Review Summary: An eerie, forlorn tone haunts the better parts of "Habits"--it's just too bad that those moments are too few and far between.
Gloomy beats and ominous guitars open Habits & Contradictions
, and Quincy Matthew Hanley, better known as Schoolboy Q--one of the members of "Black Hippy"--drawls on about sins, suicidal thoughts and dwindling faith. The eerie aesthetic is chilling and it's an excellent opening to his sophomore release. The second song, "There He Go," continues to build on that tone as a baritone sax and an odd flow from Schoolboy suddenly crescendos into a high-pitch voice, as if he's losing control. Schoolboy raps on the opener "Sacrilegious" in a faded, droning fashion, "I push down upon this trigger / And burn, f**ker, burn," and you can see the scene playing out in your head. Like a mix between a classic mob movie and a go-for-broke tale, Schoolboy pulls you into Habits & Contradictions
from the first pick of the guitar and holds you there with his unusual habit of making you feel
as though you can't leave.
Somewhere around the third or fourth song, though, Habits & Contradictions
falls into a number of rap cliches from drugs and sex obsession to violent hubris. Songs like "Oxy Music" go on and on about using drugs and how "gone" Schoolboy is (he even raps about the process for making Oxycodone), and "Sex Drive" and "Sexting" simply say it all in the subtlety of their naming convention. There's nothing necessarily wrong with Schoolboy tackling subjects like these, especially with his unique beats and instrumentation, including spiraling synths, saxophone and even trilling flutes (did Sufjan Stevens slip into this mixtape?), but still, unless you haven't paid attention to hip-hop in the past few years, this isn't anything you haven't heard before.
Around the track "Hands on the Wheel" with ASAP Rocky, it's as if Habits
picks itself out of that hopeless, dark tone from the opening tracks and finds some sort of saving light. Schoolboy seems to pull himself out of the dirt and reverts to rambling about being high, getting laid and living like an all-around cocky rap star. But we don't want him to pull himself out of the dirt and muck. When he sounded like a lost soul on the opening track, it was cool. There was a mysterious slow-burn feel to the album, but songs like "Sexting"--as fun as the coked-out hyper beat is--make Schoolboy sound as if he's getting off track. That, or he just didn't have a good sense of direction from the beginning.
The eerie tone, which saunters in and out every once in a while on tracks like "There He Go," "My Homie" and "Blessed," is the one redeeming grace for Habits. Songs like "Nightmare on Figg St." have legitimately creepy beats. An old organ surrounds Schoolboy as he goes on quoting Jay-Z from Watch the Throne
in a much darker, more hopeless fashion. Also, Kendrick Lamar plays an exciting feature on "Blessed," and Schoolboy and him go back and forth about looking to the brighter side of life, even in the face of losing a son. Schoolboy says to his mourning friend in the song, "Thinking of some bulls**t to tell him like / 'It'll be okay,' 'You'll be straight,' 'It'll be all right' / F**k that s**t / Whatever you need, yo, I got it," and his voice suddenly crescendos into a near squeal. It's strange at first, and it shows up on other songs too, but that little gesture is a sign of letting go of the formula and losing himself in the moment. Those are the times that Habits
truly pulls you into its story--when you truly feel lost in the confines of Schoolboy's grip. It's just too bad that those moments are so few and far apart.