There’s an eclectic new outfit of MCs in the works. They’ve been operating on the fringes of the mainstream, ignoring the conventions of what was supposedly needed to make it in hip-hop. Major label deals? Maybe later. Debut studio albums? Let’s release a free mixtape instead. Capitalizing on the emergence of this new breed, indie label Top Dawg Entertainment has slowly put together a potential powerhouse in the making. Their roster is good. Scary good. There’s Kendrick Lamar, the introspective poet, crowned the heir apparent to the West Coast throne by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in a passing of the torch moment. There’s Jay Rock, a hard-nosed voice of the streets. And then there’s ScHoolboy Q—somewhat of an oddball within an oddball crew, dabbling in recreational drug use, sporadic mayhem, and the occasional foray into socially conscious rap. (And don’t forget Ab-Soul—he’s next on deck). Self-aware of his own inconsistencies, ScHoolboy makes his 2012 debut with Habits & Contradictions.
Contradictions, indeed. The tone of the project is ever-changing throughout. The somber opener “Sacrilegious” is a far cry from the weed and brews anthem “Hands on the Wheel” that follows soon after. There’s a woodgrain tinge to the record, underscored by an H-town influence that the track’s featured guest, A$AP Rocky, also made integral to his debut release LiveLoveA$AP. The same influence is evident on the drugged out “How We Feeling,” where syrupy slow drums remind of a Chopped and Screwed record.
Then there’s the sinister ravings of a madman, showcased on the claustrophobic interlude “Tookie Knows” and the Crip-inspired “Raymond 1969.” On the latter, ScHoolboy sounds almost Odd Future-esque, with mentions of over the top violence, while simultaneously claiming “I’m not on my Odd Future tip” (Remember the whole contradictions thing?). Then carefree chill artists Curren$y and Dom Kennedy show up on “Grooveline Pt 1,” one of the album’s more relaxing cuts.
The final contradiction of the night appears on the last cut, “Blessed.” Kicking street wisdom alongside Black Hippy groupmate Kendrick, Q’s self-aware reflection is a deviation from the hedonistic anecdotes featured throughout. K. Dot’s verse is something to marvel at, another gem from the Compton MC who’s looking like a rap legend in the early stages of development.
Ultimately, lyrical dexterity and a versatile delivery prove to be ScHoolboy’s biggest assets. He’s got an arsenal of different flows, sounding at home no matter the sonic direction of the record. Such disparate influences might seem inharmonious, but, somehow, woven together, it flat out works throughout. The truth is, a passing of the torch ceremony is all well and good, but this stable of classroom misfits on the horizon seem poised to take over, whether the OGs approve of it or not. One of them is a ScHoolboy with something to say—and you never know what side of him you’re going to see next. —Neil Martinez-Belkin