February 28, 2014

My Gut Reaction: ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron (February 25, 2014), Plus Some OtHer Stuff

A fun game is to bury yourself in work, declare that said work is a “project” that needs to be completed in a timely fashion, and then you keep pushing the deadline further and further into the future as you add new work on top of said “project”. Today's post is an example of such a phenomenon, with a twist: although it will appear as though I'm adding Schoolboy Q to my list of artist catalogs I need to complete, I'm also fucking finishing it.  Today. 

Yep. You should probably get a snack.


 ScHoolboy Q - Setbacks (January 11, 2011)


 
Quincy “Schoolboy Q” Hanley is a Los Angeles-based gangsta rapper who currently resides within the confines of the Black Hippy collective and their label, Top Dawg Entertainment (or TDE, as he keeps referring to it as). But that's a simplistic description of the man, as anyone who has actually listened to his music knows that he isn't merely defined by the now-antiquated “gangsta rapper” label. And I can now say that I am counted among that anyone: in anticipation for his major label debut, Oxymoron, I actually listened to his first two albums multiple times, just so I could get a feel for where the man was coming from. So just in case you two are wondering how only one of the albums written about today counts as a Gut Reaction piece, that's why.

His story certainly appears stereotypical on its surface: Quincy is a former gang banger-slash-drug dealer who found his way to the recording studio one day. And yeah, he glamorizes certain aspects of his former life, and in a way that his Black Hippy colleague Kendrick Lamar cannot, since K-Dot was never actually a gang member. But he brings an awful lot of self-awareness to his musical output, along with a healthy dose of humor and the typical boasts 'n bullshit that rappers are required to provide. And his ear for beats strays from what we may consider the norm for his sub-genre: Schoolboy Q's actual songs veer wildly from trunk-rattling to cloud rap, sometimes within the same track, although the man never alters his own message at any point. That sounds like a strange description, but a lot of rappers these days have seen the benefit of incorporating more ethereal and ambient sounds into their songs, helping them to stand out in a crowded musical genre where everything has sounded the same for the last decade-and-a-half.

In 2011, Schoolboy Q released his first proper album, Setbacks, which was preceded by a couple of independently-released mixtapes (which, admittedly, I have not listened to). It is allegedly a concept album that is supposed to detail all of the obstacles (or setbacks, as it were) that prevented Schoolboy Q from choosing a career in the music industry full-time, presented in the form of an album that only someone who is a part of the industry full-time would have been able to release as quickly as he did. Although he handled the bulk of the rhyming himself, he did open the doors up for some guests, including the rest of his Black Hippy crew (Kendrick, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul), some female vocalists who were loosely associated with TDE (Alori Joh, Jhené Aiko), and some other underground cats who were just happy that someone let them rhyme on an album. Production was kept primarily in-house, as Quincy deferred to the Digi+Phonics crew most of the time, although other producers managed to get some screen time, as well.

1. FIGG GET DA MONEY
Lord Quest's beat starts off sounding like intermission music from A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders, and then stays that way for the entire length of the track. A slightly younger Q delivers a more energetic performance than you two may expect from the dude now, but his shit-talking and over-the-top claims mixed in with a sense of humor, a style honed on his earlier mixtapes, is intact. Our host's boastful nature clashes nicely with the instrumental on what is supposed to be an ode-slash-shout-out to the crew he grew up around. Not a bad way to start, I suppose.

2. KAMIKAZE
This Willie B beat sounds more like introductory theme music: although I understand that Quincy was trying to show some love to his friends on the previous song, “Kamikaze” should have been the first track on Setbacks. And yet, that doesn't mean that “Kamikaze” is any good. Our host's bars grow tiresome as the track drags on, his flow trying to beat you to multiple checkpoints in a nonexistent race, and it's pretty goddamn exhausting. Also, Q must have been thinking of the literal translation of the Japanese term “Kamikaze” (it means “divine wind”), as there isn't anything on here that would fit the other, more well-known definition, unless you, the listener, feels compelled to kill yourself in effort to take down as many enemies as you can immediately after hearing the song. Then, maybe.

