Having dominated 2012 with “There He Go” and “Hands On The Wheel,” ScHoolboy Q took his time building himself as the next big thing out of TDE. Q represents a quarter of the Black Hippy crew, alongside Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, but his independent releases, as well as collabos with the likes of Macklemore, 50 Cent and YG, showed that he could stand on his own two as a solo artist. The 27-year-old MC was chosen as an XXL Freshman in 2013, increasing his profile, as well as the anticipation for his major-label debut, Oxymoron. While Lamar has had a lot of success from the Grammy-nominated good kid, m.A.A.d city, Q has been the promising talent waiting his turn. On an LP almost two years in the works, the Los Angeles rapper immerses listeners in tales of his gang affiliation, struggles with selling and consuming prescription drugs and accounts of his upbringing. It’s a story that might have started with Habits & Contradictions, but Oxymoron goes darker and deeper into Q’s past.
ScHoolboy’s presence on Oxymoron is poised and confident. He’s not here to give us another hot single for the radio or win fans over with cocky lyrics. He’s here to push gangsta rap mainstream without compromising his style. The LP is a sullen listen with hard-hitting anthems. On the opening track “Gangsta,” Q spits chilling bars that capture the feel of being a soldier in the trenches. “We on block patrol, nigga, fuck your roll, got the gat on me/Nigga look, it’s right here, bulldog bark, you could die right here.” “Hoover Street,” with Q reflecting on his youth and an uncle addicted to drugs, is a six-minute tale worth rewinding back for its vivid imagery.
Q’s other hallmark is his vulnerability, which is often more shocking to the system than his images of street life. Many instances of his past are meant to show he wasn’t hustling on the block all the time just to get by. Key tracks like “Prescription/Oxymoron” utilizes his daughter Joy to illustrate that there has been a lot of pain in his life. “My mommy call, I hit ignore, my daughter calls, I press ignore/My chin press on my chest, my knees press the floor,” he shares with deadpan delivery. He talks about doing good for his family on his standout verses on “Blind Threats” featuring Raekwon. ScHoolboy tells us about trying to survive by robbing and killing with sharply worded rhymes. And things come full circle with “Break The Bank,” where Q lets his story do the talking. “Good weed and me time, goodbye to Nissan,” he says. “’Cause one day this rappin’ gon’ pay.”
It helps that Q has developed his voice and flow since Habits & Contradictions. With a range of pitches and variation in attacking a verse, there’s a noticeable ease in hearing him go hard over tough beats by Pharrell, Tyler, The Creator, Mike Will Made It, The Alchemist and more. TDE’s in-house producers (Digi+Phonics and THC) make their case with a sonic direction that’s filled with delicate piano loops, snare drums and ominous synths. Then there are Q’s hooks, bouncing out from his rhymes. They’re surprisingly catchy for a rapper on his gangsta tip.
TDE promised to flood the game with new material in 2014. Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo introduced the raw talent to new ears, while Oxymoron fits as another chapter in Q’s journey for rap supremacy. It’s hard to tell if Q will take Kendrick’s throne off this debut, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t already thought about it. The LP ends with “Fuck LA,” an outro that embodies both his appeal and potential to be an even bigger threat in rap. “I’m a Crip for real, way before the deal, had them Oxy pills,” he boasts. There he goes again.—Eric Diep