My first time meeting ScHoolboy Q was back in 2011, in Austin, TX. He had just finished performing at VIBE’s “Respect The West” showcase at SXSW, and was now seated in the green room aside his Black Hippy brothers Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar, although he probably felt like he was sleeping on the ceiling. Dude was speechlessly high. Eyeballs unseen. Chuckles longer than his commentary. He’d be arrested that same weekend (wrong place, wrong time?).
Fast forward three years later and I realize it was the perfect introduction to one of Los Angeles’ most important new voices, as he releases his thuggish, druggish Aftermath debut, Oxymoron. The project is a sparkling follow-up to his Habits & Contradictions LP. But does it live up to the gold standard set by K Dot’s masterpiece? Check out a breakdown of 2014’s best rap album (so far). —John Kennedy
1. ScHoolboy Q had his sight set on eclipsing good kid, m.A.A.d city with his Aftermath debut, an idea some scoffed at as preposterous. But Q delivers. Oxymoron probably won’t be instantly compared to hip-hop classics or grace all-time album lists, but there will definitely be some listeners who enjoy it more than gkmc.
2. “Prescription/Oxymoron” is an amazingly lucid depiction of pill addiction and contrast of drug user and seller. It’s like the bridge between Jay Z and Eminem’s narcotic narratives.
3. But the most captivating moment on Oxymoron is “Hoover Street.” The descriptions of Q’s traumatic familial dysfunction—grandma’s gun, taking drug tests for his erratic, addict uncle, roaches in the cereal box—are so graphic. You understand the experiences that have made Q the man he is today.
4. Oh, and that beat switch at the 1:39 mark is so damn epic!
5. Sounwave and his Digi+Phonics crew—TDE’s primary in-house beatmakers—do a masterful job of shaping the album. That somber violin that creeps in at the end of “Gangsta,” the Wu-Tang vibes of “Blind Threats,” the summer-smash-in-the-winter “Man Of The Year.” It all makes you hope these guys continue spreading their rich instrumentals around the industry.
6. BJ The Chicago Kid is definitely channelling Nate Dogg on “Studio.”
7. ScHoolboy has more flavor than a whole bottle of Lawry’s. And that’s a huge part of his appeal. Those punctuating adlibs that he actually writes into his songs, the way he mumbles the bridge of “Break The Bank,” how he can switch from laid-back pimp talk on deluxe cut “Grooveline, Pt. 2” to pure adrenaline on “The Purge.” How can you not love this dude?
8. “Real niggas don’t tattoo their tears” —ScHoolboy Q, “Gangsta.” #subliminal
9. Tyler, The Creator might have the illest voice in hip-hop. His baritone—along with Kurupt’s revitalized bravado—completely makes “The Purge.” Wish he’d spit a verse.
10. A Pusha T feature could’ve also taken “The Purge” to a whole ‘nother level.
11. Something about “Los Awesome” feels strange. It’s obviously fun-spirited thuggery, but this would feel right at home on Freeway’s 2003 album, Philadelphia Freeway or one of those later Clipse’s albums.
12. Can we talk about Raekwon’s verse on “Blind Threats”? Yo. Dude comes through the west coast and crushes the buildings on some Snoop shit. But the Wu-Tang version though. The internal rhymes, entendres, gunplay, tuna fish sandwiches. All Beyoncé-level flawlessness.
13. Like Kendrick, ScHoolboy does a great job of recording singles on his own terms. “Break The Bank” and “Man of the Year” strike an impossibly gloomy-yet-upbeat juxtaposition that lives up to the album’s title. (Seriously, how dope is that Alchemist production?) And don’t be surprised if “Collard Greens” has a second life once the album catches fire.
14. Still, the fist-pumping “Hell Of A Night” is a rare moment that feels like he’s trying. TDEDM? No thanks.
15. Habits & Contradictions had a schizo quality that works for Q—there are zany and hazy interludes, intense gangster anthems and humble offerings (“Blessed”). It’s a dissociation that showcased all the complexities of ScHoolboy’s many aspects as an artist. Here, Q is more focused, more polished. Oxymoron is a song or two shy of flawless, but it’s another powerful statement from the TDE camp. Perfectly imperfect. How’s that for an oxymoron?