The ever-elusive Earl Sweatshirt returns with ‘SICK!’
Fresh off the woozy, disorientating “Feet of Clay” released in 2020, former Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt returns with “Sick!” – a record of reflection and resilience. Sweatshirt’s avant-garde approach to blending luxurious jazz samples with gritty rap has proven him to be a trailblazer, opening doors for peers Westside Gunn and Mach-Hommy. “Sick!” unravels a new-found clarity in his lyricism on a bed of impressive beats built by frequent collaborators, The Alchemist, Navy Blue and Black Noi$e. His infamous nonchalance glides across the 24-minute project to deliver a short yet contemplative body of work, basked in hope and courage.
“I came out the thicket smiling”, Earl declares on the opening track, Old Friend, establishing the tone of acceptance and balance on his fifth studio album. Dealing with themes of isolation, the track nods to a road of recovery from the pandemic, which acts as an overarching theme throughout the album. Estranged from his late poet father as a child and sent to a reform boarding school in the early stages of Odd Future, Earl is no stranger to illustrating his experiences of seclusion – cementing a confidence in his delivery.
We are then met by 2010, the first single release from the project. Earl is bright in his tone and flow, emphasising the optimism he encompasses in the new year. “Triumph over plight and immense loss” summarises this optimism perfectly, as he overcomes the hardships of the early 2020’s. Navy Blue conjures up a lo-fi beat for the title track Sick! as Earl’s reminiscent dizzy delivery soars. Vision is a stand-out track from the project, experimental yet familiar – its infectious trap beat pairs perfectly with Earl’s expert flow.
The reflective tone of the album is exemplified in Tabula Rose as Earl is joined by Armand Hammer to effortlessly rap over the nostalgic, soulful beat. “I’ve got so much” loops throughout the sample, as the rappers speak on their careers and the industry they find themselves wrapped up in. After the two longer tracks of Vision and Tabula Rose, shorter tracks follow to build up to the climax of Fire in the Hole. Earl’s closing verse takes centre stage amidst a rich guitar backdrop – slowly fading into a meditative piano instrumental.
In under half an hour, ‘SICK!’ is victorious in its precision to convey the state that Earl finds himself after the pandemic. Dealing with the dominant theme of life and death, the album is a triumphant road of recovery, effortlessly confident in its mission to deliver this. Naturally, the album is rid of the chaos that ensued on previous projects, a navigation of a clearer mindset for the rapper whilst still maintaining the quirkiness fans love him for.