3. LIGHT YEARS AHEAD (SKY HIGH) (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
The first of several collaborations with Kendrick Lamar takes place over a Focus... soundscape that's merely alright. It stays out of Q's way as he unleashes his verses, at least, although none of it sticks out. K-Dot initially only lends the hook, before our host cedes studio time to his Black Hippy bandmate, who uses it to spit a high-energy but also ultimately forgettable contribution. Well, at least nobody can say Kendrick was hurting for confidence pre-good kidd, m.A.A.d. city. Moving on...

4. WHAT'S THE WORD (FEAT. JAY ROCK)
The hook on here is ass. Eliminate that horseshit, and “What's The Word” is a banger. The Phonix Beats instrumental thumps like something from one of Xzibit's better efforts, while Quincy pairs up with the only “typical” gangsta rapper in Black Hippy, Jay Rock, who, unsurprisingly, excels over beats such as this. Our host's flow is a bit too awkward for the musical backing, but he acquits himself well enough. Jay Rock takes this beat home, though, and stashes it under his mattress for safekeeping. Even with the useless-as-fuck chorus, you'll probably still dig this one.

5. #BETIGOTSUMWEED
That hashtag at the beginning of the song title is about as annoying as Q's tendency to capitalize the letter 'H' in every goddamn word. At least producer Tae Beast (of Digi+Phonics) got the memo, as the instrumental is pretty chill, conducive to an environment where our host was probably high as shit when he recorded the track. It is kind of weird that a guy who brags about always having weed dedicates one verse to not actually having any (temporarily, anyway), and the not-very-impressive lengths he and his friends will go to rectify that horrific situation. Although this was slight, it was enjoyable enough. And now I want some weed. Damn it.

6. DRUGGYS WIT HOES (FEAT. AB-SOUL)
The fourth and final Black Hippy member, Ab-Soul, received a shout-out on the previous track for always having some weed on him. So it's only fair that he's given a co-starring credit on “Druggys Wit Hoes”, the first in an ongoing series where Quincy and his boy boast about participating in drug-fueled sexual intercourse with women who may or may not be under the influence themselves. Tae Beast's instrumental is alright, keeping things moving, but Soul's high-pitched flow didn't really work for me on here. Then again, I personally find Ab to be the least essential member of the crew (although he has shown more promise as of late), so that wasn't a shock for me.

7. CYCLE
The DJ Wes beat sounds like it lifted its music from a public service announcement warning teenagers in the 1970s about the evils of drugs/alcohol/premarital sex/disco. So it's fitting that Q uses the music to deliver a sermon of his own, railing against the cycle of violence that continues to this day in lower-income areas around America (and around the world, I imagine). As the music fights with a harder, modern drumbeat, “Cycle” finds its message being delivered to many more people than it might have, considering how the subject matter isn't exactly new or fresh in our chosen genre. Our host may not approach anything from a different perspective, but “Cycle” is a competent track with a far more interesting beat than it probably deserves.

8. TO THA BEAT (F'D UP)
Maybe it was just me, but King Blue's beat seems to build to a club-friendly climax that never occurs, and unlike what the Jason Biggs character is told on Orange Is The New Black, this does not lead Quincy to be more creative. If it wasn't for the (fucking loud) instrumental commanding your attention, nobody would give a shit about this boring-ass song. I'm going to cut my losses and move on.

9. CRAZY
There's nothing particularly crazy about Sounwave's beat on this dull throbbing headache of a track, and Quincy's two verses are fairly standard-issue as well. Our host does mention that “acting retarded is [his] cup of tea”, and I know he means it as a synonym for, well, “Crazy”, but that's a really fucking stupid synonym, folks. Thankfully, this song is awful, so I don't have to spend much more time explaining it as such. Next!

10. PHENOMENON (FEAT. ALORI JOH)
Although “Phenomenon” features vocals from the late Alori Joh, who, sadly, committed suicide a year following the release of Setbacks, I don't necessarily feel compelled to only say nice things about the song itself. Joh sounds pretty good, which makes her situation much more depressing for me (R.I.P.), but Quincy's verses, as played over the Phonix Beats loop, are made up of unprovoked shit-talking that never connects with the intended audience, keeping them at arm's length as our host talks himself up, it seems. Sigh.

