Earl Sweatshirt's Nowhere, Nobody Co-director Explains Those Symbolic Statues And More
Nowhere, Nobody is a film that treats voice like a weapon, choosing to instead revel in silence. Earl Sweatshirt released the eight-minute experimental film last week as a companion to a 2019 tour announcement, and rather than offer mouthy explanations of legacy and idolization, the clip sees Earl, his doppelgänger LaDiamond Blue, and others confront the cleanliness of statues and seek solace in silence. The visual incorporates selections from his latest album, Some Rap Songs, which dropped in November and details the mental labyrinth of emotions he’s entangled in as he works to repair his psyche and understand the spiritual imprint left behind by his father, South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who died in January of 2018.
But Nowhere, Nobody isn’t a tidy explanation of Earl’s feelings, nor is it a cut-and-dry explanation of bearing a poet’s burden on his shoulders. “Aye 1 thing y'all not finna contextualize the video as ‘earl tries to figure out his father's legacy,’” he tweeted after the video’s release. “I feel like the fact that my relationship with my father is LAYERS AND LAYERS deeper than y'all relationship with me and my father gets overlooked.” To help explore those layers, Earl, (born Thebe Kgositsile), got help from co-directors Naima Ramos-Chapman and Terence Nance, who currently work together on HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness. Ramos-Chapman made contact with Earl about the idea.
“Thebe heard out my vision and we had just a long conversation about what was feeling very present for us in this moment, and I’m very thankful for his trust,” she told MTV News. “Gio Escobar [of experimental hip-hop collective Standing on the Corner] gave us some seventh-dimensional knowledge and then Terrence and myself wrote and broke down the script.” She kept Random Acts of Flyness team members around to help execute the film.
For Ramos-Chapman, the film’s personal, yet graftable message also retains some resemblance to her own life. “I listened to Thebe’s album over and over again and just let the songs move me to come up with some images that felt very connected to my own experiences, also some of what was lyricized on the album,” she said. Earl, who’s at the center of the film, played a large part in its creation, speaking as much in person as through his music. “Thebe was very much a part of the process,” she revealed. “We had maybe one thorough conversation, but even when we weren’t speaking, he spoke to us through the record. He’s a true artist who respects artists’ wishes and he let Terence and I do our thing.”
Over the course of Nowhere, Nobody’s vast eight minutes, many things happen, although sometimes, it feels like nothing is happening at all. Earl’s an irate coach for a kids’ basketball team. His mother paints a baby statue green. Earl brushes branches off of a statue while holding hand statues, and Earl’s female doppelgänger later swipes branches away from a living man who looks nearly identical to the statue. It’s here where Naima works to keep the mysterious air of the visual, leaving it for the viewer to decide what’s going on.
To answer the question of the significance of the statues, she offers three questions in its place: “Why do we erect things in our image that we think will last the ages? What does end up lasting in the end? Can you be touched by something that happened in your future?” These statues show up in pieces, never whole. She does offer some clarification to the identities of these busts, though. “The statues were of Thebe, the man bathing him, and the mother,” she said.
Nowhere, Nobody is a mostly quiet affair letting the onscreen characters bask in the world while carrying its weight. But the silence is punctuated on a couple of occasions — the jumbled beat that begins “Nowhere2go,” the opening of “Red Water,” the smooth frustration of “Shattered Dreams,” the expression of claiming a father’s image in “Azucar.” These selections were carefully curated. “We picked what lines we felt cling to us the hardest,” Ramos-Chapman said. “Terence played a heavy role in this as well. I kind of go off of how I sonically feel versus what is being said.”
The film’s ending is perhaps its most concrete moment. A collection of hand statues sit encased in a coffin that’s draped with the South African flag, a clear homage to the death of his father. “There is some fascination that I have to concretize our image and create objects that have talismanic effect and hold power, evoke memory, and create voids for imagining into worlds you can’t quite see fully,” she said.
Ultimately, though, Ramos-Chapman encourages viewers to draw from it what they will to get a satisfactory answer. “I like to leave the meaning up to the people,” she said. “You either get it, or you don’t. It’s half the fun – coming up with what I think is the most resonant charge for me. I think that if you read up on Thebe, listen to Some Rap Songs, and watch closely, then you know what it’s about.”