ScHoolboy Q On His Daughter And Bringing Back Gangsta Rap
"What They Want""Need a gang of weed and a pint of lean
Got a hat say Figg on my gangsta tip"
Ed Note: The interview below comes from the outtakes from Real And True, the feature story on Q from XXL's new issue—which features Eminem, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine on the cover—on stands March 11. Subscribe to XXL right here.
ScHoolboy Q's major label debut album, Oxymoron, has been a long time coming, but it's finally here. TDE's resident gangsta rapper drops the project today, Feb. 25, and in the buildup to the album's release, XXL sent veteran writer kris ex into the L.A. rapper's camp to get the scoop on the vision for Oxymoron, Q's approach to recording music, his daughters' entertainment industry appeal, and why he might just be the only one out right now making a true Gangsta Rap album. —Interview by kris ex
XXL: What’s your fascination with 2012?
ScHoolboy Q: I really don’t have a fascination. I mean, it’s my startup, really. You could say 2011 was, but 2012 was like my start off in the game.
But you mention it a lot.
It was a time like 2010 or 2009, where I was at the lowest point in my life—health-wise, depression and all that shit. I was kinda like in a depressed state, ‘cause I couldn’t really take care of my daughter and shit. I was on the block hanging with the homies and shit. I went back to the block after I done moved or whatever. I came back around 21, 22, 23, whatever that was—’08, ‘09. I just could remember, I was so depressed, I remember just reading shit and act like, man, I hope 2012 is real, you know what I'm sayin'? Shit, we all out of here.
That’s how I was looking at it, ‘cause I ain’t—I could never kill myself. I wasn't thinking really suicide, I was just moreso of, ain’t shit working for me right now, ain’t no money coming in. Just like shit, if the world end, I ain’t mad at it. So I just put that in my lyrics, you know what I mean: "2012 ain’t really happen / So I guess it’s back to trappin’ / eyes open night to morning" [from "Hoover Street"]. Basically, not giving up, since the negative shit that I wanted to happen didn’t happen—just keep it going and hustle the best way I can possible. But the rap done just took over. That was just a picture painting.
How old is your daughter now?
Four. She was born in 2009.
You put her out there a lot.
'Cause I believe she a star. That’s what I believe. I believe she a star. Just her personality, the way she act, the way she talk—she a star, why not? Like, if she wanted to be pursuing the entertainment business, I’m not trying to push her to it, I’m not trying to stop her either. I just believe she a star and I believe—get her now while she’s young and since she like it, being in front of the camera, and wanting to do certain things with her father, why not?
What was missing from the album?
This album is like a real street album, like a gangsta rap album if you would say. It’s like my story of my past life or whatever. I just wanted to make the album sound whole, more fuller, you know what I mean, because I thought I was going in too much of trying to be a storyteller on certain records, and they just weren’t coming off the way I really wanted them to. They were dope, but it was just not what I really wanted to put on my album to fit. I just had to take a break for like a week or two, then went back with a fresh mind and I came up with these four songs, you know, that fit with the album. I listened to the album, rolled with it forever, realized what I needed.
So you consider it a Gangsta Rap album?
'Cause it’s telling my lifestyle, you know what I mean? It’s just how it sounds. I mean, when I hear it, that’s what I get from it and that’s what I believe it is. Why not? I am from L.A. We started it, so.
Are there a lot of Gangsta Rap albums out?
Ain’t never been none. How many gangsta rappers drop? I never heard of them. I mean, unless you want to count Trap Music now. But that’s Trap Music to me, that’s not Gangsta Rap. I don’t get that Gangsta Rap feeling. I mean, honestly, the last dude that did Gangsta Rap, I believe, was 50 Cent. Probably 50, that’s it. I heard a lot of YG's new album, it reminds me of Gangsta Rap. Maybe me and YG right now?
What about Nipsey Hu$$le?
Yeah, Nipsey Hu$$le, too. But shit is still more smooth, laid-back. But directly on, I believe me and YG is kinda right on. But Nipsey definitely is, though.
What's your songwriting process?
