Album Review: ScHoolboy Q – Setbacks

 |  January 17, 2011
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schoolboyq-setbacksIn the early ’90s, Los Angeles was a hotbed for developing talent in the Hip Hop world.  Boasting an A-list of artists like 2pac and Snoop Dogg, the L.A. scene was a glamorous landscape capable of attracting newcomers and making loyalists out of established artists. Yet after becoming a war zone for an anti-climatic feud with New York artists, the once vibrant city was nearly diminished to rubble in terms of national music coverage.  The city where label heads used to scout for talent and find the latest trends was soon left in the distance for unconquered pastures in the South.  In the past few years, the L.A. scene has picked up steam, with Black Hippy being  one of the more promising acts on the forefront.  Out of fellow Black Hippy members (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul), ScHoolboy Q has sort of played the background.  Dropping his debut, Setback, Q hopes to step from out of the shadows of his peers and into the spotlight.

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Setbacks opens in style to the tune of a record gradually revolving faster and faster before dropping into a smooth melody courtesy of Lord Quest.  With a subtle delay waning on his perfectly mixed vocals, Schoolboy drops some academic enrichment with a steady stream of thought.  The hook isn’t the most inspired (“Figg Get The Money”), but it sits well on the instrumental of this upbeat opener.  The mood shifts to a somber tone under the helm of Willie B’s production on “Kamikaze.”  Although Q litters the track with ominously forgettable lines like “greet the reaper/deliver death like serving pizza,” he proves that he’s capable of doing more than simply stringing words together throughout the course of a song.  Kendrick Lamar makes his first appearance on “LigHt Years Ahead.”  The track bangs with precision as the two chill over the choir sample sampled by frequent collaborator, Focus. The production on “What’s THe Word” is reminiscent of fellow Californian, Dr. Dre. Black Hippy member Jay Rock stops by to deliver sixteen bars of aggression, making this a full-fledged street anthem.  What’s more, Q separates himself from the herd with melodically delivered vocals in the third verse (“broken jaws and straws be the evidence/just another n*gga tat-tied up upon my letter man“)

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At this point, Q drift off into euphoria with two endo influenced songs, “iBETiGOTSUMWEED” and “Druggy’s With H-es,” the former being mellower.  Schoolboy Q eventually tops himself with tales of debauchery on “To THa Beat (F’d Up).”  Opening the second verse with the tongue-in-cheek cry, “please don’t tell my mama I’ve been taking ecstasy and smoking marijuana,” listeners get a glimpse of Schoolboy Q’s character which has long been masked by the generic traits of so many rappers.  Although, the previously mentioned tracks fare well, ScHoolboy Q proves most skilled at storytelling.  For example, on “Cycle,” Q puts the never-ending cycle of violence in the ghetto under a microscope, which excellent results.  Despite all of this, Q reverts back to his street rapper steez on “Crazy,” which is ultimately a success in its own right.   The proceeding “PHenomenon” offers a different side of ScHoolboy as Alori Joh chimes in with a radio-friendly jingle of a hook, which is somewhat underwhelming for the body of work Q’s laid down in the previous nine songs.  This trend follows into “Fantasy” which comes after the skip-worthy “Situations.”  It seems like ScHoolboy Q can’t find his lane, and while it’s not reprehensible, it doesn’t exactly blend well into Setbacks.  “I’m Good” allows Q and guests Punch and BJ The Chicago Kid to more successfully express the motifs of “PHenomenon” and “Fantasy,” again leaving one to wonder why the former two were not omitted from Setbacks.    Kendrick’s return (“Birdz & The Beez“) is timely and smoothes out the tail-end of Setbacks. The Black Hippy conglomerate comes together for the final outing entitled, “Rolling Stone.”   The track features a flipped sample of The Zombies’ Time of The Season,” which makes for an enjoyable listen.

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While Setbacks is a misleading title, ScHoolboy Q does leave room for critique. Despite his overwhelmingly impressive flow, Q rarely says anything worthy of raising an eyebrow.  The album also has several Setbacks, namely the lack of direction found within tracks such as “PHenomenon,” “Fantasy” and “Situation,” which should’ve been scrapped from the project altogether. Yet when all is said and done, Setbacks is a terrific album in many respects. A majority of the production compliments ScHoolboy’s tone, and as previously mentioned, Q’s flow is consistently on-point.  In addition, “Setbacks” is remarkable from a sonic standpoint, as all aspects sound as if they are at their utmost crispness.  Setbacks is a worthy debut from the LA newcomer. If this album is a sign of what’s to come, listeners should heed this advice and keep their eyes and ears open for ScHoolboy Q in the near future.

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35mics
3.5/5

Purchase Setbacks on iTunes