Album Reviews

Earl Sweatshirt: SICK! – “a narcotic dream-state”

The Los-Angeles rapper returns with one of his finest outings yet.

Some artists are guilty of outstaying their welcome. It’s prevalent in most genres and rap isn’t immune, with many who ply their trade in this sound world hesitant of trimming the fat.

Alongside the ever-increasing decline of the collective attention span, on the whole rap has had to get inventive in its combat against the modern day elements.

While YouTube has been prevalent in what seems like a moving parts cultural war, the traditional methods have still managed to reign supreme.

Take Earl Sweatshirt, who has spent the last three years flourishing in brevity.

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In 2018, Sweatshirt shifted the needle with Some Rap Songs. In many respects, it was rap’s answer to no-wave. With off-kilter rhymes and melodies scarce, Sweatshirt entered a new dawn. Clocking in at under 25 minutes, Some Rap Songs follow-up, FEET OF CLAY (2019) was an even a shorter dose of glitches and stream-of-conscious sermons.

Which brings us to SICK! The first great record of 2022, with Sweatshirt weaving more magic whilst firmly atop of his creative apex.

Sweatshirt’s lyrical dexterity and fever-dream rhymes emerge through the woozy synths on Old Friend. From here, the trip grows into some sort of a narcotic dream-state.

On 2010 and Tabula Rasa (the latter featuring Armand Hammer), Sweatshirt produces the kind of sparkly lo-fi hooks that were nowhere to be heard on Some Rap Songs and FEET OF CLAY.

Earl Sweatshirt - SICK!

Then there’s Vision (featuring Zelooperz), with the pair dropping abstract diatribes whilst occupying the couch through a hazy green mist.

While Lye sees Sweatshirt harness the kind of soul funk rhythms that would appeal to crate-diggers, Lobby (int.) is SICK!’s darkest passage, with a sombre beat that drips with dread.

Which is something God Laughs is not. A lullaby rap as Sweatshirt references his grandfather, God Laughs is the kind of track Sweatshirt wouldn’t have entertained in the past, showcasing his growth as an established artist.

With Titan and closing encounter, Fire in the Hole, these cuts are SICK!‘s finest, ending the record in grand manner.

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With the kind of ambient-scapes we would associate with Shabazz Palaces, here Sweatshirt majestically combs landscapes of conscious-rap. Titan is loaded with basketball references and COVID-inspired masked super villains.

The abstract nature of this is mind-bending, which is why Fire in the Hole feels like the perfect comedown. Working under funky blues-like riffs and alluring piano, Fire in the Hole releases that same narcotic effect of Old Friend. It will go down as one of the finest closing tracks of the year.

Filled with spatial tones and rich textures, with SICK!, clocking in at just over 24 minutes, Sweatshirt covers a ridiculous amount of ground. Yes, it’s only January, but it’s not a stretch to say that SICK! will be one of the best rap records produced this year.

SICK! Is out now via Tan Cressida, Inc/ Warner. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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