11. SITUATIONS
Meh.

12. FANTASY (FEAT. JHENÉ AIKO)
Q tries his hand at infiltrating Drake territory, turning in a love rap over a subdued Tommy Black instrumental. Our host is actually pretty good with the pen, and he easily adapts to the shift in subject matter, but “Fantasy” is so low-energy that it's the aural equivalent of not even being bothered to get off of your couch to go to the fucking bathroom. Rap's current R&B muse Jhené Aiko lends her breathy, flat vocals to a truly shitty hook, but Quincy's own contributions are strong enough to almost prevent this boat from capsizing. Almost.

13. I'M GOOD (FEAT. BJ THE CHICAGO KID & PUNCH)
Peaceful but ultimately unsatisfying. Over Tae Beast's low-key piano-based instrumental, Schoolboy Q unleashes two verses while his invited guests croon and contribute bars, respectively, but although the separate components are decent by themselves, when combined, somehow “I'm Good” becomes less than fulfilling. Oh well. Nothing to see here.

14. BIRDS & THE BEEZ (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
Yes, K-Dot spits a verse, and yes, Q sounded alright, but the Dae One beat was so. Goddamn. Boring. Ugh.

The following song is listed as a bonus track on Setbacks.

15. ROLLING STONE (BLACK HIPPY)
Producer Sounwave beat Rick Rubin and Eminem to sampling The Zombies' “Time Of The Season” by a couple of years, creating an unexpected banger for the Black Hippy quartet to destroy. Verse-wise, Kendrick Lamar is short-changed, as he only rhymes a few bars, although K-Dot does provide the hook, so it isn't as though his presence isn't felt. Q and Jay Rock both deliver with their performances, using the then-unorthodox sample to their advantage, while Ab-Soul, who opens the track, fumbles the ball a bit. I suppose The Zombies were a lot cheaper to sample than the actual Rolling Stones, which explains why this song was initially jarring for me to hear the first time around: I was expecting something much more, well, Rolling Stones-esque. But this still works today too, so.

Two weeks after the official release date, Schoolboy Q decided to leak Setbacks in its entirety to his fans. The version he coughed up was missing “Light Years Ahead (Sky High)”, but featured another Kendrick feature in its place, along with an additional bonus track.

LIVE AGAIN (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR & CURT@IN$)
Works so much better than the track it replaced. K-Duck, Q, and guest star CurT@in$ deliver depressing, yet hopeful street tales over some horn-laced Tae Beast backing that underlines how serious the three were trying to be. Nobody especially shines on “Live Again”, because everyone turns in a solid performance, and nobody gets their toes stepped on. Nice!

FUCK YA HIP-HOP (FEAT. RAPPER BIG POOH & MURS)
The final bonus track of the project eschews the rest of the album's overall sound in favor of a simple East Coast-influenced loop, the perfect vehicle for our host to talk shit with his invited guests, Little Brother's Big Pooh and fellow Cali-based Murs, who all attack the haters who aren't happy with the trio's respective success in our chosen genre. Weirdly, only Q seems to still have a buzz surrounding him: Pooh and Murs obviously still work, but their boasts on “Fuck Ya Hip-Hop”, while entertaining, do not directly correlate with their career trajectory since. Which is why the opening line, where they complain about why it is that broke rappers are always the ones to complain about the current state of music, is very awkward to listen to today. I still liked this, though, especially Murs's verse.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Setbacks comes across as the work of an artist who obviously has the skill, but was still ironing out all of the other kinks that prevented this from being what some would consider to be a “good” or “consistent” album. It has its moments, but Quincy's attempt at cleverness (because of the concept of the album) is lost in the fact that Setbacks sounds just like every other rap album ever, content-wise. Nobody here is reinventing the wheel, which is fine, but shit isn't interesting when it's all the same. If you find yourself working backwards through the man's catalog, Setbacks will be the album your eyes will glaze over during, as your mind wanders into a world where music is better and hamburgers eat people or some shit. However, I still recommend that you two...

BUY OR BURN? ...burn this, but only because Q offered it up for free. Make sure the version you get is the one with those extra songs that help make up for the faults of the regular program, though.

