Review: Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!

Earl Sweatshirt has been one of the most interesting and dynamic rappers to come in our time. Hailing from the Odd Future camp and making waves with his 2010 mix tape, Earl, he would later on garner much greater critical acclaim for his future albums, such as Doris in 2013, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside in 2015 and Some Rap Songs in 2018, which I put on my top albums list that year.

In between those years, Earl has gone through some stuff from the whole boarding school business in his younger days to his father Keorapetse Kgositsile, a South African poet and political activist, passing away in 2018; additionally he got sober and became a father last year. Music-wise, after releasing 3 albums on his imprint Tan Cressida under Columbia Records, he moved the label on over to Warner Records as he was “excited to be free because then [he] can do riskier shit.” He tested the waters with his EP Free of Clay in 2019, and 3 years later (as well as after contributing guest features to albums by Armand Hammer, Navy Blue, The Alchemist, etc.), he’s back with his 4th LP, SICK!

Clocking in at a lean 24 minutes with varied production from Black Noi$e, The Alchemist, and Samiyam among others as well as features from frequent collaborators Armand Hammer and Zelooperz, did this album cure me or did it make me SICK!(?)

Well, the album does have the sick motif going for it given that it was recorded in the wake of the pandemic… you know, the one that’s STILL going! It opens with the track “Old Friend” containing minimal but menacing production from The Alchemist, referencing the on-going pandemic including cabin fever (Fever in the cabin) and how one of the few things helping him in isolation is weed. There are a lot of metaphors throughout this album, especially ones about fish.

Strong spirit where the body couldn’t get asylum
The cost of living high, don’t cross the picket line and get the virus
Wild cat has got ’em in a bind, stay inside
Know I came from out the thicket smilin’

Most of these tracks have Earl just spitting some bars, and considering most of these are pretty short, they still hold up, like this verse from “2010”….

I’ma need a bigger bag for the cohort
Tryna make a millionaire out of slum dogs

Bet that, head crack, blunt force
Cozy with the east Africans up north
Where seven make a three, turn a ten by law
Crescent moon wink, when I blinked it was gone
Left the crib, smacked, no sheath on the sword
Made it by the skin of my teeth, thank God

’03, momma rockin’ Liz Claiborne
Had her stressin’ up the wall playin’ Mary J. songs
Rainy day came, couldn’t rinse the stains off

Some would say that it’s an homage to the late Mac MIller’s track “2009,” as that was the year that MIller released his breakthrough mixtape Kids and Earl released his breakthrough mixtape Earl in 2010. The title track does offer bars like “Somethin’ gotta give, spin another web / Head home, mess with Fisk, like I’m Spider-Man” and features a snippet from Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti from the documentary Konkombe: The Nigerian Pop Music Scene.

Then in comes the 2 longer tracks (by longer, I mean 4 min.) of the album and also the only 2 tracks with features on them. Zelooperz does well on “Vision” and shines like jew-els… no really, that’s one of his bars on here, and if it wasn’t for his flow on this song it would’ve sounded very stupid. “Tabula Rasa”, which is Latin for ‘blank slate’ (born without mental knowledge), features the duo Armand Hammer, and all three rappers get their time to show off on here. “Titanic” is where Earl is working a good flow on production that is almost trap-like but not entirely as it still has some weirdness to it, especially in the lyrics which features an MF DOOM reference partway through. Then there’s the final track “Fire in the Hole” which ends on a smooth, chill, guitar-laden beat.

Give it to you straight, no frills
What I think might pay the bills
Spit on the cam like Makaveli (Fuck y’all, that’s my shit)
Came home in the 2011
Pasadena, John calling me Relly

Mask on like a supervillain
Daniel, who you in the den with? Lion

Sonic-wise, the album does have good and varied production, mostly what we expect from an Earl project sans any Spongebob-sounding beat like he did with “East” on the Feet of Clay EP. You do get some metaphor bars on here that use the sick motif well as previously stated and yeah, this is definitely a short album. In terms of how I like it, it’s a solid project, probably not as high as I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside or Some Rap Songs but if you like Earl Sweatshirt, this is another one that you can get behind.

FINAL VERDICT: STREAM IT. You won’t get sick of this album, I promise you that.

SICK! is on Tan Cressida/Warner Records and is available on digital download and streaming services.

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