Blood is Thicker Than Mud: Earl Sweatshirt and Cheryl Harris at the MOCA
LOS ANGELES, CA- When you’re around the dinner table with family this holiday season, passing steaming sides of sweet potatoes and asparagus, you might be inclined to strike up a conversation. You could discuss the latest miscues at work, the dog’s upcoming appointments, Uncle Danny’s total capitulation in fantasy football, sure. All of these would work. But what about the unsalvageable sinking ship of capitalism, rap as modern slave music, the inherent bias built into the coding of all man-made technology?
These are exactly the topics that artist Earl Sweatshirt and his mother Cheryl Harris will likely be discussing. Or rather, they would have discussed, if they hadn’t had the opportunity to dive into them with the audience gathered at The Geffen within the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). On December 7th, the pair brought the kitchen table talk to an audience, hosting an un-moderated, sometimes meandering talk that put a rapper of Odd Future origins face to face with a professor of Critical Race Theory.
Earl Sweatshirt, born Thebe Kgositsile, hosted the talk as part of an ongoing series of Los Angeles events centered around his November EP, Feet of Clay. He was joined by his mother, who currently sits as a chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at UCLA School of Law.
Earl credits one of those classic family chats with mom—a particular one about vulnerability—for engendering the title of his most recent 7 track release.
“One of the things to try to keep in mind is that [with] people that are elevated or given positions or admired or put on pedestals…we all have feet of clay,” Harris said, recalling the conversation in question.
“Some weakness, some struggle, something that we have to push against in order to realize who we are… we are desperate to find something that can lead us forward…ultimately our fight is ours. It has to rest with us. It has to be from us. Because inevitably, we all have feet of clay.”
The phrase itself comes from the Book of Daniel, as the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, is interpreted as a premonition of the downfall of his kingdom. Statues built of the finest things were still given feet of mud, doomed to crumble at their point of weakness.
Earl’s EP takes on modern society at large, in which the magnitude of such fatal flaws can lead to questions like the one he offered on stage, in a moment of silence:
“What do you think for America?”
Harris pauses, letting him bring the crowd to their wavelength.
“That’s what I asked you, after the election. Is this shit savable?”
“And what did I tell you? I told you ‘no.’ Not the easiest answer to give your son.”
During the talk, it becomes evident that, for both of them, the essential work is not in saving what is doomed, but with creating something true.
Earl delivered one of the event’s most resonant points, turning to the diverse millennial crowd with a note on apathy.
“Once the cognitive dissonance was shattered, once I started looking at things as they are, I got very depressed. I think it happens, I think it’s very normal for everyone. But I think if the world is a dumpster fire, you gon’ feel really bad if you not taking you a bucket of water and throwing it on something.”
Harris offers the group something else to think about, an addendum to her earlier truth-telling:
“What do we build?”
The loose and unstructured talk eventually shifted from Earl’s own work, and the deep pride his mother has for his craft, to Harris’s own musical taste (Nina Simone on the queue). The pair touched on social media and cryptocurrency, tracing back the knotted ropes that tie future tech to slavery, before taking on a short Q & A exchange.
While a tangled nexus of social issues were touched on, the event’s texture came from the pair’s dynamics, a deferential son and a mother warmed with admiration. Earl was sometimes a man of few words (fitting given his current creative streak that hinges on the sub-2-minute track). His comments came in flashes of cultural theory; like embers of a thoughtful upbringing, stoked suddenly but burning into the conscience— remind you of his songs yet? Harris deftly steered the afternoon, giving context to private conversations.
She knows all too well that current radio sounds and scholarly debate are both two paths being carved out of piles of our past refuse, paths on the way to building something new, the essential something true.
“Part of the task of the musician, or the artist, is to unbury that history and to bring it out,” Harris said.
“So much of what you, Thebe, talk about is what’s happening in your life right now, and that might not seem to people like history, but it is. If you actually look at how the relationships are, look at what’s possible, look at what’s not possible, look at connections that are interrupted or not committed, like what street you can walk down and feel free… those are reflections of and aspects of the legacy that you live.”