BEST TRACKS: “What's The Word”; “Rolling Stone”; “Live Again”; “Fuck Ya Hip-Hop”

ScHoolboy Q - Habits & Contradictions (January 14, 2012) 




Habits & Contradictions, Quincy's second full-length album, is allegedly supposed to be a prequel to Setbacks, which would also technically qualify it as a concept album, I guess. However, since it was recorded after Q gained some confidence in his abilities behind the microphone (the money he received from Setbacks certainly helped in this regard), the project is a bit of a paradox, since the tracks presented are more fully formed, but the Quincy we're listening to is somehow supposed to have less experience than he did on his first album? Yeah, someone didn't really think that one through.

Quincy sticks with the Setbacks recipe when it comes to the rhymes: as per usual, he handles most of the bars, calling in favors from his friends when necessary. However, the friends he calls in this time around are of a slightly higher caliber: A$AP Rocky was in the midst of building up his buzz, Curren$y was already enjoying the fruits of his marijuana-fueled labor, and even Black Hippy cohort Kendrick Lamar's profile was steadily rising at this point. The production plans remained similar, with in-house team Digi+Phonics trading back and forth with outside influences, although one of those outside influences was The Alchemist, arguably the biggest name on Habits & Contradictions upon its release, and he doesn't even say a single word.

Habits & Contradictions lucked into a hit single, “Hands On The Wheel” (with the aforementioned A$AP Rocky feature), and the project took on a life of its own, eventually dragging Quincy to the feet of Interscope Records, where his man K-Dot had just signed his own deal. However, unlike Kendrick's newly-formed alliance with Dr. Dre, Schoolboy Q would go it alone, or at least as alone as someone can while surrounded by the people that helped him get to this point in the first place.

1. SACRILEGIOUS
Tabu's instrumental sounds like it wants to be a song by The Xx when it grows up, but more repetitive and with harder drums. Which is definitely not a bad thing: the moody atmosphere complements our host's bars, his boasts mixed in with a bit of reflection, signaling that Quincy has matured a tad since Setbacks. The robotic vocal sample during the hook is annoying, so “Sacrilegious” isn't a perfect song, but it is a pretty effective way to kick things off, all things considered. I could have easily heard him deliver more than just the two verses, though.

2. THERE HE GO
Over a fucking glorious piano sample borrowed from Menomena's “Wet and Rusting”, Q and producer Sounwave let loose an excellent introductory track that isn't actually the first song on Habits & Contradictions. Our host's two verses show him comfortable in his boastful persona, a dude so successful at his craft (somehow) that he's in a position to know that Dr. Dre's “Detox is like a mix away”, which has to be bullshit, because that album will never be released, but still, it's effective shit-talking. Sounwave's work behind the boards makes “There He Go” (which was released as a single) a winner, but don't sell Quincy short on here.

3. HANDS ON THE WHEEL (FEAT. A$AP ROCKY)
The best-known track from Habits & Contradictions is also the best song on the project. “Hands On The Wheel” is a collaboration between Q, A$AP Rocky, and the disembodied vocals swiped from a Lissie live cover of KiD CuDi's “Pursuit Of Happiness” that all comes together over an engaging and darker-than-it-should-be Best Kept Secret instrumental. Q and his invited guest are entertaining as shit, even if Rocky brought along his guttural, distorted ad-libs with him in his backpack, but this is our host's time to shine, and he doesn't waste the opportunity. Still bangs today, too, and let's be honest, it will probably bang for quite a while.

4. SEX DRIVE (FEAT. JHENÉ AIKO)
Aiko returns to Quincy's world to promote her continued “bad bitch”-ness to the masses, which may or may not mean something for you two (I mean, she's alright, but not a knockout, if you care about such things). Over a pulsating THC beat that sounds like nothing Schoolboy Q should ever find himself spitting over, Schoolboy Q finds himself spitting generic sex raps while shouting out only half of the astrological signs in existence (so the other half doesn't deserve any play at all? The fuck?). The invited guest's vocals are still breathy and kind of flat, as before, but the instrumental dominates the proceedings anyway so it works out in her favor. But if you were hoping for a song you absolutely must hear, look elsewhere.

