Schoolboy Q’s snarling, sneering collections of gravel bitten, war-ready gangsta rap rarely come with straightforward mission statements. If there was any takeaway from his haunting, knuckleheaded raps and hypnotic, off-kilter loops it was always the sense that Q was here for a good time, not for a long time, so he fully intended to go out at high speed, with both middle fingers pointed rigidly skyward.
That was before he hit 30, though. 30 does something to your brain. Some call it growth. Some call it perspective. There’s a moment of clarity that comes with that checkpoint that allows you to look back at all the dumb stuff you’ve done with a combination of chagrin and pride, a sense that yes, those actions were immature and mortifying but dammit, you did them and you survived. It’s ironic that the young often think of the future as something that will never come even as they embody the stubborn belief in their own immortality.
At 30, everything slows down and you realize: Hey, there’s a whole lot more of this life stuff in front of me. Crash Talk is Schoolboy Q’s moment of clarity. There’s some introspection, there’s some future planning, but more than anything, the album seems to be saying, for the first time in Q’s career, that he wants to find something to say, even if he’s not completely sure what that is yet.
The most obvious example of his newfound focus is the semi-title track, “Crash,” on which Boi-1da samples Royce Da 5’9’s seminal battle rap anthem, “Boom,” slowing the beat down to a sluggish stew that allows Q’s Nipsey-esque financial advice to play meat and potatoes. “Your tax bracket ain’t impressive,” he taunts young rappers who prioritize shine over stability, “You buy a chain, but won’t buy no land / That hashtag should say, ‘Desperate.'” It’s almost like he’s G-checking his younger self, who once gang banged on every track and spent his royalty checks on weed and bling.
Now, he hits the golf course to relax and preaches self-love to his daughter. It could come across as crotchety with bad execution, but he makes sure to remind the listener that this wisdom is hard won. He “tried the honest route, but chose house licks,” so now, he rhymes to warn the young away from the mistakes of his own youth.
Of course, Q pays homage to those moments from his own timeline with debauched anthems like “Numb Numb Juice,” “Gang Gang,” “Chopstix,” and “Dangerous,” the latter two featuring turn-up champions Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, delving back into the heavy drug use that has permeated much of all three rappers’ respective catalogs.
In fact, Schoolboy’s new identity as a weathered OG, which he’s clearly still growing into, shines best on the album’s solo tracks; he does some of the most potent rapping of his career on “Tales,” while his guests generally subsume Q’s normally boisterous persona. For instance, “Lies,” featuring Ty Dolla Sign and YG, sounds more like a Ty Dolla Sign featuring Q, right down to the faster tempo and day party vibes of the beat provided by go-to TDE producer Sounwave.
When Q actually sounds comfortable in his burgeoning elder statesman role, he truly demonstrates the most growth, such as on the introspective “Black Folk.” He comes the closest in his career to a more expansive world view beyond Hoover, skating over America’s racist legacy its pernicious effects on the psyches of young Black men: “The water is where we crossed it and got to build it / With dreaming but lost the feeling, we stopped believing in.”
Ultimately, though, he stops just short of formulating that ever elusive mission statement. Perhaps the closest he gets is on the menacing, Lil Baby-featuring “Water,” when he says “Just keeping it real, if it’s realer than me then it’s fake.” While he may not have an overarching theme or thesis he wants to convey just yet, he does know one thing: When he does, it’s going to be authentic and 100% Q.
Crash Talk is out now via Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records. Get it here.