‘Can’t go outside no more,’ laments Odd Future alum Earl Sweatshirt on his latest album, the aptly titled Sick! ‘Somethin’ gotta give.’ The album, like many of our lives over the last couple of years, struggles under the weight of this uncertainty throughout.
Written during and inspired by the effects of the pandemic, Sick! rose from the ashes of a scrapped album named after a book he read with his mother when he was a child titled The People Could Fly. In a statement released ahead of the album, he clarified: ‘Once the lockdowns hit, people couldn’t fly anymore.’
But it’s when dealing with these difficult topics that the album soars. His fourth studio album continues Earl’s tradition of packing a deluge of verbose lyricism into a relatively lean package. Totting in at just 25 minutes, Sick! still manages to give its tracks room to breathe, from the shimmering guitars in album closer ‘Fire in the Hole’, to the synth-heavy and introspective ‘2010’.
Album highlight ‘Visions’, which features guest vocals from Detroit-based rising star ZelooperZ, sees Earl at his most creative. Over an experimental beat that wouldn’t be out of place in a Soundcloud rap from the early 2010s, Earl reflects on his split from Odd Future and his subsequent growth.
Tracks burst with polarizing instrumentals and intricate production from the likes of Alchemist and Black Noi$se, but the album never feels lost or unfocused. Earl’s deft lyricism feels more self-assured than ever, as though the pandemic has given him a clean jumping off point – a ‘clean slate’ with which, as he explains on ‘Tabula Rasa’, he can ‘write to find balance.’
The album sees Earl at his most confident despite the troubling subject matter, harnessing the feelings of dread and isolation that have become all too prescient during the COVID pandemic and trying to find a semblance of hope from them. If nothing else, it finds a sense of catharsis.
Sick! sees Earl Sweatshirt deliver a short, sharp booster shot of carefully constructed and introspective rap that defies typical genre expectations.
Words by James Barber