Keorapetse Kgositsile, the father of acclaimed rapper Earl Sweatshirt, passed away Wednesday at the age of 79, reports SABC News. Known affectionately by his peers as Bra Willie, Kgositsile was a famed South African poet and professor, as well as a political activist who fought against apartheid.
After graduating from high school in Johannesburg, he began writing for the anti-apartheid newspaper New Age. That job, as well as his activism with the African National Congress liberation movement, led Kgositsile to flee the country in exile in 1962. Coming to the United States, he studied writing and literature at a number of universities, eventually graduating from Columbia with a Masters in Fine Arts (Creative Writing). While here, he developed a love for jazz, referencing the likes of John Coltrane, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday in his work. He also helped establish Harlem’s influential Black Arts Theatre.
Kgositsile returned to Africa in 1975, but did not go back to South Africa until 1990. In the interim, he helped the ANC found their Department of Education and Department of Arts and Culture, going on to become Deputry Secretary in 1987. He also taught at schools in Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, and elsewhere. It wasn’t until 1990 that he was able to publish his first book of poems in his native country, a collection entitled When the Clouds Clear. Kgositsile was later named South Africa’s Poet Laureate in 2006.
Though revered for his activism and writing, Kgositsile’s relationship with Earl Sweatshirt had been complicated. Kgositsile left Earl’s family when he was just six years old, and the two only reconnected in 2012. Earl has made numerous references to his father in his lyrics, referencing him as far back as the Odd Future cut “Blade” (“Shit, I’ll pass the class when my dad starts givin’ shits/ But as long as our relationship is turdless/ I’ma keep burning rubber and fucking these beats with burnt dick.”) More recently, on the I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside track “Grown Ups”, Earl said, “Love him, but my father ain’t my motherfucking friend/ Trying to figure out how to start a motherfucking end.”
Earl Sweatshirt is expected to release a new album this year, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it included a few bars about his late father.