Schoolboy Q’s Triumph Is Not An Oxymoron At All
Top Dawg Entertainment
Though having dropped nearly a decade ago, only recently has the California based record label “Top Dawg Entertainment” shown itself as a musical force to be reckoned with. Having evolved from a small independent startup to, most recently, the “label-to-watch”, its positive reception has come in large part from the success of “good kid, m.A.A.d. city”, the major debut of Top Dawg’s rhyme-slinging protégé, Kendrick Lamar. Since its release in 2012, Lamar’s project, a joint venture between Top Dawg and independent hip hop powerhouse Aftermath Entertainment, has been received with critical acclaim earning Lamar four Grammy nominations– while also putting West Coast hip hop back on the map in the eyes of several music critics, and hip-hop enthusiasts. The attention brought on by Lamar’s success therefore sets the stage for TDE’s rhymesayer-on-deck, Schoolboy Q, whose own widely anticipated major label debut, Oxymoron, hit shelves back on February 25th.
Schoolboy Q and Kendrick
Although Q’s Oxymoron contains many of the same inventive and eccentric stylistic qualities that helped bring fellow label mate, and “Black Hippy” member Kendrick Lamar to recognition, it is clear ,even upon first listen, that the two MCs utilize different approaches to their craft. As can be seen throughout Q’s project, the South Central Hoover Crip boldly contrasts Lamar’s own penchant for penning epic tales with the lyrical cadence of a spoken word poet. Q’s raw, nasally sound trades in dense metaphors for explicit references, and conscious lyrical content for more hedonistic rhetoric in an effort to depict, by his own estimation, a life of shameless self indulgence, formerly supported by his criminal past.
While the narrative may sound all too familiar, it is actually Q’s dynamic vocals, marked by an energetic, animated grittiness, and knack for producing catchy hooks which really make him an compelling listen. It is with this same classic, stylistically uncompromising authenticity, that the self-proclaimed “baller futuristic, groovy gangster with an attitude” cooks up an impressive collection of quality tracks.
Among these bangers is the album’s first radio hit, “Collard Greens”, the bouncy, progressive hip-hop party single (featuring Lamar) that pays homage to some of Q’s favorite vices. On this track, Q cleverly combines flow with personality, creating an undeniable tune that is largely supported by both a heady beat and sticky chorus.
The proceding track “Los Awesome” enlists the help of label mate and Black Hippy member, Jay Rock, and heavy hitting producer Pharrell. It matches the energy and vibe of Collard Greens, as Q blends his unique flow with a hype Neptune’s beat arrangement that, save for its trademark drums, closely mimics what sounds like a Swizz Beatz trap-style production.
While songs like “Hell of a Night” and “Man of the Year” further accentuate the strength of Q’s animated personality and penchant for the party life, there are also more versatile and substantive tracks amongst the loosely conceptualized album. For example, “Hoover Street” provides a dark but vivid narration of both his childhood and subsequent introduction to gang life. In this song, Q describes being raised in a broken home with his grandmother and drug addicted, thieving uncle, and how an older brother of a friend would introduce him to the Crip lifestyle, subsequently changing his life. The murky eloquence of Q’s tale if nothing else, affirms his capabilities as a storyteller. At the end of the song, he manages to bring his message full circle by reiterating the pivotal role that his grandmother’s gun played in his assuming a life of crime.
Q gets even more personal on the first half of the track “Prescription/Oxymoron”, where in a style reminiscent of Eminem, Q depicts a scene where he is emotionally, mentally, and physically detached from the world around him as a result of an addiction to prescription drugs. Once again the imagery provided by both the dark and eerie production, along with the echoing voice of a concerned daughter. His message hits home, proving again that there is a deeper side to his raw, gangster rapping, fun-loving character.
Throughout the album, there are additionally a number of guest appearances which include artists such as: Kurupt, Raekwon, and Tyler The Creator. Save for an incredibly lackluster verse by 2 Chainz on the track “What They Want”, all contributions by these artists not only fit seamlessly within the framework, but also display Q’s chameleon-like lyrical abilities. Q’s lyrical prowess has allowed him to successfully go toe-to-toe with legends like Kurupt and Raekwon in songs like “THe Purge” and “Blind THreats”.
The Future Looks Bright
All in all, the sometimes over-the-top but highly entertaining qualities of Schoolboy Q make his brand of music an anomaly of sorts, especially within the realm of traditional west coast gangster rap. This deviation from the norm however, is one that has proven to be both a healthy, and cathartic one for the genre with Oxymoron debuting as the number one rap album on Billboard following the first week of its release. As he and the rest of his TDE cronies continue to expand their influence further into the depths of pop culture and the heights of the Billboard charts, one thing can be known for sure, Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, and Top Dawg Entertainment are definitely in the building, and have bright future ahead of them.
“So now its time to break the bank!”