ARTIST: ScHoolboy Q
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”