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For years the rumor swirled, stoked occasionally by the artists it concerned: there existed a secret, never-before-heard album from the rappers Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist, and it hid in plain sight. As of midnight, the album isn’t only confirmed to exist; it is now available to stream and own via Gala Music.
Prior to tonight’s surprise announcement, Earl—the one-time precocious teenage collaborator of Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean—last officially spoke of the album in 2021, when he told followers that it had long since been posted to YouTube with a burner account, where it featured an elaborately crafted fake album title, cover, and tracklist. Fans searched desperately for the work; it was never found.
A lot of people—even those who spent untold months trawling YouTube’s 800 million uploads for a video supposedly identifiable only by its lack of reference to Earl Sweatshirt—wondered whether the album even really existed. But that mystery was kind of the point, or at least a part of the point. In Earl-World, objective truth is often elusive.
The time has come!🙌
Listen to the entire album: https://t.co/fbUjCOxpGV
Ready to cop this piece of history? Set an alarm as the album drops today at 12:00pm ET… pic.twitter.com/p0cRKiIzLn
— Gala Music (@GoGalaMusic) August 25, 2023
The artist’s songs have long defied categorization, flipping from deceptively funny to unexpectedly depressing on a dime; his distinctive lyrics, densely packed poetic musings, construct vividly abstract visual collages that resist literal interpretation. As a performer, Earl employs layer upon layer of deadpan and irony. He’s always in on some sort of joke; his loyal followers are often left hoping that they are, too.
So last week, when a series of cryptic clues started dropping from the sky, seemingly teasing the ever-elusive Earl/Alchemist album, the first reaction of many fans was caution. Earl was embarking on a mad-dash, weeklong international tour to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of his first album, “Doris.”
QR codes on the back of price tags for the tour’s merch directed people to a website called Gala, where a screenshot of a tweet from The Alchemist read: “SPEAK THE TRUTH.” The Earl Sweatshirt subreddit blew up in a speculative frenzy, but guarded skepticism prevailed.
“I just don’t want to get my hopes up,” one user wrote.
Gala Music is an NFT-backed, decentralized streaming platform—so theoretically, new music could be coming. But Earl hated NFTs. Or, didn’t he? One Reddit user swore that back in 2022, at a concert in Denver, he had heard Earl announce a plan to drop 10,000 R&B NFTs. But the user wasn’t sure he hadn’t hallucinated the remark; further, most fans agreed that if the comment had been made, it was certainly a joke. Earl would never actually touch the blockchain.
“Learn what sarcasm is bro. It'll help you in life,” one commenter chided.
But the clues kept raining down. At the first stop of Earl’s “Doris” tour, in downtown Los Angeles, fans found more mysterious QR codes, taped everywhere, that they could scan to receive free concert posters. Over half of the show’s 2,000 attendees did so. Those posters led back to the Gala site once again (music.gala.com/hahaha), which now featured riddles that, if answered correctly, offered access to several more vague posts, including allusions to the legal phrase “Voir Dire” and GPS coordinates to a jazz venue in London.
Over the next four days, at “Doris” anniversary concerts in Chicago and New York, the mystery continued to unfurl—more posters and more clues. On Monday, a successfully solved crossword puzzle revealed a track list for an album called “Voir Dire,” apparently cementing its existence. But by that point, the foreplay was becoming excruciating for some.
“Proof or fuck off NOW,” one Earl fan begged in exasperation.
Earl, for his part, wasn’t helping in terms of clarity. Towards the end of the LA concert, which featured prolonged cameos from “Doris” collaborators including Tyler, the Creator and Vince Staples, The Alchemist took the stage to delirious applause. Perhaps the two might address the hubbub? No; The Alchemist approached Earl silently with a large cake, let Earl blow out the candles, and then walked promptly back off stage, grinning, without uttering a single word.
The panic finally cleared at midnight ET today, when the entire 11-track “Voir Dire” album—yes, the very same secretly crafted years ago by Earl and The Alchemist—dropped on Gala, where it will stream exclusively.
The 4,000-something concertgoers who scanned QR codes this week to nab “Doris” posters will soon find out, if they haven’t already, that they now hold wallets on Gala, which each contain a limited edition NFT of a “Voir Dire” track. A total of 1,000 NFTs exist for each track, adding up to 11,000 overall—a few more than Earl supposedly promised last year in Denver.
Any NFTs unclaimed by scavenger hunt participants are set to go on sale today for $225 apiece, although anyone with a free Gala account can stream the album without buying it.
Owners of “Voir Dire” NFTs can use them to earn rewards on Gala, by pairing the on-chain digital tracks with a node that will stream the songs to the masses via Gala’s decentralized user network. Gala rewards can now be exchanged for numerous live experiences, including featuring in one of Earl’s music videos, FaceTiming him and The Alchemist, or potentially (pending some legal clarity) getting smoked out by the duo.
It’s unknown to what degree Earl’s fanbase will engage with Gala’s tokenized ecosystem. But if they want to listen to “Voir Dire,” there’s only one place they can go to hear the whole thing. A single from the album, “Sentry,” featuring the rapper Mike, dropped today on traditional streaming platforms.
That type of direct engagement with mass audiences is rare in the ecosystem of crypto-backed media enterprises, which have struggled in the last few years to onboard users beyond the insulated bubble of die-hard decentralization enthusiasts.
Gala Head of Partnerships Julian Khalifa, who helped launch the “Voir Dire” collaboration, sees the experiment as something of a path forward for crypto-affiliated media projects looking to make a material impact on mass culture.
“It should be about the music first, the culture first, the fan-artist connection first,” Khalifa said. “Most of these fans don't realize that they're interacting with a Web3 platform. A lot of fans might be turned off if we were talking about NFTs and wallets. And that's perfectly fine.”
Khalifa believes, however, that once Earl Sweatshirt fans experience firsthand the benefits of a more direct relationship with their musical idol and his creative process, they might be converted.
“This technology can create a fuller music experience,” he said. “These are things I don't think any other Web3 companies are doing, but also that no other tech company or music company is doing.”
It makes sense why Gala would want to partner with an artist like Earl Sweatshirt, given the authenticity of his ethos and the zeal of his fanbase. But why did Earl partner with Gala?
Surely, had the rapper dropped “Voir Dire” on any traditional platform, even with zero warning, Earl-World would have lost its mind. So why the scavenger hunt, why the blockchain element, and why all of this during an unusually hectic tour for an unrelated album?
Does Earl care about decentralization? Does he want a more direct relationship with his fans? Or… this isn’t all an elaborate bit, is it?
For several days, this reporter attempted to contact Earl Sweatshirt through numerous intermediaries, in pursuit of answers to any of those questions. Only just before publication, as Earl flew from New York to London for the final stop of the “Doris” anniversary tour, did the rapper's team communicate a single-sentence explanation.
“They didn’t find the album on YouTube,” the message read.
After tonight’s London performance of “Doris,” at KOKO in Camden Town, Earl is set to head to the nearby Jazz Cafe—located at the GPS coordinates teased in a clue earlier this week—to debut “Voir Dire” live with The Alchemist. The public is invited to attend; some may still have to go and see it to believe it.
Editor's note: This article was updated after publication to clarify attribution of a quote.