Earl Sweatshirt is an artist who has always gone against the norm. Nothing about Earl Sweatshirt, from his rise in popularity to the kind of music and art he makes, is remotely typical. He has never been one to follow trends and always has thought outside the box and pushed the envelope whenever possible. Earl Sweatshirt initially got his start as a part of Tyler the Creator’s Hip Hop and art collective Odd Future. He contributed to quite a bit of their music and online videos, while also putting out his own critically acclaimed music. His debut mixtape, Earl, which was released in 2010, was critically acclaimed and lauded. He followed this up with his debut studio album, Doris, which was released in 2013 and also critically acclaimed. Since then, his output has been a bit sporadic, though he had released three projects in the last eight years that were also loved by the Hip Hop community. Earl Sweatshirt has always been praised for being different; from his instrumental choices, lyrical style, and rap flows, there are not a lot of artists in the Hip Hop game today to compare him to. With that being said, here is my review of Earl Sweatshirt’s new album, Sick! Please let me know in the comments below if you agree with my assessment of this record, and also let me know what your favorite songs are from Sick! in the comments.
The album starts with ‘Old Friend,’ a short and sweet track that packs a hell of a punch. Even though it is only one minute and eighteen seconds, it is as heavy and full of substance as a five-minute song. ‘Old Friend’ has a very dark and menacing instrumental that feels foreboding and uneasy. It has an early 2000s NY Hardcore Hip Hop style; the sound of this track makes me think of artists like Jim Jones or 50 Cent. Earl Sweatshirt’s delivery and flow are just as intense as the instrumental. The energy in his rapping style goes with the best so well. In ‘Old Friend,’ Earl is talking about how he is trying to have a positive mindset despite the current state of the world. He knows he has a lot to appreciate, but it is still hard to not devolve into only thinking of the negative. ‘2010’ is a song with a completely different sound. This track has a quirky and unconventional Trap instrumental with a futuristic and almost other-worldly melody. The melody is provided by a strange synthesizer that sort of has a Jazz flute feeling but also feels like it’s made by some instrument from the future. It is a super cool and unique sound that is somehow abrasive and calming at the same time. I can honestly say I have never heard this kind of melody before. One thing about ‘2010’ that draws me in is Earl Sweatshirt’s flow. It is very catchy and stands out; even though the melody is a bit weird, the flow is super smooth and easy-going. The title of ‘2010’ is thought to be an ode to the late, great Mac Miller, who had a song called 2009(this was the date of his first mixtape, whereas 2010 was the date of Earl’s first mixtape). In ‘2010,’ Earl is talking about his progression as an artist and human. He has noticed that the further along he has moved in his life and career, the more people he got to know early in his life that he has had to cut off. Following this, we get ‘Sick!’ This is a song with another quirky Trap instrumental with a very off-kilter melody. This melody is driven by a piano; in fact, it specifically sounds like a Jazz piano. The melody would be sweet and nice sounding if it wasn’t for the distortion; the melody(and beat in general) are so distorted that they have a rough and uneasy feeling to them. Earl’s flow on this track is once again super smooth and relaxed, but it is sort of off-beat which gives it an unbalanced feeling(which makes it stand out and not blend into the instrumental). On ‘Sick!’ Earl Sweatshirt is rapping about going with the flow and taking what life gives you, while not accepting less than one deserves. He realizes that we ultimately can’t control everything around us and sometimes have to deal with bullshit, but he thinks we should not just give in to the easier solution every time if it is not the correct solution.
