Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! review – fragments from a fever dream


It’s more than 10 years since Thebe Kgositsile first skated into view as Earl Sweatshirt, the teenage enfant terrible of Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future. Since then, the Chicago-born rapper has largely turned his back on the provocative juvenilia that made him so chaotically appealing, instead turning inwards for a series of albums of inscrutable sermons that float over hazy, snipped beats.

Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! album cover

Earl’s style and sauntering nihilism have found new context amid the lo-fi street philosophy of newer peers such as Mach-Hommy and Westside Gunn – storytellers whose candour is matched by the nonchalance of their delivery, sketching in scant but precise details, and occasional winking wit. Sick! continues in this vein. These 10 songs, rarely more than two minutes long, are as fleeting as thoughts had in the shower or recollections of a fever dream – as in the twinkling roll of 2010 (“We got us a fire to rekindle”), the title track’s discombobulating array of silver screen samples or the run-on lines and homophone rhyme schemes of Lye. Musically, it’s an alluring mesh: all haunting organs, guitars soaked in reverb, and skittish, stoned drum hits.

Earl was recording a different album when the pandemic hit, his focus shifted and the computer containing the older recordings got lost. The bright strings of Old Friend, and the dense, extended monologues of Tabula Rasa are the surviving remnants of the shelved project. They offer the promise of something more perhaps in the future, with richer, bolder production: another tantalising glimpse of Earl’s unique and enduring charm.

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