There was a moment, the briefest of moments, where Schoolboy Q lost the crowd during his two Blank Face tour stops in the Bay Area last week. The stuffed, 2,800 capacity crowd in the historic Fox Theater in Oakland taunted Q as he noted the Bay Area was the home of his favorite football team, the San Francisco 49ers. “Y’all know my team is from out here, even though we’re not that good right now,” he said as a large contingent of the crowd erupted in a Raiders chant to mock him. He laughed it off and got right back to his incredible, raucous 90-minute set.
It’s a rare feat, emerging under a supernova like Kendrick Lamar, and forging an identity and star power of your own. Now, 10 years after beginning his relationship with Top Dawg Entertainment, and five years after popping up on Kendrick’s rambunctious “Michael Jordan,” Groovy Q is a full-blown star, capable of traversing the earth on his own world tour. Q’s command of the stage is probably best described as brute force, his setlist a mix of energetic and passionate, and his fans a multitude of shapes, sizes, races, choices of attire.
For an hour and a half, Q meshed old and new to perfection, never more apparent than his forceful and nearly acapella rendition of the Blank Face LP single “Groovy Tony,” impeccably bleeding into a boisterous performance of “Collard Greens.”
I’d seen Schoolboy twice before, once as a presence so unassuming during a Section 80-era Kendrick show that I’d stood next to him for nearly five minutes in the crowd not knowing who he was until he actually stepped on the stage during K. Dot’s set. Then, again on the Oxymoron tour two years ago, in a half-full venue a quarter of the size of the huge theaters he rocked in the Bay — but even then he had the same commanding stage presence.
It was clear, this was fun to Schoolboy, as he hopped around the stage, short, stout and sweating profusely through his orange, long sleeved shirt in Oakland. “JoHn Muir” and “Break The Bank” practically made the building hop rhythmically with the crowd, “Blessings” soothed them.
— Boogie Bousins (@bansky) October 14, 2016
“Hands On The Wheel” was the crowd’s chance to celebrate all the substances they consumed, “Dope Dealer” was Q’s chance to celebrate dealing them.
No, local legend E-40 wasn’t there to offer a guest appearance in either city, and Schoolboy apologized for the absence but gave the crowd another treat instead, ceding the stage in Oakland to hometown hero Ezale, who destroyed a performance of his regional smash “Too High.”
Ezale just stole Q whole set lol pic.twitter.com/XPZNBqMumr
— Boogie Bousins (@bansky) October 14, 2016
Ezale pranced around stage, stopping sporadically to break into dance, with a dozen or so of his buddies behind him, and a gleeful Q who used an oven bag full of weed like a cell phone and hugged the Oakland hero when he was done. For as wonderful as Schoolboy’s performance was up to that point, that was clearly the most exciting moment for the city of Oakland during the night. Which speaks to Q’s star power — his notice of a local star made the audience feel like they were important too.
Q’s latest single, “Overtime” features Miguel and was introduced as “for the ladies” — so it served as a bathroom break for many — but the screeching sounds of “Studio” practically caused a stamped of fans rushing back towards the stage to get right back into the show.
Beyond the Ezale appearance, the shows each night were similar, though Q’s banter with the crowd differed slightly. His speech about his fans helping him get his daughter was longer in Frisco, and more detailed. “Not a dollar to my name the first two years of my daughter’s life,” he confessed to the crowd. “My daughter live with me now thanks to y’all and no she goes to one of the best mothaf*cking schools in the city.”
In San Francisco, Q seemed to bask in the adulation of the crowd a beat longer, taking in the love and appreciating it a tad more. The Warfield in the downtown Frsico has an odd setup, the audience is steep, and almost feels like it’s hanging over the stage. Maybe he felt closer to them, or maybe he the vibe of the night was just different, but soaked it in. When the crowd broke into cheers between songs he smiled and waited it out. His banter felt more off the cuff and Q just seemed to be even more elated than the night before in Oakland. Either way, Schoolboy’s energy never wavered, both nights he seemed exhausted by the grand finale, having given everything he had for his performance, but caught a second wind to deliver am unforgettable close to each show.
Ultimately, nothing compared to the dynamic closing sequence where each of four songs could have easily closed the show and sent the crowd home happy. First there was “Tookie Knows II” with appearances from Traffic and TF. Then, after teasing the end of the show Q launched into “Man Of The Year,” hopping around the stage while the crowd screamed his song right back at him. After teasing another walkout, he let the crowd kickstart “THat Part,” which feels like a hypnotic, four-minute long chant in person with everybody in the building eating up every single word.
— CozyBoyRalph (@HeAintRalphTho) October 14, 2016
Especially Kanye’s verse even though he wasn’t even in the building.
— Jesus Yanez (@_Yeezus15) October 14, 2016
Finally, with five minutes left until 11, I wondered what he could possibly do to top that. My hit list of tracks I’d walked in hoping he’d run through were all about done. When the ominous intro to “Hell Of A Night” echoed through the theater I practically groaned, the track was always a dead spot in the otherwise enjoyable Oxymoron for me, but then the beat dropped and the ensuing chaos made the track both enjoyable and infectious all at once. Suddenly, the seemingly tacked on and out of place trap-house hybrid made sense. This is where Q flexed his ability to skillfully craft records that are both entertaining and satisfying in typical settings like the car, or headphones but also clearly designed to be performed and absorbed in a massive live setting.
And like that, it was over. Whenever relevance comes up in barbershop rap debates my retort is always the same: next time someone comes to town, go to their show. See the venue they perform at, the intricacy of their stage set up, the size of their crowd, the quality of their merch, the production value of the entire night. That is the best gauge of just how big, relevant and impactful any particular artist is. No, it wasn’t a 20,000 seat arena, but it was obvious in this gigantic theater packed from the stage to the ceiling: Schoolboy Q is a superstar, and deservedly so.