Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron

ScHoolboy Q makes a reckless sprint for “man of the year.”

Additional Info

7.8

ALBUM: Oxymoron

ARTIST: ScHoolboy Q

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

ScHoolboy Q's a lovable thug.

At least that's what he wants you believe. Truth is, I doubt if he even considers himself a "thug" anymore. When he brings up his past, there’s a sense of apathy lurking under the initial nostalgia. “I was gang-banging at 12. I was a Hoover Crip. My homies were doing it and I wanted to do it. I can't really explain that,” he’s said about the past. When the topic turns to his stint in jail, he doesn’t bring up the charge (“but it wasn’t a sexual thing,” he jokes) and simply says that he went to prison for three months before finishing parole on house arrest. There’s also the same passivity to his previous bouts of violence (“got beat up, beat shit up”). Even though he’s always been honest about his upbringing, the one element of his life that he’s embraced unflinchingly - even at its grimiest - has been his drug use.

So, expectedly, even when trying to make a more “gangster” record, encompassing more than just the drug trade and addiction (from violence and racism to the slang and hip-hop culture), Oxymoron is rooted by his firm adherence to drug use and where that’s led him. Whether it be the countless relationships with hookers and other addicts alike (“Grooveline Pt. 2,” “His and Her Friend (ft. SZA)”), or the future he gets to build for his daughter from the scraps he stole from the gutter. Because, despite the emphasis of the gang-banging lifestyle present on this record, he's also been a father for a bit now and realizes that something positive needs to stem from this “oxymoron.” On top of all this, ever since Kendrick’s gone off like a goddamn nuke, him, as well as the rest of the TDE conglomerate, have had to take the backseat (no freestyle). All this to say that, it must be a confusing time for Q - who just wants to be a “groovy type, bucket hat dude.”

So yes, he's probably not a thug anymore - but I'll be damned if he isn't still lovable.

And that's why we laugh when his daughter’s featured on the intro, calling her “daddy a gangster,” but understand how real the scenarios played out on “Prescription/Oxymoron” must be. Why when he says "I just stopped selling crack today,” we understand that that’s how it must actually feel for him. He went from pushing drugs to pushing music to finally having no need to push anything and time to reflect. And Oxymoron, as a whole, is a direct product of this time in limbo - a response to an identity crisis.

On Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q finds himself faced with a delicate balancing act - one that he tackles with unabashed and almost careless freedom. He’s often compared this major label debut to Snoop Dog’s classic, Doggystle, for having no regard to conventional rules. And while that’s true to an extent, it becomes apparent that even Q realizes the commercial restraints presented by trying to overcorrect for growing up - the restraints presented when trying to create the dirtiest, most explicit, depiction of his past violence, sex, and drug use, all while remaining blissfully ignorant. That’s why there are almost two college party-anthems back to back (“Hell of a Night,” “Man of the Year”) and a single worthy track straight out of the era of Omarion (“Studio”). It’s a high-strung act that includes not only celebrating the life that made him who he is today, but also condemning certain aspects of it in exchange for the well-being of his daughter and his own state of mind. Finally moving past it all into even more uncertain territory.

He no longer has any cards up his sleeves (but he still might have a few “oxys” by his “nutsack”). He's honest with his addictions but equally steadfast in his refusal to slow down until it's out of his hands. He went to jail - that probably knocked him down a peg. He had a daughter - that hopefully grounded him a bit more. But while he's in this booth, he's trying to simultaneously give his confession and preach the ghetto gospel - all while gaining more recognition, money, and respect than ever before. Like I said, it must be a confusing time for Q.

Time to go back to school (pun, maybe, intended) and reassess his values.

And that's how the record plays out.

As contradictory as it is confident. Bangers to depressive odes. From “the bad guy, never once been a hoes hero,” to raising a daughter. And, as usual, he uses his resiliently morphing voice to tell entire stories though ad-libs, create a drug-addled, addiction-driven, walk down memory lane, and allow himself the privilege of being hopeful for the future. There’s a confidence bred from tackling the world on your own since before you were even a teenager, and that unlikely vigilance regarding his origins is brimming on the surface, amidst all the haze, even when apologizing for past mistakes.

There’s a disconnect on some tracks with the way he treats this album like a confessional more than the previous two. There’s a conversational cadence now, often choppy and self-indulgent, that doesn’t do much for the listener. However, ScHoolboy Q’s signature style is apparent for much of the album (a drive-by detailed in only ad-libs: “knock knock knock knock YAWK”), if only to emphasize which side of him we enjoy more.

