Album Review: “Oxymoron” by Schoolboy Q

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Pete Havlatka 

Since the beginning of hip-hop music, rappers have stepped into the arena with their respective crews. Before Dr. Dre came N.W.A. Before Busta Rhymes took over the world, Leaders of the New School did its damn thing. *NSYNC had millions of girls screaming at them on stage, but only Justin Timberlake rose to equal—or perhaps greater—fame as a solo artist. Counting all of music as a whole, Stevie Nicks, who apparently is a woman, rode dirty with Fleetwood Mac for years before amassing eight—count ‘em, EIGHT—Grammy nominations after she set off on her own. Freddie Mercury was THE GREATEST before he died of AIDS. I may have already gotten off-track, but my point is that when a member of a group or collective goes solo, typically that first member to go solo is the most successful. That’s why Dr. Dre has his own line of headphones, while Eazy E is… oh, shit—he died of AIDS, too? Damn!

Anyway, in this case we have Top Dawg Entertainment, starring its undisputed ring leader, Kendrick Lamar, who – in my opinion – is one of the few MCs in history who can be so highly esteemed without being even remotely overrated. The man spits blazing unicorn cocks out of his mouth when he raps. Yes, that’s a good thing, and yes, he’s that good. Deal with it.

Also in the TDE stable are MCs Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and the focus of this piece, Schoolboy Q.  All are talented, sure—otherwise they wouldn’t likely be part of the Black Hippie tribe at all—but the reason they didn’t bat lead-off for their team is, presumably, because Kendrick Lamar is better, which isn’t hard to fathom because of the aforementioned unicorn cocks. Still, after K-Dot, Schoolboy Q is next up to bat with the newly released Oxymoron, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Now a disclaimer: if you were hoping for an album in which the primary topics are things other than guns, sex and drug use, look elsewhere. If you are uncomfortable with the word “nigga,” look elsewhere.  If you have trepidations when it comes to heavy bass, run as fast as you can.

Let’s get to the tracks.

“Gangsta”

Subtle title, eh? According to the artist himself, the album got its name because of all of Schoolboy’s criminal behavior – selling drugs, toting guns, etc. – and that it was solely for the benefit of his daughter, a familiar paradox often found in the hip-hop game. So it makes perfect since then that Schoolboy’s daughter is the first person to make an appearance on his album. And let me tell you, she is adorable.

“Hello? Hello? Fuck that. My daddy’s a gangsta.”

Yes, that’s a six-year-old, and she doesn’t mince words about her daddy’s credentials.

Starting immediately after those words of warning, Oxymoron’s opening track punches you in the mouth with a set of iron knuckles and hovers over your bleeding body while it calls you a punk bitch for just under four minutes. The simple but aggressive chorus (essentially “GANGSTA GANGSTA GANGSTAAAAAAA” followed by “KNOCK KNOCK-KNOCK KNOCK-KNOCK – YAWWWK!”) announces Schoolboy’s arrival with a defiant authority. Gird your loins, Schoolboy is here.

The first verse is a continuation of the chorus in its violent celebratory nature. In a rapping style that permeates the entire album, Q’s lines hardly bowl you over lyrically, but work perfectly with the production and subject matter. While many rappers pride themselves on their wordplay and metaphors, many of Q’s best lines stand out for being so literal.

“Bitch, I’m faded/ Fuckin’ faded/ Yeah, I’m famous/ What? I’m famous?/ Fuckin’ famous/ Nigga, I made it!”

One warning when it comes to “Gangsta”: it bumps. I drive a ’99 Honda Accord and I was getting uncomfortable looks from people next to me at stoplights. I don’t care if I’m an asshole people.  “Gangsta” doesn’t give you a choice BUT to snarl as you drive to church. YAWK YAWK YAWK.  Sometimes I wish I had a gun.

“Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock)”

YAWK YAWK YA–…oh. And just like that, the momentum is gone. “Los Awesome” has all of the makings of a good song: Schoolboy, his TDE compadre Jay Rock, and a Pharrell beat. Despite this, it’s awful. I hate it. It’s lyrically so-so, which would be more of an issue if I weren’t plugging my ears to avoid having to hear what’s going on underneath the words in the first place. The beat could be from a Sega Genesis game. Everything about it reminds me of Da Backwudz and their ghetto oompa-loompas. That’s not a good thing, in case you’re wondering (no offense to the ghetto oompa-loompas out there).

“Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”

As you yearn for the amazingness of “Gangsta” and wonder how the same person decided “Los Awesome” was a song worthy of an album slot, Schoolboy reaffirms your faith in him and Oxymoron alike with the next track. “Collard Greens,” Oxymoron’s lead single, has to be one of the best songs of the year. I’m not going to sift through every rap song that came out this year to figure out if that’s actually true or not, because I have shit to do after I write this review, but “Collard Greens” is bonkers.  For me, it’s the song that immediately had me looking up other songs by Q, because it made it clear that he was worth the listen. Another thumper, the instrumental approaches utter perfection, and both Schoolboy and Kendrick’s verses are on point. Schoolboy kicks it off in the second verse with gems like, “Gimme, gimme, gimme some/ Freak the freckles off your face/ Frenchie freakin’ swappin’ tongue,” only to have Kendrick kill him on his own shit on the other side of the chorus.

Speaking of, can we forgive rappers for getting killed on their own shit? Who cares? Should people avoid putting Kendrick on their tracks because Kendrick’s going to kill them, or would it be more appropriate to be thankful that Kendrick is on the track murdering everything in his path and thus making the song better?

Apart from the impressive Spanish segment of Kendrick’s verse, which is not the most polite thing I’ve ever heard when I translate it into English, he also hits the listener with, “Nights like this I’m a knight like this/ Sword in my hand, I fight like this/ And I’m more than a man, I’m a god/ Bitch, touché, en garde.”  Listen to this song, learn those words, and tell me you don’t have fun saying it, over and over. And for you advanced listeners out there, you can throw in the “Toupee drop and her two tits pop out of that tank and bra” for extra credit. I’m telling you, Kendrick’s smoother than a baby’s balls on the mic! I don’t think that’s quite the expression, but I stand by it.

“What They Want (feat. 2Chainz)”

If you want to know why I tend to skip this song as I’m going through the album, you can find the answer directly after “feat.” in the text above. Schoolboy Q admirably keeps his features to a minimum on this album—after all, there’s nothing more frustrating than buying an album due to the person/group on the cover only to have it be 40% them and 60% featured artists—but for the love of God why 2Chainz? He’s everything that’s wrong with rap. Need a line to back that statement up?

“If I stand on my bankroll, nigga, I’d be scared of heights.”

Thanks, 2Chainz.  Let’s move on.

“Hoover Street”

This track gets my vote for non-single track of the album. Q introduces the track with a verse about thinking back to different scenes and images from his childhood — purchasing his first gun, eluding security cameras as he sells drugs, representing his neighborhood while he’s out on the town – all in the name of being a “real nigga.” As the question of “how’d it feel to be a real nigga?” echoes over the track, the beat changes and Q comes in with my favorite chorus of Oxymoron.

“I done jumped up off my ass/ Hit the lick and barely pass/ But I quickly got to ballin’ 2012 ain’t really happen/ So I guess it’s back to trappin’/ Eyes open night to mornin’ had roaches in my cereal/ My uncle stole my stereo/ My grandma can’t control him but… every last one of us had a pistol in the room, nigga”

The highlight of “Hoover Street” is the second verse, as Schoolboy recounts the time when his uncle, who appears to have been addicted to some type of hard drug as his life unravels around him, came to live with Q and his grandma. The situation appears not to go well.

