Photo By: Noah Nickel via Apple Music

Rapper Earl Sweatshirt, an alumnus of the rap collective Odd Future, confidently displays his distinctive sound on SICK!, though certainly through a more conventional approach than his previous solo releases. 

2018’s Some Rap Songs saw Sweatshirt at his artistic peak; as many of his fans would contend, it remains his strongest record to date. While SICK! isn’t quite the creative output, it displays Earl’s lackadaisical style in a way that can be appreciated on a good set of car speakers. 

The worry was that Earl would continue down a path of using strange samples and instrumental sparsity just for the sake of it, which is what caused his 2020 release FEET OF CLAY to receive a lukewarm reception. If the memes that spawned surrounding the track titled “East” from that record (a favourite being one with a SpongeBob overlay) were an indication of anything, it was that Earl needed to dial back the oddness just a bit. Luckily, on this latest record he’s done just that and the result is a far more pleasant listen. 

The diversity of slick soul samples (“Tabula Rasa”), bass-infused bangers (“Lobby (int),” “Titanic”), and vertiginous ventures into experimentalism (“Vision” feat. Zelooperz) make this project’s 24 minutes feel fully fleshed out, despite the short runtime.

The structure of this record definitely has its debts – namely, to MF DOOM (aka the late Daniel Dumile), of whom Earl is not shy about expressing his appreciation towards, as evident on the lyrics of “Titanic,” “Mask on like a supervillain; Daniel.” There is a sense that this record functions like a somewhat lower-quality Madvillainy, with the experimental twists on basic instrumental samples and brief tracks that repeat a sampled loop with nothing really resembling a hook.

While on the topic of lyrics, the bars on this record are sharp throughout, ranging from spiritually impactful to witty, braggadocious lines. The guest verses aren’t bad either. While none of them really surpass Earl’s performances, they nevertheless work with the instruments they’re matched with.

What’s clear from SICK! is that Earl is getting increasingly comfortable carving out his own lane by making his odd side palatable.