Simply sing for me. Bitch, sing a symphony. Bitch, just defending me. She thought that it was skin deep. Been took ya bag. Been told you that you been weak. Been had the mag’. Been on the line assembly… – ‘Vision’ feat. Zeelooperz
‘Vision,’ which features Zeelooperz, is the most “normal” sounding song on the record so far. It was a distorted Trap beat and a bright and simple piano melody that is somehow sweet and creepy at the same time. In addition to the distortion, the track has a lot of static in the background, giving it an underground feeling. ’Vision’ feels like a part mainstream, part underground experimental Trap song. Zeelooperz’s voice and flow provide a nice contrast to Earl Sweatshirt’s. He has a bit of a more high-pitched and high-energy sound which bounces off Earl’s signature style well. On ‘Vision,’ both artists are talking about their come-ups and losing people around them they love, while also commenting on the political turmoil surrounding this country. We get another complete switch up of instrumental types with ‘Tabula Rasa,’ which features Armand Hammer. This one has a twinkling and Jazzy piano instrumental with a low-key beat. This instrumental kind of reminds me of some of the underground stuff artists like El-P and Aesop Rock are known for. This instrumental brings out the intensity of both members in Armand Hammer and Earl Sweatshirt. They all have gruff and tough deliveries, and it creates an interesting contrast with the beat and melody. On this track, Armand Hammer and Earl are discussing issues going around in the world around them. They seem to think things aren’t as hopeless as others may think they are. Following this, we get ‘Lye,’ a short and sweet track with a Jazzy instrumental highlighted by a horn section. The horns on this one give it a grandiose and important feeling, and the static in the background once again gives the song a bizarre underground feeling. The best is so full of static and distorted it can hardly be heard. This is okay, though, because Earl’s flow is so smooth that it doesn’t need a beat. On ‘Lye,’ Earl is rapping about how he has been working on himself and figuring out how he can be happy. It is not an easy task, but it will be worth it in the end.
‘Lobby(int)’ probably has the most modern and typical sounding instrumental out of anything on the record to this point. This song has a distorted Horn driven melody that is so simple and dark; it has a creepy feeling to it. The choppy and distorted nature of the beat gives this one a Dirty South/Houston Trap feeling to it. I could see artists like Maxo Kream or even UGK on this instrumental. On ‘Lobby(int.),’ Earl is talking about selling and buying weed. It’s an entertaining break from the content on the rest of the record. ‘God Laughs’ is a jazzy instrumental without a beat. This one has a twinkling melody that sort of sounds like it is being made by chimes surrounded by static. The feeling the melody gives me is almost out of this world, which is probably supposed to happen judging from the title. On ‘God Laughs,’ Earl is talking about the trauma he has gone through in his life and how it has affected his relationship with God. Following this, we get ‘Titanic,’ which is an additional song with a more modern Trap beat. I could see a lot of rappers today jumping on this instrumental as well. Instead of the Houston Trap feeling of ‘Lobby(int,)’ ‘Titanic’ has a sound that reminds me more of Memphis Trap music. The weird and distorted nature of the beat and melody make me think of artists like Three 6 Mafia, Young Nudy, and Young Dolph. Earl’s delivery and flow fit this sound extremely well. I honestly wish he would pursue this kind of sound a bit more. On this track. Earl Sweatshirt is rapping about his come-up and how far he has come. He went through a lot of struggles when he was younger, but they have just made him a better and more successful person. The album closes out with ‘Fire in the Hole,’ which is another song with unique older underground Hip Hop production. Similar to a few of the earlier tracks, I could see artists like El-P or Aesop Rock attacking this beat in the early to mid-2000s. ‘Fire in the Hole’ probably has the brightest and happiest production out of anything on this record. The melody, set over a very off-kilter, faded, and distorted beat, is driven by a piano and guitar, and it has a warm and almost tropical feeling to it. The last-minute or so of this track is purely instrumental; the beat and guitar fade until it’s just the piano is playing, and the low-key and soft nature of this outro almost has a calming effect. On the final track of this record, Earl is going back and forth between talking about the effects of COVID and talking about a girl in his life he loves. These two topics are the things that are taking up his thoughts more than anything, and he just wants to be as happy and healthy as possible.
Ever since he originally got famous in the early 2010s, Earl Sweatshirt has always been a leader in the group of rappers that teeter between underground and mainstream. He has an ability to rap on any kind of instrumental he wants, and often picks the most challenging ones for himself and his listeners. He is not afraid to dive into the depths of his brain and make music with dark and not-so-nice themes. Earl has a raw nature to the way he makes music that draws fans in a special way. Sick! is an example of everything that makes him great. The diversity of instrumentals, flows, and lyricism help him stand on his own in a very cluttered Hip Hop landscape. Sick! Is proof that Earl Sweatshirt is still one of the best and most interesting rappers of his generation.