Etched in rap as a quirky trailblazer due to his involvement in the forever-influential 2010s Odd Future collective, Earl Sweatshirt oozes nonchalant energy throughout his fifth studio album, ‘Sick!’. Sweatshirt has long been beloved for his deadpan delivery, but on an album meant to sonically imitate the chaotic start to the 2020s, he instead sums up the past two years, in his own way, in under half-an-hour.
Over this unusually short collection of 10 tracks, the LA rapper makes us enter a dystopian world full of thunderous bass and disorientating melodies, which are a little askew for hip-hop. Yet this is something fans love Earl Sweatshirt for: he’s always been able to make innovative music that nourishes the soul by making you pull the tightest stank face. With the super woofer-bursting opener that is ‘Old Friend’, Sweatshirt spews bars that feel venomous yet picturesque, imbuing the most mundane actions with wider meaning: “I held the page, gave the book ears / Whispered “Thanks”, hella pain, heavy rain in the Catskills”.
Having explored his more infantile ways on his 2013 debut album ‘Doris’ and perfecting this attitude on 2015’s ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’, on sick ‘Sick!’ it sounds like moody Earl finally has some bills to pay. He shows his maturity, and ‘Vision’ is a perfect example of this.
The standout track sees the rapper and upcoming Michigan star Zelooperz have juvenile fun over a boundless, soulful beat. ‘Vision’ (and much of ‘Sick!’) harks back to the dreamy, experimental productions of the early 2010s, which still kept pure hip-hop ideals like clear dictation and striking bars. It’s an utterly head-bumping track that offers an intense lesson on expert flow and rhyming schemes – especially via this topical line on waivered rent due to the coronavirus pandemic: “I picked up the clip with a step / Singular current event, everything we in the midst of / How long you waiving the rent?”.
Earl scrapped his original concept for his planned fifth album, ‘The People Could Fly’ – which was based on a book of the same title that he and his mother read together – and for ‘Sick!’, has instead leaned into the outright grit and menace we need right now. Displaying an amazing musical ear, as he’s picked monstrously riveting instrumentals to rap confidently on, Earl Sweatshirt’s latest feat feels so effortlessly him. And there’s not much higher praise than that.
Release date: January 14th
Record label: Tan Cressida, Warner Records