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This or That? Shirt vs. Earl Sweatshirt vs. Preacher Earl

This week is a three-man fight to the death. An unfortunate rapper, a seemingly Xanax-prescribed rapper, and a forgotten rapper walk into a bar. One pretends that he’s drunk, one is already dozing off, and the other one breathes fire. Who do you think wins?

We start with Shirt, formerly Sweatshirt, the SEO-averse Queens rapper who you might have heard faked a New York Times article for attention recently. He’s maneuvered a marketing move or two before, while also keeping up the rapping, but none of it has gathered much fanfare, so score him a small chalk scratch for generating conversation. His new album is available on Soundcloud, and on the first song he proclaims his music to be, “art rap, I’m on my Gaga shit.” If you have to say outright you’re “art rap” (what is art rap?) without demonstrating whatever that is in your music, and then you compare yourself to Lady Gaga, why the f—k would anyone care? Didn’t you see how bad her album tanked?

On the very next song, he says, “Why you acting like you can’t tell the time? / Do anything for attention and you won’t get mine.” Hold up. This guy designed a phony New York Times website, interviewed himself, and broadcast it as if it was real. He can’t be serious. The song is even called “Stolen Norman Rockwells.” Sad faces for everyone. Jay-Z will not see you now.

Earl Sweatshirt, on the other hand, takes himself seriously. The easy transport between playfulness and gravity on his debut mixtape ‘Earl’ got people talking, and the mystery surrounding his subsequent disappearance from the public sustained that conversation as Odd Future gained momentum. It all seemed like an elaborate marketing scheme, but in fact there was nothing fake about it. His mother had sent him away to be a good boy, and it made him the most talked about rapper at the time.  His return was too big to ignore, and though it felt like he was going through the motions on ‘Doris,’ his presence on the mic forced the hip-hop community to pay attention to his music.

Preacher Earl never had that luxury. Here’s a quick story about how I found him. One night I was scouring the Internets (like the authentic white nerd that I am) for any and all Pretty Tone Capone songs. He was a member of the infamous Harlem rap group Mob Style, which included the original AZ, a.k.a. Azie Faison, a.k.a. Rich and Alpo’s boy, a.k.a. one of the men portrayed in the ‘Paid In Full’ movie. Pretty Tone (nickname sound familiar?) had a song, ‘Sexy,’ on a compilation called ‘On The Down Low Vol. 1,’ and as I scanned the tracklist, a name popped out – Preacher Earl and the Ministry. I had no idea who he was, but that’s a f—king rap name, ladies and gentlemen.

The song that was included on that tape, ’14 Floors to The Lobby,’ immediately struck me as the closest thing to an arcade game in song form. He recounts running down the stairs of his building on the morning of a school day, passing crack heads smoking, married couples fighting, kids rapping, and other characters. He makes it to the lobby only to be met by a ridiculing group of friends – turns out it’s a Saturday.

His penchant for telling a gripping story about running down stairs is incredible, and his songwriting ability applies to other songs throughout his short-lived career. His best known (read: only) single was ‘Return of the Body Snatcha,’ and if you think Lil’ B was blasphemous for shooting “Look Like Jesus” in a church, you’re gonna love Earl’s video – he’s a priest who waves a handgun on the pulpit, busts steel in the holy space, and even passes the collection plate around with a gat in it. I’ve never seen anything like it. The b-side, of course, is called ‘Gunz.’

Hailing from the Bronx, Earl had a working relationship with Greg Nice, who produced “Return of the Body Snatcha” and two Phat Doug songs that feature the Preacher, ‘Hands Up High’ and ‘Don’t Talk Me To Death.’ Earl featured on ‘Down The Line’ from Nice & Smooth’s 1991 album ‘Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed’, and he also worked with Tim Dog on at least one song from 1993, ‘Grab Your Gat’ although he only acts as Tim’s hypeman.

His best work, however, was from the 1996 compilation ‘On The Down Low Vol. 2.’ The CD version featured two Preacher Earl songs, ‘Fool I Got Your Back’ and ‘Blessed With My Daughter,’ and although neither has a producer credited, J-Zone had his first production placement with ‘Fool I Got Your Back,’ which he confirmed in the comments of Ego Trip years ago. That song is blissfully smoked out as Earl pledges his loyalty to a friend with gray skies at their backs, and ‘Blessed With My Daughter’ finds the preacher weighing his life of crime against the responsibility of being a father to his seed. Both songs are touching, personal tales that show rare charm for a gun-toting clergyman. It’s all the more bittersweet because he never came out with an official project – all we have is scattered features and singles of his work. Maybe someone can put One Leg Up Records in touch with Earl in the hopes of cleaning up some of his older material for a proper release.

Let’s recap: Shirt needs a new gimmick, Earl Sweatshirt needs to get excited about rap again, and Preacher Earl is the best of the three. Next time you visit a temple of worship, be thankful that those in charge aren’t toting weapons.

 

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