Review Summary: Sliiiiiide to tHe left.#1 on ScHoolboy Q’s Greatest Albums of All Time List
If you’re under the impression that Top Dawg Entertainment is taking over the world, you’re neither alone nor unjustified (hell, my phone even autocorrects ‘tde’ to ‘TDE’). For decades hip-hop has seen myriad groups fleetingly captivate the attention of listeners with promises of longevity, only to fade quickly when their output proves to be, at best, mediocre. Those artists poised to don the crown and galvanize hip-hop have made us hold our collective breaths, but when their music sputters, we’ve learned to exhale. Black Hippy has asphyxiated
us. In the past few years ScHoolboy Q and co. have submerged us in such a suffocating billow of robust rap that we’ve been bewitched into believing that forward is the only existing direction for the California collective. And while Q’s sophomore album Oxymoron
isn’t quite the powerhouse it was touted as, to call it a misstep would be a disservice to what is, truly, a great album; Oxymoron
’s no slump – it only shows that TDE can also move laterally.
If the album seems disjointed on first listen, it’s only because the perennial flurry of delays and setbacks (ha) ScHoolboy's album faced mandated a recurrent stream of teasers (a third of the album was available before its entirety leaked). For the uninitiated, Oxymoron
was marketed as a concept album, Q’s oxymoron being the juxtaposition of his roots as a crip in LA, furnished with addictions to guns, drugs, and women, and his forced acclimatization to parenthood and doing right by his ironically saccharine daughter (whose inclusion on the album is often questionable, though haunting on “Prescription”). Though the initial concept was not entirely preserved in the final product, Oxy
is still as cohesive as its predecessor was, again featuring a bevy of bangers. “Gangsta” introduces newcomers to just about all of ScHoolboy’s trademarks: the bark, the drugs, the straps, the ad-libs, and, most importantly, the incredible ear for beats. Although the delicate, fluttering piano and opalescent orchestral augmentation initially seem more attuned to levity than “Knock-Knock-Knock-Knock-Knock – YAWK”s, ScHoolboy’s penchant for addictive hooks and his exhaustive thesaurus of flows awaken the verve hidden within the musky hollows of the beat, sketching a menacing mission statement. “Hoover Street” opens with an incredible stripped back beat which evolves (far too quickly) into a daunting, atmospheric backdrop to the narration of Q’s childhood and family life, and though it’s not quite as enthralling or consonant as the annals of adolescence that Kendrick Lamar chronicled on Good Kid Maad City
, it’s a welcome peek through the recesses of a man whose emotional disclosures were previously restricted to the shallows of women, weed, and weather.
And while ScHoolboy has never been a particularly lyrical rapper – a factor he more than makes up for with his commanding presence and varied flows – “Blind Threats” finds Q at a lyrical apex as he entwines introspection and storytelling to spit two of his tightest verses period. And the beat, an urban potpourri of twinkling melodies, sharp strings, and tasteful school-desk knucklework, is one that would have fit perfectly on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
or Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
, so the Raekwon feature results in a gritty verse that is latticed so seamlessly into the beat that it feels like it’s actually part of the instrumental. In fact, for the most part, the features here are (Tyler the Creator is right at home on his homegrown “The Purge” and even 2 Chainz, whose verse is predictably vapid, at least fits well on “What They Want”) just about perfect for the songs Q commissioned them for, but surprisingly, the best song on the album doesn’t even have a feature: “Prescription/Oxymoron” opens with a near comatose Q ‘overfaded’ off a cocktail of lean and pills, forced by his state to ignore his family. The sludgy interpolations of his daughter Joy urging him to revive himself add an element of terror and reality to the song as it trudges along, somnolent but never monotonous. Suddenly, the track erupts into the subwoofer-mangling title track, where we find Q on the other side, pushing instead of popping (actually, he “just stopped
selling crack”, but this is the oxymoron – he moved work/indulged in crime to provide for his daughter), snarling the album’s meanest hook over rattling drums and viscous piano chords.
is so heavily riddled with great tracks, its only major flaw is that it sometimes tries too hard to make hits. Habits and Contradictions
was rife with effortless earworms, but on Oxy
it almost feels like Q is pandering too vigorously in his attempts to develop radio-ready jams; “Los Awesome” is so overwhelmed with noise in its busy production that not even a strong Jay Rock verse (honestly, at this point we should just assume that Jay Rock features on Black Hippy albums will almost always renegade) can save the song from itself, and “Man of the Year” is too obsessed with pampering clubgoers to be at all interesting. On “Studio,” ScHoolboy half-abandons rap to croon lamely on the verse while BJ the Chicago Kid lays a lifeless hook atop a thoroughly barren instrumental, and although “Hell of a Night” exudes gleaming catchiness – the ad-libbing on its final verse makes it one of the most enjoyable on the album – its hook (“go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go” ad infinitum) is unbearably corny. That’s not to say that half the album is throwaway material though; Q is incredibly talented when it comes to whittling his grimy, malleable beats into strong, fun songs – even when something goes wrong. Actually, “Studio” and “Grooveline Pt. II” (Suga Free’s lackadaisical style isn’t laid back – it’s uninteresting and almost offensive) are the only truly unlistenable
songs, and most of the songs on this album are more than stellar. Unfortunately though, when we compare Oxy
to Habits and Contradictions
(perhaps the only fair comparison to make), it can’t stand up even to its predecessor’s first three
tracks. But what it lacks in punch it makes up for in being a more focused effort than its occasionally mixtape-esque brother, and thus, Oxymoron
isn’t so much a backpedal for Q and TDE as it is a solid side-step.