Earl Sweatshirt never seems overly concerned with perfection or typified standards of modern-day Hip-Hop music, although his newest project is a refined effort. As he’s done previously via his audio releases, the California native’s latest studio album SICK! points to a personal and poetical reckoning of the state of the world that breaks through the insular themes of his past.
Tan Cressida, the label started by Earl Sweatshirt, continues its Warner Bros Records partnership with SICK!, the third released under this union that follows the excellent Feet Of Clay drop and the subsequent deluxe release. SICK! sonically moves in a straighter line than Feet Of Clay, and Sweatshirt’s pen shows renewed clarity along with loads of abstract thoughts that might be missed by the less studious.
Earl Sweatshirt’s music requires a patient ear and a willingness to commit to the theme instead of seeking immediate understanding. Repeated listens of Feet Of Clay, along with the sensory-shifting Some Rap Songs and I Don’t Like Sh*t, I Don’t Go Outside before it, reveal more of the mind of the artist born Thebe Kgositsile and it is a required method when it comes to consuming his music.
SICK! will eventually need the same treatment over time. Still, the urgency in Earl’s voice and the penmanship sitting in direct alignment all point to the fact this project was motivated by a decision to speak to the times versus his own journey, yet inserting himself in the middle of the storms faced by all during the global pandemic.
The album opens with “Old Friend,” produced by The Alchemist. Upon first listen, one could categorize the offering as “sad rap,” a silly descriptor for music that tends to move at a deliberate space with lyrics that read closer to inner thoughts. The entirety of “Old Friend” could either be viewed as an ode to the times Earl enjoyed with his former Odd Future outfit, or a lost friendship made whole again. The beauty of Earl’s music is that personal interpretation might be the ultimate goal for the listener along with the rapper’s catharsis.
Following the opener is “2010” which was the first single for the album, and shows off the chemistry Earl cultivated with Detroit’s Black Noi$e. The song makes mention of his mother, professor Cheryl Harris, and how his early days as a Hip-Hop wunderkind under her roof weren’t exactly the smoothest of roads. Still, the track, electronically bouncy and playful, gives way to a triumphant ending with Earl stating how “gorgeous” outside appears in direct defiance of his assumed reclusive nature.
Other high moments of SICK! include “Visions” featuring talented Detroit rapper and Bruiser Brigade member ZelooperZ, who delivers a scene-stealer of a verse over Black Noi$e’s hypnotic track. Masters of dense wordplay Armand Hammer are the only other features present on the album, adding their talents to “Tabula Rasa.”
Like the immensely talented MIKE of the [sLUms], who Earl has collaborated with in the past, and others like AKAI SOLO, the songs these lyricists eventually release become markers of whatever moment in time they’ve collectively experienced. Often, this feels invasive and perhaps uncomfortable; audio journal entries would be fair assessments of their respective works.
SICK! is a brief affair but stirs the soul so effectively across its brief run time that the observations of hardship and lost time all lead to a high degree of self-realization at the end. The patience required to fully absorb Earl Sweatshirt’s latest opus rewards the listener with a roadmap to the mind of a genius at work who still has plenty to learn and share with a world typically hellbent on silencing expression from creative young minds.
Listen to SICK! below or at your preferred DSP.
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