Earl Sweatshirt: Sick! review – a musically rich reset
Before Free Britney there was Free Earl, the 2010 movement to “liberate” the then 16-year-old US rapper Earl Sweatshirt from a reform school in Samoa to which his law professor mother had sent him, alarmed at his drug use. Since Sweatshirt’s graphic start as part of fellow enfants terribles Odd Future, the MC born Thebe Kgositsile has grown into one of hip-hop’s least obvious talents, rejecting mainstream rap tropes while grappling with his own introversion – he made an LP called I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside – and episodes of loss. Some Rap Songs (2018) reeled at the death of his estranged father, South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile – a dense, muzzy work delivered at speed, at an angle.
Sick! emerges with musicality enhanced, full of strings, soul samples, arpeggiating pianos and vinyl crackle – sometimes, as on the immersive Vision and Tabula Rasa, all at once. More extroverted than previously, Sick! feels like a reset, harking back – there’s a great track called 2010 – then addressing the pandemic (and, on the grimey Titanic, maybe drugs as well) from the point of view of an artist who has famously reconciled with his mother, become a father himself and become more engaged with the “gorgeous” world outside his door.