Earl Sweatshirt (Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, born February 24, 1994) is one of the spryest rap minds alive. As LA's unassuming imp-laureate, he goes as far in as he does out, dispensing words from the city's canon like they were preprogrammed in his brain. Stemming from the Odd Future conglomerate, Sweatshirt hangs meaning in beats and inflections that appear nonchalant at first. In "Hive," he casts patterns like lattice work: "Desolate testaments trying to stay Jekyll-ish/But most niggas Hyde, and Brenda just stay pregnant/Breaking news: Death's less important when the Lakers lose/It's lead in that baby food, heads try to make it through." Sweatshirt's Columbia Records release Doris doesn't fool you into listening, it lulls you in. Once you're within his murk, Sweatshirt's words hook you.
When Sweatshirt called, he said he didn't feel like talking. He'd done too many interviews. So I read him the following nightmare instead:
In the autumn of 1961, Doris died while reading the last sentence of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". She lived on Logan Circle in Washington, DC, near the Shaw neighborhood, three miles northeast of a Chesapeake Bay canal. "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more!" The last sentence of "The Tell-Tale Heart" reads, "I admit the deed!—tear up the planks! here, here!—it is the beating of this hideous heart!" Doris read it and passed away with a red pen in her hand. She always read with a red felt-tip pen in her hand, for underlining important passages.
Doris was also paranoid about fleas. She was paranoid her expensive dhurrie rug was going to become infested, even though she didn't own a dog or cat. When she was a child, her blind, cold, concrete-souled father, Golf, had forbid her to have a pet. Golf lost his eyes during WWI at the battle of Saint-Mihiel. A German bayonet nearly took his face off. Doctors grafted skin from his ass onto his cheek and left him with a permanent scowl. Golf was why Doris hated fleas. He made her feel filthy for liking animals. He'd tell her, "You bring a pet in this house, I'll kill it. We'll get fleas! Fleas are vile devils. Never in this house. Never!"
When her brother Thebe found her body, her red pen was still her grasp. It was a good pen. Thebe taught high school English and always needed pens, so when he cleaned her room after the funeral, he put it in his pocket. Two mornings later, he sat down to grade essays with it, but as soon as he touched the pen to paper to make a correction, he was struck blind. The pen started writing on its own, controlling his arm and hand.
Thebe was powerless. When he tried to pull his arm back to stop, bayonet pain ran through his eye sockets. Thebe wrote blindly, foaming across the desk and onto the floor. After seven lengths back and forth across the carpet, his hand stopped writing. He dropped the pen and could see again. He stood looking at the last words he wrote: This hideous heart. Thebe saw the rest of the carpet. The pen had written Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" word for word.
Thebe was a sane, tenured, competent man. People depended on him. He didn't know the Poe story word for word. He looked out the window, and in a flash, saw Doris in a German uniform stabbing Golf in the eyes with a bayonet. She was screaming, "Der teufel! Devils! Filthy dog!" Suddenly, a wrecking, imploding sensation hit his chest, and Thebe turned into a flea.
He tried to speak, but he couldn't. He tried to run but could only twitch. Thebe had a thorax and antennae. He was hard and polished, with tiny spines around his head and mouth. He was two millimeters long. On his flea legs, he didn't know how to move. Was this mad cow disease?
Three days passed. He taught himself how to hop and scuttle-walk on his exo-legs. The rug was a desert plane; the haunted pen, the size of a 737. Using its "tarsi feet," a flea can jump vertically up to seven inches, and horizontally up to 13 inches. He began to worry about his job, and his students. But Thebe was a flea, an ectoparasite, and he was hungry. He needed blood.
On the fourth day, someone came in the room—the principal from his school, Sydney Loren Bennett. She looked at the red ink all over the room and turned around to leave. On her last step out of the room, Thebe sprang into the cuff of her slacks from 10 inches away. Inside the cuff was a violent ride. Bennett got in her car, drove home, and walked into her kitchen where her partner was eating. Chicken and soup. Thebe hungered, but was afraid to emerge.
He waited until Bennett was asleep to come out of the cuff. The pants had been folded over a chair in the bedroom, and the sheets hanging off the bed made it easy to climb up. Thebe found a nice spot on the principle's calf to sink his stabber into. Bennett didn't flinch. Finally, blood. Syrup. Platelets. Bennett was a Columbia psychology grad—her blood was a warm, salty, graduate-level nectar. After feeding, Thebe retreated to a corner under the bed, hidden and protected.