“My bike is missing, Grandma liked to hide her check every month/ My uncle’s nuts, he used to give me whiskey to piss in cups/ Knocking on the door telling me to hurry up, he’s in a rush/ I gave it to him then got my ass whipped for doing it”

“Hoover Street” is similar to Kendrick’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” (off of GKMC) in that it will never get any radio play, but it’s more memorable than most of the songs on a memorable album. The chill that goes up your spine when Kendrick takes on the voice of a young woman forced by circumstance into prostitution is the same one that presents itself to the hairs on the back of your neck when Schoolboy ends his verses with the sobering words, “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy carry chrome.”

“Studio (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid)”

What is clearly an attempt at a love song, “Studio” gets caught up in the same snag as a lot of love songs by gangsta rappers in that the language doesn’t match the subject matter. “I think we have a lot in common, and I find you attractive. I would like to take you out and perhaps one day meet your parents” doesn’t quite sound the same as, “Can I hit that pussy the way I wanna while this record’s playing?/ Put my tongue in different places, play a game of Operation/ Na-na-na, la-la, la-la/ You get what I’m saying.”  Maybe Q should listen to vintage LL Cool J (you know, before “Accidental Racist” and GAP ads and all that other shit) and try again for the next album. Also, he really needs to learn how to play Operation correctly. That’s not even close.

“Prescription/Oxymoron”

I take it back – this is my favorite non-single song on the album. “Prescription/Oxymoron” showcases both sides of drug life. The first act operates as an ode to Oxycontin, of which Schoolboy is a fan. Q talks calmly about his love for prescription drugs, how he loves the numbing effect they have over his body and suffers from withdrawals when he doesn’t get his fix. In the outro, his daughter’s voice comes onto the track once again, as she tries to wake up her father, who has passed out, presumably due to drug consumption. Whoops!

“What’s wrong? You tired? You mad? Okay, I love you, daddy.”

Beautiful and sad. And then the top blows right the fuck off. The second half, “Oxymoron,” is all about the hustle that comes along with drug dealing and how tempting it was not to change career paths, even though staying in the dealing game would have likely ended with his early death.

Still, even amid all of the ugliness there’s a sense of pride and glory in it.

“Groovy/ When I die tell Spike Lee make a movie/ Oh wee/ Cops bringing dogs so they don’t sniff my bitch booty.”

“Prescription/Oxymoron” is a perfect juxtaposition of pros and cons of using and selling drugs.  Schoolboy succeeds in taking what most rappers would try to compress in a couple of lines or half a verse and fleshes it out into a seven minute track. Not bad. Not bad at all. Furthermore, the oomph behind “Oxymoron” is similar to that which you find in “Gangsta”; each verse is an extended growl, a vicious snarl that explodes into a spittle-flying, teeth-baring string of terrifying barks in the chorus. O-X-Y A MORONNNNNNN.

“The Purge (feat. Tyler, the Creator and Kurupt)”

Perhaps this is a shortcoming in my personality, but I’m not a huge fan of Tyler, the Creator. He’s a solid lyricist, I suppose, but I’ve always felt like his albums are nonsensical, hour-long diatribes, and he walks the line of downright creepiness a bit too frequently for me to maintain interest. Fortunately, he only handles the hook on “The Purge,” so I/we are more or less saved from having to suffer him. Another shrewd decision, Mr. Q.

Q’s badass daughter issues a directive at the onset of this track, too, telling us that “[her] daddy said drown, nigga.” Somebody needs to watch out for this kid; lord knows what type of shit is going to come out of her mouth when she hits 2nd grade next year.

This is a fairly unremarkable track. Q turns up the speed on his delivery and throws in a couple grimace-worthy shots at his imagined foes (“Doing drive-bys I ain’t steering/ White funerals, I ain’t tearin’/ Fuck your bitch in front of your children”), Kurupt of Death Row and Dogg Pound fame throws in a stuttering and, at times, awkward verse (“Squeezing pussy like octopuses” is a phrase that comes to mind), and that’s about it. Squeezing pussy like octopuses though? What the fuck is the matter with him?