5. OXY MUSIC
THC's beat is spacey and militant, as though you were rolling with the Starship Troopers crew and had to prepare for battle with some giant goddamn bugs, at which point the short list of drugs Quincy drops during the hook become that much more appealing. Our host trips over himself at the very beginning, but once he becomes acclimated to his surroundings, he flows over it like a champ. It isn't exactly what I would have classified as “Oxy Music”, but the, um, music does approximate a tiny bit of what it's like to be under the influence, especially as those drums sound creepy as fuck, a compliment.

6. MY HATIN' JOINT
Miley Cyrus's BFF Mike Will Made It made this song, a track that sounds like the equivalent of a hip hop Bermuda Triangle, where music suffocates and is never heard from again. The entire thing is a goddamn mess: aside from the bland beat, Quincy seems bored at his own hatin' joint, as he doesn't even spend all that much time hating stuff. It made me hate this shit, though, so maybe that was the intention all along? Regardless, fuck this shit.

7. TOOOKIE KNOWS (INTERLUDE)
Unnecessary. That Dave Free and Tae Beast beat should have been put to better use.

8. RAYMOND 1969
Yes, more Portishead samples in my hip hop, please. Producers Sounwave and Dave Free (both of the Digi+Phonics crew) loop up “Cowboys” and add a harder drum beat, providing an intriguing soundtrack for Quincy to talk his groovy gangsta shit over. The end result works, even with the sound bite throughout that is better known for its use on The Beatnuts classic “Off The Books”. “Raymond 1969” knocks: there is no other way to put it, and the fact that the producers allow a portion of “Cowboys” to play through at the very end is a pretty great way to pay respect to the source material.

9. SEXTING
Just to be clear, “Sexting” is an entirely different song than “Sex Drive”, although both are basically about the same thing, although this is a bit more vulgar. You know, because rap music. Not so much about “Sexting” as it is “sexing”, Q uses the DJ Dahi instrumental to boast about his prowess and his availability for potential boning. The beat isn't bad: in fact, it makes me wish our host had saved it for an altogether different subject. Not terrible, though. Curiously, “Sexting” was left off of the original leaked version of Habits & Contradictions, which probably lends the track a historical significance that it would never have attained otherwise.

10. GROOVELINE PT. 1 (FEAT. DOM KENNEDY & CURREN$Y)
Quincy reaches outside of his inner circle once again, tapping Dom Kennedy and prolific pothead Curren$y for “Grooveline Pt. 1”, some smoothed-out player shit that is actually pretty good, although there are two references to toast from two different parties within a minute of one another, which was strange. Q and Kennedy talk up their prowess while Curren$y appears to have accidentally knocked both himself and his lady friend out with a particularly potent strand: he wakes up to reruns of Full House and Family Matters, which is a hilarious detail. This wasn't bad at all, and Lex Luger (I know, right?) lends a quiet-storm instrumental that helps tremendously.

11. GANGSTA IN DESIGNER (NO CONCEPT)
There really wasn't a concept to this shit: Quincy is all over the fucking map on here. As such, the hook doesn't have anything to do with the verses, but those verses were cocky as hell, making this a bit more enjoyable than it should have been. Willie B's instrumental chugs along commendably as well. Not bad.

12. HOW WE FEELING
A glorified interlude.

13. DRUGGYS WIT HOES AGAIN (FEAT. AB-SOUL)
A sequel to Setbacks's “Druggys Wit Hoes”, even though Habits & Contradictions is supposed to be a prequel to Setbacks? How the fuck does that science work? Anyway. Q and Ab-Soul revive their threats to fuck your girlfriend while everyone is plied with copious amounts of illicit substances (and yet being very careful to stay away from “Isn't this song just a glorification of rape?”, a line that they refuse to cross for very good reason). Nez & Rio turn in an instrumental that is a bit catchier than the first installment's was, but this retread spins its wheels whenever Quincy rhymes. Soul, admittedly, injects more energy into his performance this time around, but I still didn't care.

14. NIGHTMARE ON FIGG ST.
A sequel/prequel/whatever the fuck to Setbacks's “Figg Get Da Money”, one that uses a frustrating A$AP Ty Beats instrumental and filters an ode to Quincy's childhood friends through a Jay-Z and Kanye West “N----s In Paris” homage (because absolutely nobody refers to the pair as The Throne). The only nightmarish aspect of this track was when I learned that I had to sit through the whole fucking thing in order to properly finish this write-up. Obviously, we are currently in the low point of Habits & Contradictions right now.

