Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!

 A dormant Earl returns to the rap scene with new life stories to tell

Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, also known as Earl Sweatshirt, has finally dropped his new album, SICK! While only clocking in at about 24 minutes, the MC makes up for short tracks with abstract yet packed bars and verses. Listeners will surely be revisiting for hours to catch all the little details in his storytelling.

SICK! treads similar ground of abstract hip hop and jazz rap of Earl`s back catalogue. Past albums have dealt with Earl’s grief from the loss of a loved one and tackling substance abuse. However, on this project it’s clear that the rapper has grown from these traumatic events, even if he hasn’t recovered from them completely. He seems to have grown within his own frame of mind. 

As an album, SICK! is front-loaded and less thematic than his earlier album, Some Rap Songs. This album does not feel like a complete canvas where all the parts fit together; instead, it feels like many different ideas packed with mixed results. 

The record also has more collaborations than past albums. Zelooperz and Armand Hammer both make appearances, and the production is handled most notably by The Alchemist and Navy Blue, the latter of which having also worked on Some Rap Songs.

The best songs sample beautiful piano arrangements, ‘70s afro beats and jazz. “Tabula Rasa” is a notable example of this sampling with its hypnotic piano melody. It features the group Armand Hammer and is my favorite track on the record. The duo is composed of rappers Billy Woods and Elucid. Woods in particular has been an inspiration to Earl`s music.

The opening track “Old Friend” kicks off with a synth beat. Earl’s rapping is in top form and less dejected than his performance on Some Rap Songs.The track references the feeling of cabin fever given the state of the world with COVID and Earl using drugs as an escape from the pandemic

“Fever in the cabin

I knew where we was headed (…)

Blinkin’ for some feasible mеthods to free yourself

Split it with my hand like cigarill’s

Slick oil in a fish’ gill”

SICK! also treads on themes of the past, such as the song “2010.” It’s clear Earl still finds himself living in the shadow of his early persona and rap career in Odd Future, where he, Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean made their names. The passing of his father also dwells on his mind, while some songs dive into the issues of systemic racism and police brutality. These themes are quite far from Earl’s edgy persona from his early career — he seems more mature and politically conscious nowadays. A lot of tracks in the album reference class struggle and current economic issues such as the housing crisis in L.A. and income inequality on the Track “Vision”:

“Singular current event, everything we in the midst of

How long you waiving the rent? 

Moratorium extendo, I’m just evading the pit

Ain’t no parade in the tent”

On the title track for example, Earl references the song “Expensive Shit” by Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer and ’70s political activist Fela Kuti. As the track ends, the beat transitions to a clip of Kuti speaking about his views on music. Earl links his passion and current view on his music to this quote. Through the words of Kuti, music is an act of resistance and a political tool for the masses via revolution.

Tracks such as “Lye” also quote directly from Malcom X, illustrating Earl’s more radical shift in his world view and politics. One quote is directly taken from The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The weaker songs tend to be the more trap-influenced beats like the title track and “Titanic.” They stick out a bit as a sore thumb when mixed with the moodier jazz rap and afrobeat compositions on the project. They are also some of the shortest tracks on the record, barely stretching past the one minute mark. On a 24-minute album, it also seems odd to include an interlude track like “Lobby (Int).”

Overall, while not as thematic and well rounded as Some Rap Songs, SICK! is a decent package that has some of Earl’s more thoughtful rapping. It’s a tad short and not all the tracks carry the same weight as others, but the project is worth it on its lyricism alone. 


Score: 7/10

Trial track: “Tabula Rasa”

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