Artist: ScHoolboy Q
Label: Top Dawg / Interscope
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Hello…Hello? F*ck rap, my daddy a gangster.
The intro to ScHoolBoy Q’s first major label album, Oxymoron, and its first cut “Gangsta” pits the TDE rapper at a crossroads of managing his intentions and his current reality: to deliver one of rap’s first major releases of the new year in the form of a true and through gangsta rap album and to do so while balancing the duties of being a full-time father. Q is very much in tune with the dualities that come with hustling – his ego pitted against his id, his habits matched up against his contradictions, and sonically Oxymoron makes this quite clear.
While ScHoolboy has shown growth lyrically and, for the most part, holds his own over top-notched and lush productions, the unfortunate aspect that comes in modern day hip-hop is the need to involve outside sources to grab a wider fan base’s attention. At times, ScHoolboy Q is a victim of the expensive production and what suffers is the cohesion of his Interscope debut.
Q’s eclectic ear works against him especially on “Los Awesome.” Pharrell’s presence on the album is more than justifiable considering his track record and his near-legendary run in the past year, but does the pairing work? Here ScHoolboy seems outmatched by the pacing of the Clipse-esque beat and even Jay Rock can’t bring a strong identity to the song. This is the album’s second cut mind you.
It’s inevitable that Oxymoron will be compared to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d City, despite the two TDE-members occupying a very different space in the hip-hop landscape. Label CEO Top Dawg wanted to show how much the crew has grown since their newcomer status two Octobers ago by surpassing the amount of pre-orders of Lamar’s major label debut at 35 thousand copies (a goal that was reached). But this project did even more then that – early projections have the album on pace to sell between 150 and 160 thousand copies in its first week. This album, and not Kendrick’s, will be TDE’s first album to debut at number 1, months after much was made about Macklemore’s white-washing of hip-hop and the fact that not one African-American artist topped the Hot 100 Billboard Chart throughout the entirety of 2013 for the first time in its 40 year history. For now, the narrative that hip-hop needs saving will be put on the back burner as a California-bred gangster rap album rests at the top of the charts, at least for this week.
— dangeroo kipawaa TDE (@dangerookipawaa) February 24, 2014
What marks the crew’s position as hip-hop outliers; something that the four members of Black Hippy are quick to document themselves is that they’re in this together strictly under the circumstance that they’re each other’s only worthwhile competition. “Your b*tch wanted cash, get her, know I’m around boy/ Tell Kendrick move from the throne, I came for it.” For ScHoolboy it’s not wholly about claiming his place among rap’s elites, but rather how he says it on “Break The Bank” – by sacrificing intricate rhyme schemes to display his affinity for melody.
Where Kendrick’s hallmark innocence makes for a detached Nick Carraway perspective, Q’s combative search for life after addiction and his Hoover Crip membership makes him a justifiable Gatsby. So with Unfortunately Oxymoron lacks the consistency of his signature charisma of previous releases like Habits & Contradictions. That doesn’t mean that Oxymoron doesn’t have any bright spots. Quite the contrary.
Q is such an adept adapter. He changes his cadence and tone with attention-deficit like quickness. In the opening verse of “Gangsta” alone, he forms a fairytale like structure from the “what it do young n*ggas? what it do young b*tches?” to the enticing couplets of a gangster’s manifest – desperately getting a nine which works him right up to getting your girl to work a corner, and that’s all in the span of 4 bars. While you might not know the direction Q is headed, you trust where he’s taking you purely based on how exciting it is to follow the movement of every single line.
Other features work on the album too, maybe because of how amplified it is when the collaborations with Pharrell and Tyler the Creator fall short. Raekwon fits in over Lord Quest and Sounwave’s ominous “Blind Threats”. BJ the Chicago Kid channels his inner Nate Dogg on the the seductive “Studio” – your typical work-late-can’t-be-home-to-get-to-you hip-hop trope that avoids cliché thanks to a punchline approach at ditching metaphors for directness, something that has come to define Q at his most optimistic of moments. “Put my tongue in different places, play a game of Operation/ Na-na-na, la-la, la-la you get what I’m saying”
But for all the humor ScHoolboy Q can bring to the table to attract his loyal legion of female fans: “Eat so much p*ssy, my mustache pink” sounds like the male rendition of a Nicki Minaj bar on “Hoover Street”, the majority of Oxymoron stems from noir-like source material. This time around, he packs a much more personal punch. His storytelling ability has not only become more vivid, but his to-the-point sparseness is incredibly effective. “Hoover Street” details growing up a part of a family that keeps a gun in every room, a grandma that got him clothes they couldn’t afford, and an uncle stealing to maintain his own addiction. “Prescription/Oxymoron” is an autobiographical account of his life as both an addict to prescription pills and a dealer of them. His daughter Joy can be heard over the strings trying to wake up her comatose’d dad. “What’s wrong? Are you tired? Are you mad? I love you daddy.”
The numerous pushbacks this album went through can also say a lot about the direction of this Interscope debut. Rumors swirled initially about Q’s possible relapse on prescription cough syrup, which he recently confirmed in an interview with Angie Martinez of Hot 97.
At its best, Q’s snarling recollections of his time stripped of innocence in South Central paint a vivid enough image to hold a cloud over your head and warrants numerous listens (think “Hoover Street,” “Prescription/Oxymoron,” “What They Want”), yet the album seems unsure of itself for something following the boisterously confident Habits & Contradictions and leaves you wanting more. And yet, the fact that this is TDE’s album to debut at number one months does have some historical significance. Q’s road to recovery means he’s on the right path. Here’s to hoping the highs of this album carry over to his next attempt.