The only real problem with the record is that ScHoolboy didn't show up for the entire album.

There's waning effort and execution throughout, and subsequently, since his music relies so much on his ability to thrust the listener right into the center of the mosh pit, the album doesn’t land its punches as hard as it should. It’s like he's still leaning on codeine, nodding in and out of focus and between self-indulgence and engaging material.

Regardless, it becomes clear that Q wants nothing more than to be a "groovy nigga" - a persona he's been trying to perfect since Setbacks. It means letting his ad-libs tell the story and the production carry the weight of the message. The layered vocals, the disgruntled distortion, the conversational cadence: all an attempt at putting the sensory deatils of a life far removed from his core fans on wax.

But ScHoolboy has officially graduated and is finally out of “the life.” But, not unlike the millions of college freshman around the world currently being forced dictate the path for their immediate future - without even having time to reflect on the past - he doesn’t know exactly what to do with his education and how to proceed with his passions.

Oxymoron is his transcript, for the sake of having one.

“Lookin’ like the reaper in your driveway”

1. Gangsta
“Hello...hello? Fuck rap. My daddy a GANGSTA,” calls out ScHoolboy Q’s toddler of a daughter on the first track off Oxymoron - poised to learn us a thing or two about what it means to be a “G.” Because as much as this album is about Q exercising his demons, it’s also about the root cause of those very crimes that led to those very addictions that, somehow, led him to this very moment today. He’s gone on record many times to emphasize the life he wants for his daughter, and what he’s had to succumb to, and eventually overcome, to make it possible. Teaming up with the same producers that helped him create fan favorites such as “Druggies Wit Hoes Again” off of Habits & Contradictions, he’s immediately in his comfort zone (the signature sing-song flow him and Ab-Soul use also makes a brief appearance). When ScHoolboy screams out “GANGSTA GANGSTA GANGSTA,” it’s not out of a frenzied and desperate state of mind - it’s with pure ease and familiarity. Even though all he’s done has led to a better life for his daughter, he still recognizes that he’s been a part of the life and culture since birth - gang- banging by the age of twelve. Also, he tweeted that he had to “pop” his daughter for repeating the intro the day after recording it with him. What a lovable thug.9.0
2. Los Awesome
And if what makes ScHoolboy a lovable thug is the contrast between the “gangsta” and the “groovy type nigga,” then there couldn’t have been a better way to start off this album. The one- two punch of “Gangster” and “Los Awesome” might throw some people off, especially the Pharrell produced “two-stepping” groove for the latter track, but it’s a declaration of his origins followed by a celebration of the camaraderie that’s often skewed by public perception. As ScHoolboy put it, it’s “some gang bangin’ shit...I needed something that the gang bangers could identify with. Not so much my core fans, more so the gang members.” But that doesn’t stop the bouncing and energetic song from delivering an enjoyable anthem, and Jay Rock from reminding us why he was the first one to actually blow up in TDE. In fact, Jay Rock on the hook and the third verse sounds like a ghost of an era passed - representing the time in hip-hop that ScHoolboy Q clearly gets his inspiration from, but also serving as a contrast between how that same culture sounds on wax today. Fun song, even if (or, maybe, because) the backdrop for the beat sounds like what Uncle Jesse was forced to sing on in Full House for his "hit single."7.0
3. Collard Greens
A great single, even if ScHoolboy thinks it was a “dud.” “Collard Greens” have always found their into TDE’s music, whether it’s Kendrick praying for comfort and ease for his friends and family, or ScHoolboy trying to support for his daughter. Money and weed - the keys to the mansion for people who’ve learned to appreciate the simpler, and often finer, things in life. An energetic performance from Q and a bilingual flexing of flows for Kendrick (who’s probably bored as hell, considering he went from doing what seemed like hundreds of verses in one year to letting his labelmates have at it for a bit). The rattling and consistent barrage of the beat, and the “heys” and “ohs” swinging in the background, all create an endlessly repayable mantra for luxury. Oh and: “What these niggas make a year, I spend that on my daughter’s shoes.”8.5
4. What They Want
Dirty and grimy - a fitting segue into the darker aspects of ScHool’s gangster rap and a departure from the more celebratory vibe of the first few tracks. The Mike Will codeine-laced beat couldn’t be more fitting for ScHoolboy to declare from the depths of gutter where he stepped on his first package that “this the shit that they want/this the shit that they need.” What he’s referring to - the production, or the collaboration (2 Chainz almost always stepping it up for features), or his life story in general - is irrelevant. As long as it’s being executed this well, we’ll want to hear it all.9.0
