'Oxymoron' shakes & rattles hip-hop
Any time Black Hippy member/solo rap artist Schoolboy Q has a new project in the works, the underground hip-hop world naturally stirs. Following in the footsteps of TDE teammate Kendrick Lamar, the West-Coast rapper drops his sophomore EP with a bang, [and some bangers]. 2013 was the year of K. Dot and m.A.A.d. City, (deservingly so), but 2014 belongs to Q. The long-awaited studio album from the bucket hat-wearing rapper is 100 percent street and unapologetically raw-perhaps two of his signature traits that make us squirm, while simultaneously cranking up the volume. The final product is undoubtedly intimidating...sometimes offensive--but as graceful as gangsta rap gets.
Sometimes Schoolboy Q raps quietly about his self-admitted delinquency, and other times he prefers to rub his misbehavior in our faces, his vices on parade for the world to see. [Think of Kendrick, minus the remorse]. Regardless, causing discomfort brings Schoolboy Q delight. The album's opener, "Gangsta," is an instance of the latter. An oxymoron in and of itself, the song's intro features Schoolboy Q's 4-year-old daughter Joy's voice, our last taste of innocence before unashamed verbal corruption takes ahold. On a beat as reckless as the lyrics, he reintroduces himself and his role in rap in the simplest way possible: "gangsta." "Let the barrel spin, get blended in, embrace the funk/Groovy as I'm running through your system." He makes it seem like an option.
Possibly one of the tightest, most pristine tracks is the summer-released single, "Collard Greens", a Schoolboy Q-Kendrick duet. It doesn't get much better than this. Production is impeccable, tailor-made for the beat critic's ears. The rappers blend soul food imagery with talk of riches, and we're even graced with a taste of Kendrick's Spanish-speaking. Though the song and message is so succinct, even borderline rushed, we're left with two things: a reverence for the West Coast duo and fierce urge to replay.
Other times, listeners get a taste of disorganization. Welcomed onto "Los Awesome," is Q's own Black Hippy brother Ab-Soul. He and Q jump on a Bollywood-themed instrumental, revved up with drum sample that depletes the song of any calmness.
Schoolboy Q doesn't self-censor, nor does he attempt to paint a pretty picture of street survival. From stories of slinging coke to cop run-ins to adolescent flashbacks of old-school homemade raps, if the occasion calls for self-sufficiency, Q delivers. (And with a "YAWK, YAWK, YAWK"). It's claims like "if God won't help me, this gun will" ("Blind Threats") that should make us do a double take, but instead are rationalized by our comfort with his violence, "well, it's Schoolboy Q." An angry fusion of Tupac and Mobb Deep comes to mind, especially on money-minded bangers like "Break The Bank" and the riotous classic "Yay Yay."
One thing is for sure: Schoolboy Q's no Drake when it comes to emotion. The permeating gloom and "hard" quality of his delivery leave little room for love, but lust is the occasional exception. Though the album is devoid of any slow jams, but "Studio" comes close, nonchalantly discussing a hookup, adorned with vocal contributions from the neo-soul crooner BJ the Chicago Kid.
"Oxymoron" is a guiltier "Habits & Contradictions"-if we even thought that was possible. Features and collaborations are far from random, with an underlying sense of artistic cohesion that links each song to the next. The stories aren't the same, but the skills that fill each beat make each one worth the listen. Schoolboy Q doesn't bring joy on "Oxymoron," nor does he fill you with positivity; rather, he flaunts street-born angst and celebrates his sin.
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