Nearly a decade after his last project with Odd Future, hip-hop prodigy Earl Sweatshirt is back with his fourth studio album, “SICK!”
Fifteen years ago, an 11-year-old kid going by the alias “Sly Tendencies,” released some tracks from his mixtape, “Kitchen Cutlery,” on Myspace. Three years later, an up-and-coming rapper known as Tyler, The Creator found “Sly Tendencies” on Myspace and asked him to join his band, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA).
“Sly Tendencies”, whose birth name is Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, changed his alias to Earl Sweatshirt and dropped his first mixtape, “Earl” in 2010. “Earl” was named the 24th best album of 2010 by Complex Networks, a significant feat for 16-year-old Earl. Earl’s mother, however, was not a fan of her son’s lifestyle and sent him to a retirement school for ‘at risk’ boys. While there, Earl wrote the lyrics to “Oldie,” his only contribution to Odd Future’s 2012 mixtape, “The OF Tape Vol. 2.”
By the time Earl was 18, he had been labeled “the most exciting rapper to emerge in years, a virtuoso who was just beginning to understand what he could do with words,” per the new yorker.
On Earl’s new album, listeners can expect clear lyrics, undeniable flow, and a new sense of confidence in Earl’s voice like we’ve never heard before.
“SICK!” opens with “Old Friend”, a track that seemingly evokes the demise of Odd Future, backed by the lyrics “I held the page / gave ears to the book / whispered ‘thank you’ / hella pain / heavy rain in the Catskills.” Or maybe Earl Sweatshirt was just keeping a journal in the Catskill Mountains. “2010,” a track about overcoming personal struggles, had as many oblique rhymes as truisms — and they all worked perfectly. “And I didn’t look back when I dug the ground / ‘Cause every time I did it hurt more;” Earl repeated this line twice, giving the already distinct words more prominence.
The album’s title track, “Sick!” dives into Earl’s experience in the limelight and exemplifies his “no BS” attitude. The track fades into cracked radar sound, accompanied by chirps of distant birds surrounding a voice asking, “What is magic?” The answer to the question can be found on Earl’s moody trap track, “Vision,” where a woman happily says, “Magic is just a simulation and our children don’t need to grow up in it.” an imaginary world. Earl’s upbeat voice mixed with gritty sound creates a nice metaphorical auditory contrast.
On the disc’s fifth track, “Tabula Rasa,” listeners will be instantly greeted by Armand Hammer’s intense verse, complete with andante chord progressions. Listeners will hear how Earl recognizes and salutes the lingering anxieties he continues to face with drive and resilience. “The method of madness runs rampant these days / I let the panic pass / Featherweight / My heart was upright / Despite the baggage.” The key playing in “Tabula Rasa” continues four seconds into “Lye,” where we hear Earl burp before spitting, “The same I forgot to praise still above me / One thing about it, I’ll beat them to the punches.” “Lye” is about Earl’s pursuit to find a relationship with God, a relationship where he doesn’t have to take responsibility. Earl preached that once he has searched within, the God that he was looking for appeared “Call on the Lord / Looking low and high / Finally found him in the heart of my fading fire.”
“Lobby”, the interlude of “SICK!” gently and cleverly scratches the surface of injustices suffered by black people in America when Earl says “I know it’s a quota to fill / Where you going and what’s your intention?” Earl concludes “Lobby” with a baseball reference that serves as a metaphor for his “criminal past”. Listeners will be brought up to speed on Earl’s triumphant spirit with the final words, “I’m coming home, but I love where he slipped / And he’s safe, well, he’s superhuman / Wow, reverse call, what a slip.”
“Titanic,” the penultimate song from “SICK!”, opens with such a loud beat that listeners are forced to sit in suspense until Earl’s performance is heard. Earl reminisces about his time at the retirement school he was sent to ten years ago, rapping: “Sent a postcard from the deep / Bleed the vein ’til there’s no left nothing / You look exhausted, you should rest.”
Earl Sweatshirt concludes “SICK! with a balanced track called “Fire in the Hole”. The track highlights Earl’s upbeat nature as he goes through the different phases of his life. Earl blended his expressions of harmony and dynamics with the tempo of his verses to create an undeniably satisfying rhythm.
Earl’s concise yet creative work proves that there is beauty, confidence and true artistry in brevity. The album’s flawless production work, sung with Earl’s lyrical precision, has cultivated a spellbinding track list that will no doubt be played on repeat for years to come.