Just get inspired. I mean, it don’t matter. It could be anything. I could listen to a song, I could dim the lights, turn the lights down, get drunk, get super high, bring homies through—my process just all depends on how I feel, 'cause I just can’t go in to the studio and just rap. I’m not that type of rapper where you know rappers just go to the studio and they be knocking out five, six songs just because. I’m not that type of rapper. Like, I sit down and think and visualize everything I’m doing. I really don’t go in and just do a million songs.
How much do you write before you get there?
I just get mainly the concept more than anything, because I could just listen to a beat for damned near three, four hours, just non-stop, just trying to find the right concept. And that’s just like when I wake up or before I even go to the studio, before I even start working on it. Then when I work on it, then when I get to the studio. I just do the hook, then I do the verses or whatever. But I done already came up with the concept. I had been shuffling through the concept from waking up to studio time.
If I’m at the studio that night and, say, Tae Beast [one of TDE's in-house producers] comes through and he gives me a banger or whatever but I can’t get to it tonight—I’m already working on a record—I would take it home or whatever, listen to it on the way home, go to sleep, wake up on it, all day 'til I go back to the studio that night, then come up with the hook. Figured out the concept and I’ll just come up with the hook.
Do you spend time recording vocals?
Yeah. Yeah and no. Certain songs. I lay a lot of scratches. I rap with no doubles, no ad-libs or nothing, just rap it like blank on the one, two, three verses or whatever and hook and then I’ll listen to it. Like I said, I’ll take it with me some time and see what ad-lib needs to be there or see what needs to be doubled, what needs to be stacked, if a bridge need to be there.
You seem to use your voice as an instrument.
It’s getting lost; [I] call that getting lost in the music, you know what I mean? When you get lost in the music shit, you never know what you may say on the next line. You never know what type of stacking you may do. Fuck around, turn the Auto-Tune on, you know what I'm saying. Once you get lost in the music, you in there, so it’s no holds barred when you in there. That’s why we always say “no rules.” Do whatever. If you feel like an ad-lib should be there, do it. So what if it’s not correct? So what, you did a 16, and your last verse is only four bars; if it’s tight, it’s tight. That’s how we get down. So what? If you don’t wanna do a hook, five-minute song. Don’t make it, no hook, make it a single. Do it. Fuck it. If it sound tight, it’s good.
What do you think about your first two projects, Gangsta & Soul and Setbacks?
That was like the beginning beginning. I was so bad back then. Was that ’09? That was the year my daughter was born. Yeah, I sucked so bad. That’s horrible. It's dope to see the growth, what I grew up to be. I didn’t know how to use my voice then. I didn’t know how to stack shit, I didn’t know how to write good hooks, I didn’t know how to rap, period. Like, I was just bullshitting. But it definitely made me who I am right now. It built me up. Listening to that and then listening to Setbacks is just way different, like way more polished. Then even from Setbacks to Habits [& Contradictions, Q's most recent independent album], way more polished. And then from Habits to now, way, way more polished, you know what I mean? As long as I keep growing, I ain’t trippin’. But Gangsta & Soul is definitely embarrassing.
How’d you get better?
It just happens. It’s vision. You keep getting better visions. It’s funny, though, the best—I come up with the best shit after I take breaks. ‘Cause I be in the studio a lot. I basically live in the studio, so when I take break, like a few days off, go back to the studio, shit's amazing, you know what I mean? Like, your whole brain is just fresh. I’ll go to the movies or some shit or play a video game for, like, two days straight, go back to the studio, you know what I mean, get your mind off the music for a second, just to get everything cleared up, and go back and kill it.
What are your favorite moments, emotionally?
I’ll let this out. I got this song called “Prescription,” and it’s like, I’m vulnerable on there and I talk about me, how I was addicted to Xanax and shit like that at one point and I used to just take them all the time—Percs and little shit like that. Like, I still be fucking with the lean on and off or whatever. But the Percs and Xanies. I was just vulnerable on there, because I got my daughter talking through the hook as if I’m in a Xan coma almost, you know what I mean? A lean coma. She trying to wake me up. That’s the truest record on my album, for sure. That and “Break The Bank.” Well, that and “Hoover Street.”