In between the release of ScHoolboy Q’s morose and great Habits & Contradictions and his major label debut, Oxymoron, his TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar took over the world. While Habits was very well-received and ramped up interest in Q’s career, K. Dot’s 2012-2013 run cast a spotlight over the TDE crew wide enough to illuminate all of southern California.
The bar had been raised, and the conversation shifted from questioning whether ScHoolboy Q could meet or exceed the high expectations set by his crewmate to whether anybody in music could reach those heights. Instead of an instant classic Oxymoron turns out to be a mixed bag of satisfyingly moody tales, hit-or-miss reaches for radio, and welcome surprises.
ScHoolboy Q sings the blues
ScHoolboy Q is a refreshingly unique emcee. From his schizophrenic cadences and vocal tics, to his frequently pessimistic perspective, Q’s offbeat approach to being a gangsta rapper is a welcome change from the never-ending horde of perpetual winners who sell kilos of cocaine and never get caught, f*ck your b*tch, and drive off in a six-figure sports car. On “Prescription/Oxymoron” you can feel the vice grip of opiates tighten on your own body, as Q relays how drugs numbed him, stole his ambition, and made him shirk his responsibilities. On the second half of the similarly two-part “Hoover Street,” Q starts the verse stating “find a n*gga realer than me/my socks stink.” There’s not much glamor to be found here, but plenty of visceral drama.
One of these things is not like the others.
That real life drama is also peppered by some attempts to show that Q isn’t just a Crip with twitchy nerves made raw from lean, pills, and the everyday post traumatic stress disorder that is being an active gang member. While Q’s attempts at party anthems and potential radio singles aren’t bad, they are the outsiders in Oymoron‘s neighborhood, leaving everyone to wonder what business they have being there.
Q sneaks in some social commentary (“Home of the paid on the first/then n*gga going broke by the third”) over Nez & Rio’s trippy production on “Man Of The Year,” but “Hell Of A Night” and “Studio” sound much more out of place. The latter would be great as a Dom Kennedy song featuring Q, but goes down like sugary Kool-Aid bookended by the straight whiskey shots of the aforementioned “Hoover Street” and “Prescription.”
The guest appearances are strong, but uneven.
2 Chainz is so ubiquitous that just seeing his name on a tracklist screams cliche. Thankfully, his verse over Mike WiLL Made It’s subdued production on “What They Want” is about as 2 Chainz a verse that exists. Filled with delightfully odd non sequiturs (“I put everything over yellow rice”) and dopeboy freshness, the ATL Codeine Cowboy pairs with Q like lean and Sprite. Raekwon’s darts are as potent as ever on “Blind Threats,” but his verse does not blend quite as well with Q’s poignant and personal bars.
Two producers phone it in.
Pharrell is on one hell of a winning streak, but even the greats have off days. “Los Awesome” is a busy collection of sounds that Pharrell has pulled off in the past, but this track’s take is muddled. Tyler, The Creator, who draws significant inspiration from the aforementioned Neptunes producer, also doesn’t supply his best work on the Kurupt-featuring “The Purge.” The beat is surprisingly tame for the Odd Future polymath, especially for a track with as much potential for chaos as one with ScHoolboy Q and the Dogg Pound Gangsta.
Dealing with high expectations
When one member of your crew sets the world on fire, it’s hard to manage the public’s expectations. While it is not the game changer that many were waiting for, Oxymoron is a mostly strong, but at times poorly curated collection of good songs–and it’s also one of the best this quarter. ScHoolboy Q’s unabashed allegiance and novel approach to gangsta rap are on grand display on Oxymoron. And though the album may not change the face of music, it will reinvigorate the genre and give another definition of what it means to be a G.