The Education of Schoolboy Q
Interview By Bonsu Thompson
Schoolboy Q waltzes through the entrance of the Marlton Hotel’s mini penthouse with energy opposite of his fans this NYC morning. The delivery date for his Interscope debut Oxymoron is less than two weeks away and rap heads, even those on the opposite coast of his native Los Angeles, are juiced with anticipation. Q isn’t juiced on anything. He soberly greets the awaiting collective of VIBE editors, video shooters, stylists and single groomer. He sports a fuchsia TDE hoodie beneath a grim three-quarter trench, black hat that appears Hasidic official and grips a Styrofoam Dunkin’ Donuts cup. He claims his management never informed him of the “need to change clothes.” He has no desire to wear the Italian dinner jackets that were pulled, and the groomer shouldn’t even think about getting near his Rasta-esque beard. Schoolboy doesn’t shave. Schoolboy also never takes his hat off. The room silently prays that his cup of Joe is black.
Then a blunt lights up and the rapper born Quincy Hanely follows. He doesn’t want the room to perceive him as difficult. His music may articulate an unbridled Crip who has more pills to sell and pop than fucks to give, but he’s quite clearheaded on the music and aesthetic he wants to put forth. He says he’ll shave one day. Just not for the release of Oxymoron. One listen to the South Central audio trip and you’ll realize, ignoring the album title’s support, Schoolboy’s not nearly as dumb as his drug choices. Like the best who ever recorded a full composition (labelmate Kendrick Lamar included), Q brings you inside of his world. The exceptional arrives when he places oxy frames on your eyes so you can experience his grey South Central story under the influence of insane highs and hues. Tenured professors like Pharell and Raekwon and Alchemist and Kurupt enable Schoolboy’s miseducation in scholarly fashion. It’s why, despite Oxymoron leaking immediately after this shoot, its healthy presales have encouraged murmurs of the rookie’s first week possibly outperforming Rick Ross’s, whose sixth album drops the following Tuesday.
Before long, two buds of OG kush disappear and the coffee kicked in. The wisecracking father of daughter Joy has returned. He drops Pilgram jokes on his own hat. He’s even shooting in one of the suit jackets (love for the groomer remains at zero). He’s compliant and now ready for his interview. Over the next 30 minutes Schoolboy’s at his most focused––he’s concise when explaining why he’d rather have all the attention on his album than himself, brotherly while discussing Kendrick’s Grammy snub, and most vulnerable when addressing his alleged addiction to lean (cough syrup and soda on the rocks). Guess that Dunkin’ Donuts cup wasn’t filled with java after all. Yock!
The energy around Oxymoron feels strong and you’ve personally raved about it. Do you seriously feel like it could be one of those special albums?
Yeah. It doesn’t sound like nothing [else]. I didn’t have a Top 40 record, none of my singles went gold or platinum, but yet if you look at my album it’s #1 in hip-hop right now and it hasn’t even dropped yet. That says a lot. My fans are there and the energy is good. Everything I do is for my fans. I ain’t shit without them.
Did you go into the studio intending to make a certain statement with this album?
Yeah. When I made this I [said] “I’ma fuck niggas up.” When I made this, I planned on not having one single on the album. Like, not one. I just wanted to put it out.
Why are artists so anti single?
I’m not anti single. I’m not one of them niggas that say “Aww record sales ain’t everything.” No. I wanna sell good. I would love a platinum record on radio and charts, but for this album I wanted to have it straight for my core fans, for people to know where I come from and who I am because I may not ever do this type of music sonically again.
Over the last couple years you’ve developed a very carefree style of rhyming––you use your voice like instruments, often replacing words with noises. Seems like you mastered that on “Collard Greens.” What’s your writing process?
I’m one dude that writes his adlibs. I don’t just go in there and say “Gimme a track.” I say what I’ma say here [then] I put effects on my voice. Why not? I wrote it. Why not show the talent? Why be scared? That’s why I hate certain fans who hate cause it’s not like raw hip-hop, like boom bap. Cause it’s not boom bap, or I stack the hook [means] it’s not hip hop? I can do more than just boom bap. Fuck that shit.
I have to respect how you brand your rhymes. Like some sentences don’t even make sense off the first listen, but you can tell it’s by artistic design.
I do say a lot of shit that people wouldn’t understand because it’s like insider talk. That’s how me and my homies talk. Like how we pronounce certain words; we would call a beat a “steat.” So I would put that type of shit in my music and people wouldn’t understand it but eventually if they stay down with me and they get to know me, they will understand everything. I remember listening to Sugar Free and Jay Z and I never really understood some of the stuff they used to say until years later. Then you hear it again like, Damn that’s crazy. I just got what he’s talking about.
With titles like Sit’s clear you’ve always owned your rocky journey. Was there a particular incident that made you say, “I’ve got to stop with the street shit and devote 100% to rap”?
It was various things. I couldn’t sell pills no more [because my] homie went to jail. So that connection was lost. The homie moved from the block so I couldn’t just stay on the block no more. I was just dirt broke. My daughter mom was coming through giving me money every day just to get something to eat––$10 dollars or whatever. I didn’t have no where to stay. I went to TDE and was literally living in the studio where you record. I went damn near a whole two years not getting sleep because there was always somebody there recording. I was taking baths with dishwashing liquid. I was one of the dudes [who] would never ask for nothing so I would never ask for soap. If I couldn’t steal it, I would just take a little dishwashing liquid and brush the dirt off me right quick.