15. MY HOMIE
Pre- “Break The Bank”, Quincy worked with an Alchemist instrumental on “My Homie”, a song that probably should have been called “Addiction”, but whatever. Q expresses at the very beginning that he's wanted to rhyme over an Al Maman beat ever since he heard 1st Infantry, which is sweet and genuine, so it's too bad that Alan's beat is boring as shit (as most of them tend to be, and fuck it, you know I'm right: the dude's batting average is less than stellar). This leaves very little room for Schoolboy Q to come back from, so although he appears to be living out his dream, that doesn't mean that this was entertaining for anyone to actually listen to.

16. BLESSED (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
An excellent closing track, one marred by the mere fact that it isn't the actual closing track on Habits & Contradictions. Although it does appear as the final song on the leaked version. Weird. Dave Free's instrumental manages to sound poignant even though it's just a collection of disconnected sounds, which is quite a feat, and Quincy makes sure that the audience feels his pain, fear his fears, and understands his loyalty to his friends throughout his bars. But it's guest star K-Dot that steals the spotlight, turning in an inspirational verse containing actual no-bullshit words of wisdom that would probably be your girl's Facebook status had she ever bothered to listen to this track (and its overuse of the phrase “my n----s”): “You are blessed, take advantage, do your best my n---a / Don't stress, you was granted everything inside this planet / Anything you imagine, you possess my n---a”. One of my most favoritest Kendrick verses ever, and it punctuates an already good song, which also acts as a bookend to the album opener “Sacrilegious”, so maybe Quincy has changed his tune.

17. N---AHS. ALREADY. KNOW. DAVERS. FLOW
A kind of strange way to actually end the project. Although it is so repetitive that it could function as an annoying-as-shit outro, so I guess? Whatever: you two probably already knew that this song was all sorts of garbage.

The retail version of Habits & Contradictions ends with the following bonus song.

18. 2 RAW (FEAT. JAY ROCK)
So the “actual” album ends with a collaboration featuring Jay Rock, the only other Black Hippy member who had yet to appear. (Weirdly, “2 Raw” is actually the second track on the leaked version: I wonder why Q had a change of heart.) Even though Rock's contribution injects the track with some much-needed adrenaline, it wouldn't have been unforgivable had our host saw fit to drop it entirely from the album, because it's pretty goddamn terrible overall. The hook is atrocious, Tae Beast's instrumental chugs along robotically, and even Q seems bored the entire time. The less said about “2 Raw”, the better. Groan.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although I'm still confused as to why there are two different versions of the project, Habits & Contradictions ups Quincy's game and boosts the entertainment value tenfold. Schoolboy Q's default rhyme scheme may be to bullshit you into thinking he's more successful than he actually is (yet), but more so than on Setbacks, Habits & Contradictions dives into what drives the man to do what he does, with the end result actually working a good majority of the time.  Those of you two who find Quincy to be better at this rap shit than his Black Hippy brethren absolutely based that opinion on your enjoyment of this one album.

BUY OR BURN? Look at the section below. When was the last time you saw me list seven songs as the “best tracks” on any album? Of course you should buy this shit.

BEST TRACKS: “Hands On The Wheel”; “There He Go”; “Blessed”; “Raymond 1969”; “Oxy Music”; “Sacrilegious”; “Grooveline Pt. 1”

Okay, now back to our feature presentation.

Oxymoron, our reason for getting together this afternoon, is Schoolboy Q's third full-length release, and his first for his new major label home.  After releasing his first two projects approximately one year apart, Oxymoron hit a bit of a snag in the sample wars, which delayed its street date to 2014.  Not that Quincy took a break of any kind, of course: aside from helping boost the profile of his TDE coworkers (whose numbers grew in between Q projects), he also made it a point to remain in the spotlight, whether that meant leaking songs, freestyling, giving a ridiculous number of interviews to anyone who would have him (I remember seeing him pop up on The Pete Holmes Show, for fuck's sake), and, of course, just generally existing.

