One thing has always been evident about Earl Sweatshirt’s talent: his lyrical and rhythmic skills are unmatched by most artists today, even though his topics may not reflect the modern, pop-like, hip-hop interest in fans. I’ve had conversations with friends where they express how hard artists like Pooh Sheisty or Nav go as lyricists; it isn’t the same with rappers focusing on lyricism more than production (vaguely). But Earl continues to show us why he dominates his side of the genre with his new album, SICK! As a producer, Earl underwhelms for himself, not others. It is noticeable in his sophomore release, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Like Going Outside – slightly on Some Rap Songs – SICK! does not have production from Earl; instead, he focuses on giving us his best through powerful storytelling and lyricism.
SICK! is like past work by Earl Sweatshirt, except elevated to a higher plateau where you are getting the apex tier from both sides of the studio. An uptick comes from Earl’s flows. In the past, his emotional delivery fluctuated and sometimes faltered to keep energy amid the darkness. It was evident that Earl was finally letting loose on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Like Going Outside and now, comes to his own, on SICK! His flows are energetic and immersive, to a fault, but it makes you sense what he is trying to convey. In a sense, Earl always reflects meaning with visceral analogies and rhyme schemes, but on SICK!, more layers get established. It creates emotional parallels that riddle him and society during a tumultuous time.
It overlays with the moods and vibe that embolden the album, like self-assurance and anxieties, amongst others. In “Lobby (Int),” Earl makes his way to cop some marijuana, eventually ending with an assailant killing him and fleeing. The nature of his lyricism allows for different parallels to generate from his actions. Earl flow through his internal thoughts about the situation, creating allusions to hiding face – he raps on the track: “I happen to know the assailant/I’m happy to throw off the trail/Cover your nose, it’s surveillance,” displaying notions of individualism in the face of group mentality. These bars reflect the nature of individualism on both sides of the mask debate. Save face for yourself, not others – “cover your nose, it’s surveillance” being evidence for it.
SICK! has a few instances where it contains broader lyrics reflective of our surroundings, whether physical or mental. Some are personal to Earl, like on “2010,” or universal like “Tabula Rasa,” which features Armand Hammer. The track explores the notion of finding positives within faults. The three keep it poignant and personal; however, their talk about overcoming setbacks gets fueled by their tone and energy. Fortunately, it gets support from a plethora of fantastic beats ranging from The Alchemist to Navy Blue, including past collaborators like Samiyan and Black Noi$e. Like Dawn FM, SICK! is built to have unique cohesion from start to finish, and it isn’t due to the nature of the song’s lengths or content. Instead, that’s from the production side. In doing so, they give the music a bigger atmospheric platform to deliver with impact. The track transitions are like stagnant coughs where each subsequent track, arrives with more depth than the previous.
Unfortunately, some cracks appear along the way as Earl Sweatshirt minimally loses energy in his delivery. We’ve heard it before, but Earl doesn’t always translate when he blends styles, like on “Titanic.” Its overly glitzy production and hyphy backing vocals create an awkwardness parallel to Earl’s trap-like flow. But as much as he tries, his energy sometimes contains nuances of mellow-drone-like tones. For example, the title track suffers from his drone-Esque delivery akin to flows on tracks like “74” off Feet of Clay. It isn’t like “2010,” where he takes that energy and brings flair with bravado. We’ve heard it before, especially after some of the lackluster flows on Doris, on his sophomore effort. With “Mantra” as evidence, it’s great to hear Earl consistently grow.
Earl Sweatshirt’s prowess is unmatched, and yet, there were a few issues that left it from feeling like a perfect cohesion of sounds that keep you invested. It’s a fantastic album with enough weight to make its 24-minute run time feel longer in your mind. SICK! is another solid entry for Hip-Hop to begin the new year. Cheers Earl.