5. Hoover Street
An ode to his upbringing, like he’s done in the past (“Figg Get Da Money,” “Nightmare on Figg St”), but also the first track where his flow and delivery turns more conversational for the sake of storytelling. This isn’t an inherently flawed approach, but it also isn’t being executed particularly well by ScHoolboy Q. The production is once again great, matching Q’s build up in the intro and then transitioning into a synth-filled march for the main track. However, the hook, along with the two verses, aren’t too impressive and are actually kind of grating. The verses are interestingly detailed for the most part (the ice cream truck stick up, “hoodie on backwards with the eyes cut out”) and Q’s control of his voice allows him to express a variety of slang and cadences. But this track seems more self-indulgent than anything else.7.0
6. Studio
So far, the albums transitions and sequencing have been interesting and well done, but the same observation can’t be made about the placement of this track after “Hoover Street.” That being said, the song itself is actually executed pretty perfectly - playing as a grimier “Poetic Justice” of sorts. From the throwback hook, to ScHoolboy’s playfully teasing singing, to the blunt nature of the content (“Put my tongue in different places, play a game of Operation”) - it’s all very familiar crooning but undeniably ScHoolboy Q. And undeniably a testament to Q’s marketability.8.0
7. Prescription/Oxymoron
Because ScHoolboy’s gone on record stating that he’s studied Kendrick’s major label debut, “Prescription/Oxymoron” comes off as sort of a counterpoint to “m.A.A.d city.” The latter being an almost hyperreal, exhilarating yet terrifying, look into violence, and the former a strung-out dedication to the addiction that’s fostered by the drug dealing and subsequent violence. The beautiful production goes from hazy and subdued but still orchestral and grand to a more upbeat trap-influenced bounce. The keys and strings complement the recollection of the first half, from the love-hate relationship with drugs to the love-hate relationship with life he developed (“May 7/Ali calls.../I finally answer this time.../He said "Come to the stu', I'm mixing all your rhymes"/I don't decline/At least that's in my mind”) while the more menacing second part stands as his somewhat reluctant departure from the life for the sake of daughter (now appearing to be a “moron” for the “O-X-Y”). “I just stopped selling crack today,” He declares after a haunting message from his daughter questions if he’s “What's wrong? You tired? You mad?” before declaring “Okay, I love you, daddy” anyways. The flow on the latter half is his hardest yet - a fierce farewell and remembrance all at once (“Just stopped selling crack today/When it get hot, smoke a pill, watch it glide like Dr. J/I prescribe you I'm your doctor, kay?”).9.0
8. The Purge
School’s daughter, Joy, continues to narrate the album, this time stating that: “my daddy said drown, nigga,” before Tyler, on the hook, lets out a Waka Flocka “bow, bow!” The production is familiarly Tyler, The Creator, as is the deadpan hook, and, overall, the track doesn’t have the lasting power of the more engaging material on this album. Both ScHoolboy and Kurupt (“Next time you see me I'll probably be in the bushes”) have good verses, but the track gets lost in the middle of the album.6.0
9. Blind Threats
With the slightly reworked Gary Burton sample creating a mellow but still threatening enough atmosphere for ScHoolboy and Raekwon to mark their first collaboration, this track is a more introspective look from Q (“the Bible preachin‘ blind threats”). With precise and entertaining melodies, School declares that “if God won't help me/this gun will/I swear I'm gon' find my way,” and reflects on his waning relationship with religion (“Soul need saving, Mr. Preacher/I know I only come around when it's Easter/Funerals, Thanksgiving, Christmas time/When I'm in jail or when my card declined”). The Chef drops a braggadocios verse about clapping “a king- pin” and being a “suitcase king,” and expectedly sounds right at home with School’s purposefully drugged approach.8.0
10. Hell of a Night
I don’t know if I can tell how different the album version and the version “leaked by the NBA” are, but regardless, the Purity Ring inspired beat drives this single into being a very energetic and thoroughly entertaining banger (not dissimilar from “Hands on the Wheel”). Q knows his target audience pretty well (as he let you know “Collard Greens”) and how to cater to them naturally - better than other, seemingly more marketable, artists (read: he’s not making “Power Trip” than apologizing for it). Even if the bouncing and sporadic repetition of “go” is too much, and the content is more fraternity oriented than the rest of the album, ScHoolboy’s performance can’t be denied. There’s conviction in every slurred word (“I ain’t mindin‘ if the world stops” to “Ghetto chick, but I love them bamboos/No lean, but I chopped and screwed/She want a groovy type, bucket hat dude”).8.0
