Real And True
After patiently waiting for his turn, it's finally here. Now ScHoolboy Q gets to show hip-hop what a threat he really is.
Words kris ex

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the April/May 2014 issue of XXL Magazine.

ScHoolboy Q saunters into the downtown Los Angeles showrooms of Zanerobe—an Australia-based streetwear brand—he’s wearing retro Air Jordan 1s, off-black jeans, a blue custom-made Milkcrate Athletics bucket hat emblazoned with the 5200 block of Figueroa Street and a gingham Emilio Sacci shirt. “I got it from one of my videos,” says the 27-year-old West Coast MC extremely matter-of-factly. “I just took it home. It costs like $400.” Slung over his back is a backpack made of at least one kind of reptile skin. The bag contains a minimum of two mason jars of marijuana buds. He’s already high, but he asks if he’s allowed to smoke in the room, even though he knows that he can’t. Within an hour, he’ll produce, as if by magic, two Styrofoam cups. (“I just finished the album, so I feel like I could drink a little lean, even though it’s still wrong,” he says.)

Q will tell you that there’s nothing special about him—despite the fact that he’s a successful and still ascending rapper tied into Top Dawg Entertainment, currently rap’s most promising movement. Oxymoron, his major-label debut—coming after two early mixtapes (2008’s Schoolboy Turned Hustla and 2009’s Gangsta & Soul), both of which he describes as “embarrassing” and “terrible,” and two well-executed independent albums (2011’s Setbacks and 2012’s Habits & Contradictions)—has been one of the more anticipated hip-hop albums since TDE’s Kendrick Lamar emerged as leader of the new school with the Grammy-snubbed good kid, m.A.A.d city two years ago. As of today, the album is still a closely guarded secret—the track listing won’t be released for another week, and when he hooks up his iPhone to the showroom’s soundsystem to play a few cuts, he doesn’t divulge song titles, despite the fact that two videos and parts of two other records from the album have been released.

“Me talking about music and me actually releasing it is a whole different thing,” he says. “Nobody really cares about interviews. They’re cool to watch, but the music always speaks for itself. So that’s what’s going to heat me up—not a interview, not a TV appearance, not me on a billboard. Me releasing those songs is just me heating it up, ’cause I don’t believe TV, none of that shit can help me. Nobody cares about that no more.”

It’s an incredibly bold thing to say to a reporter (who happens to be conducting an interview) in front of your publicist (who happens to spend his time setting up things like interviews and TV appearances), but Q gives no fucks. It’s also a contradiction—he showed up for the interview (relatively) on time, despite the fact that he doesn’t drive, having had his license suspended some eight years ago and not bothering to fix it up. Once this interview is over, he’ll shoot over to film the season finale of DJ Skee’s SKEE Live show on AXS TV, where he’ll give at least one interview and perform twice backed by the house band. (He was also a guest on the series’ premiere last summer.)

Oxymorons are Q’s stock in trade. He’s a (non-active) gangbanger with an expensive taste for fashion. He also maintained a 3.3 GPA while attending Crenshaw High School and played football as a student at Glendale and West Los Angeles community colleges, as well as Los Angeles City College, though he never graduated. “That shit was hard,” he says. “I knew I was gonna drop out. I was just trying to play football for a little bit.”

He accredits his high school GPA to gaming the system. “All you gotta do is do your homework,” he says. “Honestly, really think about high school. It’s the easiest shit ever. Just turn your work in. I was failing tests and all that, but I would have so many A’s it would balance out into a B or a C+ in other classes. It was real, real easy. Go to school, cheat, nigga. That’s how I did it.”


Either way, his academic success earned him the nomde guerre Schoolboy, which turned into ScHoolboy Q—the capital “H” representing his gang allegiances and the “Q” his birth name, Quincy Matthew Hanley—once he started rapping in 2008. To this day, he represents the Westside 5-Deuce Hoover Crip set on his body and his music. In the past, he’s made odes to Crip Gang founders Raymond Washington (the Portishead-sampling “Raymond 1969”) and Stanley Tookie Williams III (“Tookie Knows [Interlude]”); within the first 90 seconds of Oxymoron, he proudly calls himself “a Fig nigga.” (There’s also a song on Oxymoron called “Hoover Street.”)

