Music

5 Years Later, It’s Time To Declare Schoolboy Q’s ‘Habits And Contradictions’ A Classic

Gloomy on sunny days.

Those are the first four words Schoolboy Q speaks on his album Habits & Contradictions, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this Saturday, and they could not be more fitting. The 17-track album is an engaging, energetic, sometimes angry but always honest exercise in that exact type of juxtaposition. On Habits, Q is constantly hopping between what the two deities on his shoulder whisper into his ears as he rolls through life, molding those experiences into a modern-day masterpiece that, five years after its release, finally deserves to be called exactly what it is: A classic.

For years Q has existed just like one of those deities; as the angry, rambunctious, brutal and often unapologetic devil on rap’s shoulder besides the angelic, conscious and more measured Kendrick Lamar. That divergence has allowed Q to forge his own identity and lane next to the supernova and wunderkind that has become TDE’s flagship star. Whereas Kendrick was gang affiliated because of his neighborhood and friends, Q was an active member, while Kendrick spent songs reflecting on strife, Q spent tracks banging, bragging about it, having the time of his life and seething for the opportunity to do it again. Q discussed their personality clash and yin/yang relationship in an interview with OnSmash a week before the album’s release in 2012. “We’re completely the opposite,” he said. “I’m Kendrick’s bad side. Kendrick’s my good side. I’m the bad version of Kendrick and Kendrick is the good version of Q.”

Kendrick offers a cautionary tale while Q is crip-walking on Crip anthems dedicated to Tookie Williams. If YG was the Doughboy to Kendrick’s Tre, Q always felt like the O-Dog to Kenny’s Cain, Kendrick was around it, Q did it. In many ways, Habits is the culmination of those conflicting experiences, as Q raps his way through both, and how he’s often tugged in each direction only to settle into his more comfortable habits despite his mental contradictions.

Those habits and contradictions are never more apparent than on the two tracks that essentially serve as bookends for the album, “Sacrilegious” and “Blessed,” the latter of which naturally features Kendrick. “Sacrilegious” is the album’s opener, featuring that aforementioned four word phrase that set the stage for the following 67 minutes. Over a somber, brooding but also bouncy instrumental Q laments the gloom of those sunny days, journeying through the mentality of a killer who wanders into church, only to kill again immediately after. He marinates in Satan’s sweat while sipping on Holy Water at the same damn time, gets teary-eyed over his sins, asks God for forgiveness, and immediately doubts the validity of the process and rebukes it all, declaring “Shit I doubt he heard me at all.” It’s a painful opening to a raw and tenacious album, where these very concepts are repeated and reiterated time and time again.

Sonically, Habits is a blaring mix of all of the various personalities and interests of Quincy. The production throughout doesn’t thud and pound so much as it screams. It’s lively and robust, with short pit-stops that let the listener catch their breath, on smoother productions like “Grooveline Pt. 1” where Q, Dom Kennedy and Curren$y spend extended moments doing their best to charm the objects of their affection. “Take off my Salvatore, wipe your nose for ya,” Schoolboy raps in the opening stanza, before revealing just how far he’ll “Climb a mountain in the snow” for the woman he seeks.

Schoolboy’s constant and purposeful clashing of self is on full display for the aptly titled “Gangster In Designer.” He preaches “HiiPower” like Kendrick, before quickly reminding viewers that he’s not Kendrick at all, quipping “Give me gangster of the year, this for my HOG’s on Figg and homies on the tier.” The track is full of those exact opposing views and sentiments, piled on top of tingling Willie B production, which is equipped with soothing violins that hover behind a rambling drum pattern and a flute riff — it shouldn’t mesh into something as pristine as this, but somehow, it does.

Later he toys with the Kendrick dynamic again on the album’s most unruly and menacing track “Nightmare On Figg St.” “A dope Hoover dealer, uh, ADHD,” he boasts before aping Kendrick’s tone and delivery from his track “A.D.H.D,” on the very next bar,” Fuck that, let’s bake coke and cook crack.” The track is backed by a warbling, booming production from Ty Beats of “Purple Swag” and “Peso” A$AP Rocky fame. An electronic chirp echoes as frightening piano keys set a grim tone, while Q interpolates Jay Z’s “What’s 50 grand to a mothaf*cka like me? Can you please remind me?” boasts from “N***as In Paris” with Kanye West, before barking “Sh*t, I’ll remind ya!” It’s an ominous proclamation, and he doubles down on it in the second verse after the deed is done by quipping “You still need a reminder? Yeah, I thought so.”

Eventually, the album settles into a more somber and reflective final act, where Q spends time peering at the mirror, realizing the error in his ways and celebrating the fact that he was able to get away with all of those sins and emerge relatively unscathed on the other side. The entire conceptual juxtaposition of the album culminates with the aforementioned “Blessed” with the Cain to his O-Dog, his TDE partner in crime and contradiction Kendrick Lamar. “It’s one of the reasons I named the project HABITS & Contradictions,” Q said to OnSmash about “Blessed” and “Sacrilegious.” “Those [“Blessed” and “Sacrilegious”] are basically the two title tracks. ‘Blessed’ is a record where, I’m telling you that no matter how hard it is, you can be straight. You’re blessed bruh.”

It serves as a fitting conclusion to the album — even if two tracks are tacked on after it, including Habits‘ lone misstep “NiggaHs.Already.Know.Davers.Flow” — wrapping up the concept of habits and contradictions perfectly. “Blessed” features a somber, screeching vocal sample that lays over a jitterbug drum pattern, giving Schoolboy and Kendrick the requisite space to dig through a few demons cursing their psyches. Q uses his time to preach appreciation of one’s blessings, even the small ones, before spending his second verse penning a letter to a friend who has tragically lost a son. He rambles through the words he couldn’t tell his friend in person, choosing instead to offer his condolences on the comfort zone of a track.

Q journeys through his own grief, squeezing his own daughter tighter in light of the tragedy, offering awkward small talk and reassurance before finally blurting out the words that so painfully eluded him for the previous 15 bars, “See how far we’ve come but most, I’m sorry for your son.” It’s excruciating, tender, melancholy, flawed and so very authentic. After all of the gangster posturing throughout Habits it’s the album’s single most beautiful moment, and an impeccable projection of Quincy Hanley’s most sincere and genuine emotion, after an hour of emotionless chicanery it’s the most gratifying contradiction of the album.

Even after that impactful moment there’s still time for Kendrick to step in, after observing every development of the previous 15 tracks to yet again serve as that angel on the shoulder, this time perched on Q’s clavicle to keep him angled in the right direction. He hits the ground running, landing syllable perfect at the end of each bar with the precision of a metronome, with one particular message in mind for Q and any number of unnamed friends in his vicinity: Our time is coming, throughout all that gloom on those sunny days that opened Habits, remember even those days are still sunny. “Yes, my n***a, you’re blessed, take advantage, do your best, my n***a,” he says, encouraging Q and everybody else listening. “Don’t stress, you was granted everything inside this planet, anything you imagine, you possess, my n***a.”

Finally, he offers his last bit of optimism and enthusiasm in the future despite whatever the past may have delivered: “In a minute everybody gon’ be winning,” he reassures. “Put a little faith in it then recognize that we all (Blessed my n***a).”

Five years later, that prophecy is fulfilled for Q, Kendrick and all of TDE, making those words an even more fitting final piece of commentary on what has clearly become a classic album, a pillar of Schoolboy’s career and a launching point towards his eventual superstardom.

Even if it took us all half a decade to realize it.

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