11. Break the Bank
The next track in this trio of singles, “Break tHe Bank,” is testament to School’s creativity. The melding of the sing-song flow with a rigid, abrasive, and segmented flow creates an extremely catchy dichotomy. Not mention, this is subtlety some of the best writing on the record (from the simplicity of “Good weed, I hit that/crack rock, I sold that/Oxy, I hid thar/right by my nutsack” to “Fuck pigs, I bust back, learned that from Deuce rap”). There’s an energy and presence to this song that’s missing on a lot of Oxymoron. The chorus might be a bit too much, and the song a bit too long, but at this point that’s a staple of his art and the execution cancels out any concerns. It might have stemmed from a need for a hit single (“Tell Kendrick move from the throne, I came for it/I hope this fuckin' hit arrange for it/cause Goddamn”), but only shows Q’s ability to maintain his style regardless of the context. 7.5
12. Man of the Year
Probably too similar to “Hell of a Night” due to its dreamlike Chromatics sample infused with atypical high-energy from Q, “Man of the Year” marks the end of the trilogy of singles sequenced in a row. Surprisingly, these are some of the most solid tracks on the record because of ScHoolboy Q’s relentlessness (whether it’s singing the hook on “Break tHe Bank” or the repetitiveness of the hooks on “Man of the Year” and “Hell of a Night”) - even if he seems reluctant in actively seeking out a hit single (and not really finding one). Regardless, it’s actually pretty impressive how many different ways Q manages to paint the blood-smeared, hazy, contorted canvas of his youth (“Sunny land of the G's/Please let a nigga breathe/Tank top top down for the breeze/Burnt lips, got a blunt full of weed/Peace, love, enemies” to, simply, “make mills from a verb”). The ease and transparency with which he delivers lines like “home of the paid on the first/then nigga going broke by the third,” on tracks meant to be party anthems is an achievement within itself.8.0
13. His & Her Friend
With the outro from “Los Awesome” serving as the intro for this hypnotic and rattling track, School uses the odd interlude of a song to flex his seemingly ever-expanding array of vocal nuances. It's always refreshing to hears Q tackle flows that've become commonplace nowadays in his own unique manner ("we be good for the week...won't last her the day"). The song, pretty subtlety, tackles the dynamic of a couple both simultaneously chained down and hopelessly strung out by drug addiction. SZA helps lace the song with subdued melodies and the brief track is an interesting counterpoint to the high energy we've seen surrounding it.6.5
14. Grooveline Pt. 2
The "will you sell that pussy for me" hook might have worked a lot better if School didn't sound so disinterested and just removed from the issue he's trying to relay. On paper, his verse fits with the track’s initial conceit, but the execution is far more conversational and complacent than engaging. The Suga Free feature comes off as a discount André 3000, but isn't bad by any means (the contradictions playing right along with the song’s basic dilemma between necessity and survival: "this is done by choice not by force/...I ain't askin I'm tellin you").5.0
15. Fuck LA
And, as if he heard my complaints, Q immediately switches to his high-octane filled brashness for the finale. The sequencing is off-putting at times because of the difference in execution from tracks like this and tracks like “Grooveline Pt. 2” (with “Studio” being the best middle ground). As the biggest contradiction/oxymoron/whatever on the album, "Fuck La" is all at once a wholehearted acceptance and fierce denial of LA. The threats of the culture ("link up fool/ gunplay peekaboo/guess who tagging you/bring showers through/grab ya bathing suit") the odd sense of pride and nostalgia ("renegade/fuck what rappers say/bitch I am LA" to "pussy lips, contraband for chips"). There's no sense of running these concepts or ideologies into the ground cause Q doesn't really care what you have to say - at all. He doesn't even care what his own hometown has to say. Q has tunnel vision. Beyond representing what got him here, as honestly as humanly possible (“bitch get sent to Pac, my biggie knock”), he only has positives to focus on for probably the first time in his life. But before he can thoroughly accept this new aspect of his life, he has to work his way through letting go his previous mantra - making this an extremely fitting, a probably therapeutic, closer.9.0
Narsimha Chintaluri is a creative writer currently satiating his need to write by venting about music, tv and film on any given platform.



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