Courtesy of Pitchfork

Earl Sweatshirt’s new album “SICK!” is nothing short of greatness. The second the album starts with eerie synth beats that creep in and out. The opening track, “Old Friend,” features Earl talking about a variety of subjects, the main topic of discussion being the COVID-19 pandemic. One cannot ignore the great influence the pandemic had on “SICK!” — a tell-tale sign being the title of the album. Humans are physically sick with illness, but they’re also metaphorically sick of living through a deathly and depressing pandemic. Earl raps, “Fever in the cabin / I knew where we was headed / I ain’t countin’ no blessings, I sure as shit could measurе.”

The pandemic has brought about many emotions for us all, but I’d argue that the biggest impact of the pandemic is how forcibly comfortable we have become with uncertainty, something that is extremely uncomfortable for many, myself included. Maintaining a semblance of control is often necessary to remain grounded, so what happens when we lose all sense of control? 

Earl then comes in strong with “2010” — an absolutely classic Earl Sweatshirt song. Any Earl fan could hear the first few seconds of this track and immediately know he’s the artist behind it. The Odd Future alumni sings, “Threw me loose change, look at what I made of it,” a hint at his collaboration with co-producer of the album, The Alchemist, in 2021 on the song “Loose Change.”

The next track, “Sick!” a brilliant track with beats that sound like they could have been tested on 2013’s “Doris.” A standout line is, “Can’t go out sad, can’t go outside no more,” another direct reference to the pandemic, but also likely a nudge at 2015’s “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” an album Earl made while being confined to his home after a skateboarding accident. 

Next comes “Vision,” featuring Detroit-based rapper Zelooperz who sings, “What’s happening? The gas going, the motor flowing / Bitch, what’s happening? Remind me where I’m from.” Confusion strikes hard and fast at this point in the album, a sign that the pandemic has caused Earl to lose his sense of self. “Vision” is a strong track with refreshing energy and a beautiful ending dialogue: “You need to tell them the truth and help make them feel proud of who they are / The magic of truth is much more powerful than magic of make-believe / But what can I tell them? / Tell them that they’re beautiful. Tell them that they’re black.” 

The fifth track off “SICK!” is “Tabula Rasa,” a perfectly mixed song with an impeccable feature from hip-hop duo Armand Hammer. Earl sings, “The madness method rampant these days, I let the panic pass me / Featherweight, my heart was straight despite baggage / Asymptomatic, but I get sick of the delays—faster, faster.” Earl faces his emotional baggage, while also recognizing when too much introspection has been done. The title “Tabula Rasa,” “blank slate” in Latin, further proves that Earl wants to enter new beginnings more or less emotionally neutral. 

The transition between “Tabula Rasa” and “Lye” is truly a beautiful gift from “SICK!”; “Lye” brings a new energy to the album. While it is not necessarily a track that doesn’t fit, its aura ventures more into genres like jazz club and experimental rap, and Earl absolutely crushed it. The Cali-based rapper sings, “Sometimes the pain sit and fester into hate, beloved / I’m workin’ on it / It’s worth the time / Further down the line,” explaining how a state of bliss will eventually come to those who wait. 

The next track “Lobby (int)” serves as the interlude of the album. Earl’s interludes are always incredible and “Lobby (int)” brings about a completely new energy following “Lye.” 

“God Laughs” tests out an almost ambient feeling and is the standout track on “SICK!,” one that represents Earl’s achievement of peace. Earl sings, “These days, I’m mindful of what I embrace / Operating on an empty tank, spank me, fumes fueling a flame.” The rapper recognizes that his pain can serve as fuel, a motivator for him to keep persevering. He practices mindfulness amid all of life’s tribulations because it is something he can control amid all of life’s messes. 

The next track “Titanic” is absolutely breathtaking. The beats are fresh, and Black Noi$e’s co-production comes to life on this track specifically. The cherry on top is Earl name-dropping MF DOOM in “Titanic.” “Mask on like a supervillain,” references DOOM’s various villainous personas, most notably Madvillain, the iconic duo of DOOM and Madlib. 

The final track, “Fire in the Hole,” is a perfect conclusion to this album. Earl sings, “Patchin’ holes / It’s no rewinding, for the umpteenth time, it’s only forward.” This is the moment when listeners realize that the only way to persevere through the time we are living through is to — strangely enough — look forward and recognize that good, in whatever form it possesses, is ahead. The beats are immaculate in this track and stretch into the last seconds of the track with piano accompaniment; this is the marvelous finale of “SICK!”

Rating: 9.5/10