Two weeks went by, coming out at night to feed. Sometimes he'd tap Bennett's partner. Her blood was sweeter. This life as a flea was boring. A month passed. Bennett and her partner occasionally scratched at their bite marks but never noticed. Thebe's highlight was their sex life, when they role-played as Siamese dominatrix Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatters. They sounded like hyenas when they orgasmed.
Six months as a flea, and Thebe only thought in terms of blood, settling into a rhythm of feeding. He slept deeply, embedded into the carpet under the bed, and dreamt of Jupiter's moons—way out, orbiting like bubbles in the black tourmaline void of nothingness. When the Bennetts had people over for cocktails, Thebe would feed on the guests. Their friends from Madrid were his favorite—they had zesty blood. Bennett's niece was nice too; all she ate was Junior Mints. She tasted like a Christmas tree.
After a year, Thebe was ready to leave the house and try his hand as a flea in the world at large. He wanted more. He overheard Bennett say she was taking students on a class trip to the White House. And it hit him: There were advantages to being the size of a flea—places one could go without detection. The White House. He'd ride inside Bennett's pant cuff to the White House, jump out, and find JFK and Jacqueline's bedroom. He'd ingest presidential blood. He'd listen to secrets of the world, and feed on power-ripened global-leader blood. Maybe Marilyn Monroe would come over for sex with JFK in the hot tub. Thebe could hide in her towel and plunge into the red carpet slab of her lustrous thigh when she dried off. Maybe Nikita Khrushchev would visit the White House, with real Russian vodka in his system.
The day of Bennett's White House trip came, and the plan went off unhitched. He scoured the rooms until he found the biggest one, with the biggest bed. Maybe JFK and Jacqueline role-played Alice in Wonderland sex, too. JFK didn't seem like a Mad Hatter hyena orgasming guy, though. He pictured JFK orgasming more as the Tin Man.
The next morning, Thebe woke from Jupiter dreams to voices he recognized from the news. It was the President and the First Lady getting out of the bed. JFK ordered coffee and eggs over a phone, and said something about the Apollo astronauts. Then he went into the bathroom to take his presidential morning piss. Up the sheets Thebe climbed, around the pillow to get a better angle on Jacqueline. He was inches from First Lady blood. Motherfucking rivers of cherry wine. Her legs stretched out like mountains.
He was about to stab her when she said, "Johnny, I've been studying my German for our trip to see Khrushchev in Vienna. Johnny, you've got to get them to take down that wall. That thing's a scar on humanity. Khrushchev is a devil. A der teufel."
Then Thebe heard his father's voice say, "Der teufel!" in a German accent, and Thebe changed from a flea back into a man. Thebe lay there nude on the bed next to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. It was the beating of his hideous heart. Her scream pierced as she jumped up. JFK ran back in, and within seconds, there were three Secret Service agents pointing pistols at his head. Thebe said, "No, see, I was a flea. I just wanted y'all's blood because it's powerful and shit." THE END.
Sweatshirt: So he didn't get her blood? That's bullshit. What happens next?
Jacqueline Kennedy says, "Der teufel," again, and Thebe changes back into a flea. He hides in JFK's pocket and gets out when they're onboard Air Force One flying to see Khrushchev in Vienna. Marilyn Monroe is going with them as part of a goodwill mission for some troops. Thebe feeds on Marilyn's blood, and it blows his mind. With his body full, he gets sucked into the plane's ventilation system and jettisoned out into the atmosphere through a duct 30,000 feet up. The blood makes him hallucinate. While he drifts through the sky, he hallucinates he and Monroe star in an epic movie, filmed on the Nile River, like Cleopatra. They fall in love, off-camera, and she ends up giving birth to their seven children. They live happily ever after and shit. Thebe the flea ends up dying, though, because it's too cold 30,000 feet up. His practically weightless flea body falls through the air, sailing on a high-pressure front until it lands on the exact spot of the battlefield in Saint-Mihiel, France, where his father, Golf, was blinded by the bayonet. THE END AGAIN.
Sweatshirt: That's fucked up. Full-on. At least he got some good blood. Nile River, that's that. Happily ever after. Merry fucking Christmas.