In a period marked by turmoil of all kinds, it seems that Earl Sweatshirt is looking to say something bigger. Sick! comes three years after the last full-length Earl Sweatshirt release, during which time he’s experienced profound personal growth, becoming a father while navigating life during a pandemic. The circumstances he’s living through are reflected across the 10 track album and seem to have slowed his headspace down to a crawl so you can see every thought in its purest form. This is Earl in reflective mode, taking a panoramic view of American life—both its fears and possibilities—and maybe for once finding out where he fits in it all.
On tracks like “2010” and “God Laughs,” Earl takes a contemplative tack, occasionally brooding musically and thematically but more often strategically thoughtful, exhaling an electric calm, the kind that can only come from spending considerable time with your own thoughts. Above all, Earl shows us he’s a charismatic rapper in his prime, delivering increasingly impressive bars full of wordplay and subliminal innuendos. The verses on Sick! are among the densest he’s ever put to record, constricted around sudden stops, caustic reversals, and gut punches. Trading bars with Armand Hammer’s Elucid and Billy Woods (“Tabula Rasa”) and Zelooperz (“Vision”) serve as motivation for Mr. Sweatshirt to elevate the bar even higher.
The music also creates a unique and almost surreal space for Earl’s expositions. Beats from The Alchemist, Samiyam, and Black Noi$e, among others, combine to create an album that coils and unwinds, creating moments of drumless lo-fi bliss (“God Laughs”) bookended by bass-heavy headbangers (“Titanic”).
With the addition of fatherhood, Earl seems to be more adept at witnessing the slings, arrows, and general miseries of life without succumbing to them. As his formative years as Odd Future’s nucleus continue to fade into a kinder adulthood, Earl comes off less like an outsider than ever before.