Earl Sweatshirt's fourth studio arrives four years removed from Some Rap Songs, and two from Feet Of Clay. Earl broke the silence late last year with 2010 and his fans have been excited for this release ever since. At just under twenty-five minutes on the length of SICK! I am a bit disappointed but not surprised, considering his last album over a half hour was Doris. One of Earl's best strengths is being able to say so much without having to create long songs, and albums or tell stories directly, and just like with the rest of his albums he does a great job of that here.
The album kicks off with Old Friends, which is produced by none other than The Alchemist. The instrumental is dark and eerie, which is commonplace in Earl Sweatshirt's catalog. Lyrically, Earl is on his a-game right off the bat, seeming to rap with more intensity than his prior efforts, possibly signifying that though he is still going through a lot, he is coming to terms with it and starting to feel better about some things. Following that we have 2010 which has a spacey, atmospheric and off-kilter instrumental. Here we see Earl reflecting on his success throughout the last decade for one of the first times in his music. It is admittedly hard for him to do considering the circumstances in while he was making the music he did and the fact he can't separate everything he did in that time from the immense pain he was feeling then. The title track, Sick! sees Earl tackling a different type of instrumental. Though he is known for his abstract beat selection and producing, this distorted and industrial sounding instrumental is backed by some fast paced trap drums. He picks up the speed in his flows but his delivery is more lackadaisical. Earl mostly speaks on the pandemic here through incredible metaphors and clever wordplay that is present throughout the rest of the record.
Vision is the longest track on the album and is the most memorable track from it. Like Sick! there are heavy drums packing the sinister piano keys that carry through the instrumental. This creates a hypnotic setting where Zelooperz chorus and verse amplify the thick and intoxicating nature of the song. Earl's verse is commanding as he raps about times of excitement and danger throughout his youth, contrasting it to the drab and monotonous life he's been living the last year or two, and is seemingly fed up with. The second single released prior to SICK!, was Tabula Rasa with Armand Hammer which is a great lyrical massacre of a track, but feels slightly out of place on this record. The instrumental of this song is haunting as it consists of only looped vocal samples and piano keys. ELUCID, Billy Woods and Earl outdo each other verse after verse respectively, leaving much to be analyzed with this song. The Alchemist gets another production credit on the track Lye. The instrumental is robust, with horns similar to that of Loose Change, off of Alc's EP, This Thing Of Ours. Earl's best rhyme schemes on the album are on this song, and the flow he uses only helps his lyricism stand out more.
The following track Lobby is listed as an interlude, but with the booming drums and dark undertone of the song, it sounds like any other song on the album. Earl brings a relentless flow on this track with complex lyrics, but due to the short nature of the track and mystery of its existence it seems derivative and a bit out of place. God Laughs has a minimalist and spacious instrumental where Earl pushes through some of his negative feelings with his diluted delivery. He expresses some of the struggles he's been through, detailing particularly the passing of his grandfather and the toll it took on him by painting vivid pictures with lyrics like, "I'm not weak, just maimed." Titanic contains another spacey and thick instrumental where Earl brings back his flow on Lobby. Like the rest of the album Earl is able to give us clear illustrations of what he's trying to say in short lines. Titanic is like the fully realized product of Lobby (int.) which further diminishes its presence on the project. Once again Earl gives us a cinematic outro like he did on Some Rap Songs with Fire In The Hole. We can still feel Earl in a depressive place though he seems to be doing a bit better than last time. He tells us of a bubbling relationship he was in, but had to distance himself from a fear of getting too close to someone else. At the conclusion we see our hero has been working on himself and though there is still work to be done, there is a great sense of solace when seeing his improvement.
With Earl's return to the music scene it is refreshing to get the quality lyricism, metaphors and rhyme scheme that he brings on SICK! He also provides a sense of variety with less experimental production but more unique and coherent instrumentals. SICK! does lack a sense of cohesion sonically with some tracks sounding completely left field being placed on here. It is also weak narratively with SICK! being nothing more than a glimpse into Earl's current mind state, which I loved, but was left wanting more from. SICK! is a great album and a welcome addition to Earl's discography, especially following Feet Of Clay, but feels not incomplete but like there could've been more done.
(a very strong seven by the way)