Interscope Records / Top Dawg Entertainment
Interscope Records / Top Dawg Entertainment

Since they rose to stardom together as part of Black Hippy, Schoolboy Q has been sort of a perfect counter to Kendrick Lamar. K. Dot has always had this good kid, almost angelic, persona as he drops his inspirational raps about self-love and perseverance in hard times. On the other side of things, Schoolboy Q is the hard-nosed, aggressive crew member, rapping about drug dealing, hustling and protecting his own. Kendrick is the optimist, Q is almost a nihilist in his approach. It's a perfect balance. They both have skills perfect for their very different lanes.

The big difference is that Schoolboy Q hasn't had the same success as his group-mate on his studio records. His three previous albums, Setbacks, Habits & Contradictions and Oxymoron, both suffer from an intriguing issue. On these albums, the highlights are so strong that they almost take away from everything else. Anthems like "Hands on the Wheel" and "There He Go" on Habits and "Man of the Year" and "Hell of a Night" on Oxymoron dominate the albums and stick way more than the other tracks. This is a good problem to have; it shows how strong Q is as a rapper at his best. Yet while individual tracks and verses have earned him a reputation for being a lyrical beast, the parts making up his projects are seemingly greater than its whole.

That all changes on his newest release, Blank Face LP. On this record, Schoolboy Q goes his absolute hardest for almost all of the 74-minute run time. There are standouts, but they don't distract from the other hard-hitting tracks on the LP. This is Q's longest, but also most consistent release yet, and it proves the 29-year-old Los Angeles spitter is really coming into his own.

The opening track "TorcH" sets the tone for the project. On the track, Schoolboy Q and an uncredited Anderson .Paak talk about growing up in the hood and the paranoia that comes with it. "Met the devil in disguise/Look through my motherfuckin' eyes," while Anderson Paak show his paranoia with "I see faces at my window/My patience growin' short/I had no one to lend on/That's why this chip is so cold," Q rhymes.

Lyrically, Schoolboy Q stays in his wheelhouse. "THat Part" has him and Kanye West bragging about their bitches, money and cars. On "Lord Have Mercy," he faces his demons as he asks God if he can receive forgiveness for the sins he's committed in his lifestyle. "Dope Dealer" is exactly how it sounds: a track all about Q's life as a drug dealer. "Black THoughts" finds him talking about the Black community and encouraging everyone to come together. "Let's put the rags down and raise our kids/Let's put the guns down and blaze a spliff," he spits.

The biggest highlight of the album is the two-part track "Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane." On the "Groovy Tony" half of the song, Q and an especially inspired Jadakiss rap about being blank-faced killers and drug dealers. The second part features Schoolboy comparing himself to Eddie Kane, the fictional singer in the film The Five Heartbeats, who received fame and respect in music but had to deal with his many vices. The song further details the struggle of Schoolboy Q's demons catching up to him and his lifestyle.

Blank Face is loaded with great features and production. Along with West and Jadakiss, E-40 ("Dope Dealer"), Vince Staples ("Ride Out"), Tha Dogg Pound ("Big Body"), Anderson .Paak ("Blank Face") and more show up. The only Black Hippy member to appear on the project is Lamar, who provides backing vocals on "By Any Means" and "Overtime."

Meanwhile, Top Dawg mainstay producers like Tae Beast, Sounwave and Willie B help create the dark, twisted backdrop to even the album's most celebratory songs. Heavy hitters like Metro Boomin, Alchemist, DJ Dahi and Cardo also add their production savvy to the effort. The bleak undertones of the beats in more triumphant moments seem to show the ever-present trials that Schoolboy Q faces.

The one hiccup with the album comes with "Overtime," featuring Miguel and Justine Skye. The track is a solid sex jam, but the entire feeling is unlike anything else on the record. Its presence, admitted by Q himself, is there for radio play and to appease the labels, and it makes sense. On an otherwise cohesive album, "Overtime" is jarring.

Blank Face LP isn't Schoolboy Q's first great album, but it's the first one where he lives up to his utmost potential. He can be smooth, he can be hard as nails, but whatever he is, the MC does it with greatness. Q can talk about his violent, drug-dealing past and almost celebrate it in one moment and decry the ever-present dangers of hood life in the next. Blank Face is the album an artist like Schoolboy Q was born to make.

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