Earl Sweatshirt’s “SICK!” is sick.

Dealing with newfound fatherhood and a pandemic, Earl Sweatshirt has crafted a work of art. Photo by benhoudijk on depositphotos.com

Earl Sweatshirt isn’t a rapper who wastes time. Ever since his rap career started at 16, he’s fostered a fanbase enamored with his cryptic and depressing lyrics. 

Sweatshirt’s albums feature tons of lyrical density while never overstaying their welcome. His longest record is about 44 minutes, with most of his projects being less than 30 minutes in length. 

Sweatshirt’s music is infamous for its cryptic, often complex lyrics that describe his complicated feelings of grief. 

His last studio album and experimental masterpiece “Some Rap Songs” saw Earl at his most abstract and depressed, rapping over looping samples of soul beats while addressing his grief at his father’s passing.

Following that, he released “Feet of Clay” EP, which kept up the depressing mood of its predecessors while also diving into even more off-kilter production, such as on the now-infamous “EAST.”

Sick!” is Sweatshirt’s latest album, recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic as a reflection of the chaos that was going on all across the world. After four years since his last studio album, Sweatshirt proves that he still hasn’t lost his edge across the album’s 24-minute runtime.

Thematically, while “Sick!” does talk about the pandemic, it does so in a way that isn’t too on the nose, forgoing the cringy one-liners and punchlines that pervaded lyrics throughout the last two years. In this way, “Sick!” will age gracefully relative to many of its contemporaries. 

Lines like “Asymptomatic, but I get sick of the delays” sound cryptic enough that one could believe he would’ve written this without the pandemic.

“Sick!” follows up Earl’s magnum opus “Some Rap Songs” in a somewhat different direction. Stylistically, both contain some of the stylistic looping production popularized by the sLUms collective that gave SRS its signature dark and claustrophobic feeling not as present on “Sick!” Tracks like “Titanic” feature instrumentals that wouldn’t be out of place on a trap album. 

This diversity of sounds makes “Sick!” feel like a rewarding listen even though it’s only ten tracks. Compared to the sometimes muffled and subdued mixing that made up previous works. “Sick!” feels like Earl is more confident in himself than ever before.

Standout tracks include the excellent “Tabula Rasa,” a posse cut over an ethereal looping piano beat with a vocal sample that elicits feelings of nostalgia. Earl and guest rapper Armand Hammer glide effortlessly over the production, with Earl coming to terms with the tragedies in his life and choosing to remain true to himself.

The line of the song “Featherweight, my heart was straight despite the baggage” is a summation of Earl’s growth since his last album.

“2010” in particular stands out, aided by production by Black Noi$e giving a chaotic beat while Earl raps about his upbringing, with the year 2010 being a reference to the year he dropped his first mixtape “EARL.”

The choice to release “2010” as the first single of the album feels like a deliberate choice, as Earl raps with such life and relative aggression that it feels like he still needs something to prove. 

It directly contrasts the dark, muffled sounds of his previous works. Instead, Earl raps at the most confident that he’s ever been.

Earl stays in a relatively vulnerable state throughout the album, addressing his still existing insecurities in the wake of his newfound fatherhood, especially given that much of his early work painted a complicated relationship with his parents that didn’t change until recently.  

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Earl said that he is still learning about parenthood since the birth of his first child. “Sick!” reflects this statement as a reflection of how Earl has evolved from the 16-year-old boy rapping about rape into the rap auteur he is today. 

It doesn’t quite reach the highs of ”Some Rap Songs,” but it trades out some of the angst to give us Earl Sweatshirt at his most optimistic despite his tragedies.