“Blind Threats (feat. Raekwon)”

“But if God don’t help me, this gun will/ I swear I’m gon’ find my way”

“Blind Threats” has a beat that one might find in a hotel lobby if it weren’t for the accompanying bass and talk of guns. In it, Schoolboy questions traditional religion and the teachings he’s found in the Bible, as it doesn’t seem to apply to what he sees out on the streets every day. He tries to comfort himself with the thought of God having his back, but reserves the right to fight his way out of any predicament.

Though certainly not a “skip” in the grand scheme of the album, Blind Threats holds the inconvenient place of being the last song before the listener gets to the holy trinity of killer songs that fill up the back end of Oxymoron. This is probably the song I’ve heard least simply because “Hell of a Night,” “Break the Bank” and “Man of the Year” garner much more of my attention.

Slowing down a moment to actually listen to the song, I will say that Q seems to take about the first eight bars to warm up and really get into his first verse. Things get better the second time around (“Aim that, shoot that, pledge allegiance/ Kill mine, kill yours, make it even”) and Raekwon’s verse is worth a listen at the tail end, but at that point I’m usually already singing the hook to “Hell of a Night” and my clicker finger’s getting itchy so I move on. Sorry, Raekwon.

“Hell of a Night” / “Break the Bank” / “Man of the Year”

I’M NOT SORRY AT ALL, RAEKWON. Here, we have the two primary celebration tracks, “Hell of a Night” and “Man of the Year,” in which Q is living it up and having a good ol’ time, fit with drinking, women, and the rest of your standard rap star debauchery. I must say, it sounds like a blast. Is buying a gun the first step to attaining all of this? If so, I need to go put a bid on that musket I saw on Craigslist last week.

The best part of “Hell of a Night” is how quickly it seems that Q lost any and all of his humility. The evidence is definitely there in the first verse:

“Menage a trois/ Four titties, no bras, and no flaws/ You, me, and her ball with no drawers/ Get high with a god; I am no star”

Well okay then! A helluva night, indeed – Mr. Q is feeling pretty good about himself!

It gets even better in the second verse when he says flat out, “Don’t touch me, bitch, I’m famous,” which instantly became my favorite rap line of 2014 and something that I plan on saying to people frequently even though I am in no way famous and would get my ass beat pretty regularly if I overtly started acting like a douche bag to people. Fine, *more* of a douche bag.

For “Man of the Year,” I feel like we need to include the music video, because it appears Schoolboy talked the video directors into hiring all of the available women for it.

So many questions arise after watching this video. Why did he bring a trench coat to the beach? How is it that rappers always manage to find their own islands? Do those women like him for who he is? Also, I’m not one to comment or even really take note of the video girls, but jeepers, Batman.

I realize that’s not a question. Embrace it.

As to the third song in this group, “Break the Bank” (which actually precedes “MOTY” in the track listing, but whatever) represents the reminder to both Schoolboy and the listener that, though now we all know his name due to rap, it has always been about more than music to him.

Go hard for my Joy/ So she don’t need no boy/ Smile stay on her face/ Big room with her own space/ Up all night, the hard way/ Don’t care if it take all day/ I let y’all fucks parlay/ You wonder why I’m straight”

He’s good. His daughter’s good. It’s all good.

I often get sick of gangsta rap albums after one or two songs, usually finding that the tracks blur together to the point of being indiscernible from one another, but Oxymoron doesn’t fall into that trap.  Instead, it’s a refreshing venture back to the heyday of gangsta rap, saved by the fact that Q’s own identity and style are unique enough to overcome any sense of retreading. The beats are there, the lyrics are there, and there’s enough cursing and drug references to fill your quota for the next few years.

It’s unfair to compare Schoolboy to Kendrick Lamar, because they’re completely different rappers, but coming out of the same camp will inevitably result in the two being compared. As Schoolboy will be the first to admit, he’s chasing Kendrick on the hip-hop ladder right now, but Oxymoron does nothing but strengthen his foothold. Whether he can top this initial offering, I don’t know, but I do know that he should bring along the impossibly curvy Asian woman from the “Man of the Year” video for all future videos. Good heavens.

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