Was Top Dawg ever like a big brother to you?
It ended up being like that. At first I could tell they didn’t really fuck with me. I was just cool, [but] they didn’t fuck with me musically. [And] they shouldn’t have fucked with me at that time. I wasn’t ready yet. But I kept staying around. Punch seen something. The only person that seen something in me was Punch, and probably Ab-Soul. Ab-Soul and Punch was the two niggas that was like “Yeah, Q gon be one of them niggas. Watch.” I don’t know how they knew but they knew.
You started out doing shows with Kendrick. What was that early experience like?
He wanted me to be his hype man. [As] his hype man I just seen so much: him jumping from nine people at the show to 30 people to 100 to 200 to 300 to sold out. That shit was motivation for me. Kendrick was basically living how I was but he was staying with his mama. Like we was grown men. He was living with his mama at 24, 25 [years-old] talking about he gonna be a rapper. You know how that shit sounds?! You already past 21 and you still talking about “I’ma be a rapper.” You ain’t did one show, niggas ain't seen you on TV. So Kendrick kind of went through the same thing I went through. He just had his mom’s house to go to.
What kind of conversations did you and Kendrick have after the Grammy snubs?
We was talking about it right before the Grammys. He was at my mixing session [for] the album. Kendrick is never one to…he’s not like me, or like the average rapper that will be like “Nigga I’ma win!” I’ma talk shit if I was nominated for a Grammy, but he’s not that [type of] dude––he a cool nigga. So we just talking and I’m like “Cuz, you gon’ get one or two!” And he like “Yeah, that shit could be crazy.” Sho nuff, they didn’t give my nigga one! I was mad for a little bit. I went on a little rant on Twitter and shit, but we still gotta be grateful for everything. Win or lose bro. We here.
Right. Grateful you’re not where y'all used to be.
You be mad for a minute––we’re human––but after that, its like I’m straight. Still accomplished so much. It's niggas that ain't never been nominated. People saying that you been robbed is almost better than winning a Grammy. It’s so much more talk. Shit, I’m grateful for everything, every obstacle that come my way. That’s how he feel too. We just made a joke out of it. Now it’s funny, like “Nigga, you lost!”
As acclaimed as Kendrick is, it’s clear that he still has another plane to reach. Same goes for you, which is why I thought, with your album about to drop, you were gonna be a little more visible––some features, maybe pop up on Kendrick’s NBA All-Star stage. Were you low by design?
Yeah, I let my music do the talking. Ain't no TV show gonna help me. Ain't no hit single gon help me sell no records. How many artists done came with a hit record and nobody cared for nothing else? Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely want a hit record, but I still want the success to be around the album. Only the music can help me. Kendrick wasn’t Top 40 or none of that either before he dropped. He dropped his album and it blew up everywhere––same with J. Cole when he first came out. All these niggas that have good music have longevity. Nas first album¬¬––when niggas was goin two and three times platinum, his shit went gold. Just gotta do you.
You recorded with one of your idols 50 Cent. Why wasn’t he on the album?
We did a couple records but they didn’t work out. I wish I could’ve had 50 on my album. He’s like one of my biggest inspirations to do rap. I related to him a lot in his music. I remember…this is what really made me wanna start rappin… I watched the Beef DVD and I had just got out [of jail]––I was trying to rap but I really wasn’t fuckin with it, it was just something to do––and  was like “If you’re a felon who just got out of jail and you don’t know what to do, nigga rap.” Swear to God. Go look when he was talking about Ja Rule and shit. I don’t know what Beef that was but they just let me out on house arrest. That probably was “the moment” you was asking about earlier.
You said two years ago that you weren’t able to provide for your daughter. How does Schoolboy Q balance being gangster rapper and father to a little girl?
I’m not really a gangster no more. I’m a gangster rapper. I’m just telling a story now. I’m speaking on past shit, so it’s real easy. It’s tough not seeing her as much. That’s the hard part. I know how I wanna raise my kid, I know how I want her to grow up. I want her to be spoiled. Why work so hard just to hold on to the money? I don’t plan on ever retiring. Like retirement is not in my future. I never wanna have a time where I’m on the big lawn just sitting back smoking cigars and drinking lemonade. I wanna work forever. Until I die. I wanna die on the way to a show. Or like I [did] the show and I’m 90 years old and done died in the hotel room.
How have you been dealing with remaining sober, beyond just smoking weed?
I don’t deal with pills no more. I smoke weed, but I just started back fucking with lean a little bit. I’m not on it like that, like you would think.
Why would you go back to lean?
It’s just stupid. But my tour starts March 1st. It’s over once the tour starts. It’s just something that I fucked with again for a little bit.
Are you saying it’s not really an addiction?
It’s not an addiction. It’s something I wanna do. It’s not smart though. It’s not good for my body but I’m doing it. I’m not telling people to do it. It’s just a phase I’m going through right now. I shouldn’t even be talking about it.
And when your tour ends?
Hopefully I don’t grab it again. I didn’t touch it my whole recording process. That was two years of nothing. Once I finished and turned my album in, that’s when I had hit the dope man and it was like “Bring me a cup.” (Laughs) March 1st, it’s over. I gotta go back to my work. I can’t give the fans a good show off the lean.
Styled by Tiff The Stylist
Clothes provided by ARI Soho
Hat: artists own