“This is not me now,” Q assures, all laid-back and self-medicated. “This is my past. I just felt like I needed to get this off before it’s all said and done. I needed to get this off—this aggressive album or whatever. I’m not that person no more. I’m not trying to impress nobody. They know where I’m from. I’m Big Homie now. So I ain’t gotta show face [on the block], I don’t gotta do no explaining, I don’t gotta do nothing. But when I come through, it’s always love, ’cause I’m always be where I’m from, I’m always gonna be from Hoover. But I ain’t trying to hang out and fuck my shit off. You work so hard to be successful, you ain’t trying to fuck it off once you there. Fuck that.”

Still, in ScHoolboy Q’s music, gangsterism reigns supreme. He textures his tales with ground zero observations that are alternately glorifying, desperate, remorseful and meditative, and there’s nary a PSA in sight. It would be more disconcerting if it weren’t so engaging. More than most rappers, Q uses his voice like an instrument—all pitch-changing squawks and hazardous squeals and adventurous threats and yelping ad-libs, stacked and layered and jostling for attention—and rarely does he sound like he’s not enjoying himself. On his recent single “Man Of The Year,” he raps over a sample from the dreamy disco pop band Chromatics—making it at least his second time rapping over music created by a Portland-based, Pitchfork-approved band (his 2012 single “There He Go” used Menomena’s “Wet And Rusting”). “Man Of The Year” is Q’s version of a radio single—bouncy and angsty, playful and sinister. Much like his previous single “Collard Greens” (which was recorded on the same night as “Man Of The Year,” while he was high on Adderall), “Man Of The Year” sounds like a club song until you actually listen—“Burnt lips, got a blunt full of weed/Peace, love, enemies/Nigga, I ain’t come for the beef/You ain’t know she came for the skeet?/Got pipe for the cheeks”—and it becomes both more and less.


Like so much of today’s rap, Q’s songs are full of pimp dreams, bitches and hoes that are good for one thing (two, if there’s some money off of them). It’s not the music to play for young children who can’t parse the dynamics of gender politics. Still, he uses his 4-year-old daughter, Joy—who also shows up on one of the Oxymoron album covers and in his videos—as his unwitting in-house A&R. “She likes all my shit,” he says. “But I can tell when she don’t like it or care for it. She’ll just nod off or ask to use my phone or just don’t pay attention to the song. But when it’s something she like she’ll be dancing and like repeating lines she likes, saying the hook. Little do she know, but I know when she like and dislike something.”

The idea of a parent pushing his daughter to celebrity is not cause for concern (he refers to her as a star and encourages her to be in front of the camera—“Maybe she’s just grooming to be something spectacular. I’m not tryna force her to do nothing. If she didn’t like it, I wouldn’t do it.”), but playing parental advisory-worthy music is another thing. Yet, just as he doesn’t shy her from the spotlight, he doesn’t choose to shield her from what it is. Joy appears on Oxymoron’s “Prescription,” where Q is in a “Xanax coma” and his daughter is trying to wake him up. “She’s trying to talk to me, but I’m not really talking to her, and everything I say in there is flat-on a hundred percent true,” he says.

“I remember when I was cussing in the first grade,” he shares. “Shit, everybody that was in school was cursing in the first grade. I’m not saying I want my daughter to curse or nothing in the first grade, but reality is people curse, reality is people get killed, reality is women sleep with men that they don’t know. The best I could do is just raise her right. Her listening to music is no different from her watching an action movie. People just hate on rappers because we do a lot of things with no [college] degree or nothing like that. If they were to see me playing music for my daughter, they’ll flip out. But if they see me going to the movies with her it’s not as bad. Or if she was even an actor in a movie and she had to say some cusswords or something, it’s a good thing; it’s cool ’cause she’s an actor. But listening to my music [is frowned upon]. It’s kind of a contradiction, but whatever.”?