Album: Earl Sweatshirt – Sick!

This need to get out and about after it was contractually released by Colombia Records resulted in 2018’s landmark album some rap songs and the EP of 2019 Clay feet some of the most daring and brilliant rap music in recent memory.

sick! is the rapper’s sixth project and feels like a return to the surface after diving into his own psyche – thankfully, he’s come up clear and better than ever. sick! is a contemplative album that loses none of the magic it’s captured over the years, thanks in part to the luscious tapestry of production found here.

Earl Sweatshirt is one of the best rappers since his infamous 2010 debut mixtape COUNT, which shook up the rap world and brought attention to LA collective Odd Future. The group was synonymous with hype at the time, but it was clear that Earl was in a class of his own.

In recent years, Earl has found his way into depression and loss, refining the language to untangle these thoughts and experiences. The polysyllabic acrobatics and graphic narration of his earlier work has been replaced by a more fragmented, poetic sensibility, often punctuated by deadpan simplicity. It’s a style that feels loose, but is measured with a poet’s precision.

This style comes to full fruition here. For example, on “Tabula Rasa” he opens a dense verse reflecting on his own family line of words (his father was poet Keorapetse Kgositsile), “we keep facts in the midnight wax, family tree sap / light leak through the leaves on familiar songs”. But Earl’s rapping isn’t all about cryptic lines to be deciphered: “I don’t want to make fortune cookies, I want to do it,” he recently said in an interview with Pitchfork. He might as well summarize the past few years in one sentence: “Can’t go out sad, can’t go out anymore, because I’m sick”, he raps. It’s this constant back and forth between the opaque and transparent, between the ambiguous and lucid that makes every word from Earl feel essential.

Earl’s rapping is as good as it’s ever been, but maybe it’s the production here that really makes it sick! feeling like a page has turned. His production has grown with his lyricism and leans against the abstract. Strange and evocative, beats like “Eclipse” off some rap songs or “74” off Clay feet sounds like the components of a track have been rearranged beyond recognition. So when the lead single “2010” came out recently, it felt like a revelation to hear Earl rapping on a bright drum. While the more subdued, experimental instrumentals are still there as expected (the beautiful “God Laughs”), tracks like “Lobby (int)” and “Titanic” are very welcome. While Earl’s music has recently existed in an almost formless space, the solidity of these beats gives a sense of structure to the whole project. Producers like Alchemist and Black Noise have undoubtedly helped with this restructuring.

Rather than spill any more words, I’ll tear a page out of Earl’s book and put it simply: sick! is a really good rap album from one of the best rappers of the moment. You should go listen to it. That may be all there is to say.

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