walk back to my car where it kind of dawns on me. This all seems so surreal. I ask Earl about how he escaped and what happened to the other workers.
“There was a riot and I escaped in the confusion.” He says cryptically. “A lot of kids lost their lives but I can tell you this much…I ain’t never going back.”
MP3: Earl Sweatshirt-Earl