Review Summary: Don't believe the hype train
I should stop reading the blogs, really. I should stop getting swept up in the hype of any artist affiliated with a big name and hoping, despite my better judgment and already formed opinion, they will do anything more than what I expect. I kind of blame Earl Sweatshirt for everyone’s inflated expectations of the second-in-line of the numerous hip-hop ‘groups’ of individual artists who ostensibly represent a collective. It happened with A$AP Ferg and it’s happening now with ScHoolboy Q, even though 2012’s Habits and Contradictions
It’s my own fault for thinking he could change my mind. I tried to fall in love with his persona even though I didn’t think it was anything bigger than ‘the dude who wears bucket hats.’ I heard “Collard Greens,” with Kendrick Lamar’s terrible verse he probably found in a 15-year-old’s Spanish notebook with a bunch of penises and ‘jajaja’ etchings around it, and couldn’t figure out what I wasn’t hearing. I listened to Habits
again but felt worn out when second track “There He Go” was by far the best he’s ever made. Maybe my problem is I tried, actively tried, to like him.
The problem is: there’s really no concept of who Schoolboy Q is. Even on the album cover he is obscured by a white ski mask which manages to hide everything- including his race. He has a gangster edge- a pill pusher from Hoover Street, which is closest thing to a personality he offers- but at the same time he’s a dad. Sometimes he’s ‘Puffy,’ the weed head who gets high in the studio, and others he’s some sort of sex god who, like so many others, indulges himself from the rear of women. Out of the booth he’s a normal looking guy with a bucket hat and a goatee. His daughter is manipulated into contextualizing her father with interjections like “my daddy says you’re a nigga” and “*** rap, my daddy a gangsta,” indicative of his two irreconcilable sides and his tendency to tread into unappealing themes.
Apparently this is all intentional: a representation of Q’s Oxymoron
ic status as a father to a young girl who also parties heartily and hears the calls of the streets in the back of his mind. However, this is presented incredibly vaguely, alluded to but never said flat out. Only on the disjointed centerpiece “Prescription/Oxymoron” do we get a glimpse of the overarching narrative. Before the track breaks, Quincy Hanley has passed out on the couch- he has overindulged on medication. His daughter’s voice rings through the empty space trying to wake him, the beat switches and he is reborn: “I just stopped selling crack today!” The exclamation feels hollow, though, because on “Man of the Year” he has girls dancing for him during a drug binge. Any potential lessons learned are left behind in a matter of a few songs.
The way these themes are rolled together for effect is awkward. The thrust of the album is this gangster life he wants to leave behind but is obviously hung up on and he brings in themes of fatherhood to create artificial conflict. His inner contradiction is obscured by party anthems and traditionally ‘gangster’ guest stars (Kurupt, Jay Rock, Raekwon). In fact, without his daughter’s orations, there is no semblance of narrative or meaning behind Oxymoron
. This could be because Q’s storytelling ability is lacking, look no further than the bungled story of his uncle “Hoover Street” for how not to weave a narrative, but also because his inner turmoil sounds forced when spoken on record. It’s not entirely correct to compare Oxymoron
to Good Kid m.a.a.d. City
but give Kendrick Lamar credit for thoroughly exploring street life from someone who has left it all behind. Schoolboy, no matter what he tries making himself believe, clearly hasn’t left the streets behind and convincing the listener otherwise is impossible.
Reading these reiterations about theme and whatnot is dull and repetitious, but so is Oxymoron
. Worse, though, it isn’t limited to theme. Hooks are run into the ground, songs are extended for just one chorus too long and beats are looped until they start grinding. The word “gangsta” is said 32 times on the opener alone. The replay value is just about non-existent. Each song is fairly flawed in some way or another, that some are good enough to overcome their faults speaks to the quality of the guests. Tyler, the Creator’s voice fits perfectly on “The Purge,” 2 Chainz livens up “What They Want” and Raekwon’s “Blind Threatz” verse is the best on the album.
So this is Schoolboy Q’s coming out party: an incomplete album with a brainy yet underdeveloped concept and a corrupted concept of the man behind the ski mask. The singles are shiny and probably hooked a lot of new fans, but the real substance is a contradictory mess. The image of a walking contradiction, a drug addict father, is hard to sell and Q is too underdeveloped, he started rapping seriously in 2010, to articulate his true feelings. What comes of this experiment/appeal to the masses is an overlong slog with enough shine to pull you in but a tangled mess beneath the bright veneer.