Oxymoron continues to follow the blueprint originally laid out by Setbacks, although it hews closer in sound quality to both Habits & Contradictions and Kendrick's own Grammy-nominated major label debut.  Although the budget has been bumped up a bit, affording Quincy the opportunity to work alongside the likes of Pharrell Williams, he sticks to the rivers and lakes he is used to, utilizing many of the same producers who have helped him through his career to this point.  The guest stars aim a bit higher than before, as the likes of 2 Chainz and the Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon share space with the usual Black Hippy suspects, but admit it, you would probably want to feature 2 Chainz on your shit, too, especially if it would instantly promote your product.

Schoolboy Q has spent the run-up to Oxymoron claiming that his album was better than K-Dot's.  Now, obviously, he's required by law to say that: if he didn't, why would any of us give two shits about his project?  But it remains to be seen whether Quincy is capable of hitting people's hearts and minds as well as his cronie.  Judging by the first few singles he dropped, it's entirely possible that Q has this shit in the bag.  

Except for the fact that Quincy has boasted the rest of Oxymoron sounds nothing like the singles.  And so.


1. GANGSTA
Q tries his hand at bucking the trend of rap album intros usually sucking if one or more of the artist's children is involved in any capacity, and by golly, he does it. Sure, it helps that the generically-titled “Gangsta” (altered from its original name, “Rap Song”) isn't actually a rap album intro: Quincy's daughter says a couple of lines, and then Nez & Rio's moody, melodic instrumental kicks in for our host to attack. The hook's a little goofy, but I still dug this shit: in fact, it kind of sounded like an update to Setbacks's “Figg Get Da Money”, although you could chalk that up to the fact that I just finished listening to Setbacks and everything reminds me of it. Still, this is actually a pretty good way to kick things off.

2. LOS AWESOME (FEAT. JAY ROCK)
Prior to Oxymoron's leak release, Quincy was boasting about how he had a Pharrell Williams beat for “Los Awesome” that leaned more toward straight gangsta shit than it did “Happy”, Skateboard P's Academy Award-nominated hit. The actual track itself reminded me greatly of Snoop Dogg's Neptunes-handled “From The Chuuch To Tha Palace”, and Snoop technically is a gangsta rapper, so maybe? The instrumental is all noise with only a hint of melody: Chad Hugo's ear is sorely missed here. But Quincy and Black Hippy stalwart Jay Rock do what they can with what they were given, even if it means a lot of random-ass shouting over the music. Could have been worse, but it wouldn't have taken all that much.

3. COLLARD GREENS (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
You two already know that I think of “Collard Greens” as a banger, but I've never really expanded on that thought until today. From the opening drums that knock all the way into your subconsciousness and force your neck to convulse, to the “baller futuristic groovy gangsta with an attitude” flow of our host, “Collard Greens” is simply the shit, even if the rest of Oxymoron sounds nothing like it. THC's instrumental flips from fast to slow when necessary, which also helps guest star Kendrick Lamar sound far more comfortable with the bullshit violent tough talk than he should. Although I love K-Dot's “I'm famous, I blame this on you” line, Q is still the star of his own show, his boasts besting that of his Black Hippy co-worker and hitting the sweet spot every. Goddamn. Time on this track. Fuck, I love this song. Even if K-Dot doesn't seem to know how guns are supposed to sound and his Spanish is seemingly limited to vulgarities.

4. WHAT THEY WANT (FEAT. 2 CHAINZ)
Mike Will Made It's cloud-trap beat (which isn't bad, admittedly) anchors this collaboration between Quincy and Tity Boi, whose mere inclusion on Oxymoron seems to have been engineered by an executive up at Interscope who was convinced that the addition of 2 Chainz would garner some more attention for the project, ultimately selling a few more copies. Because 2 Chainz is popular, right? That's just lazy thinking, since Oxymoron doesn't need to look like every other rap album out there: Schoolboy Q already has carved out his niche. Tity Boi's verse is contrived as fuck anyway, so who even gets to benefit from this shit? Quincy sounded alright, I guess, but it's not like I'll ever willingly listen to this shit again.

5. HOOVER STREET
I didn't care for the first section of “Hoover Street”: the beat was funky enough, but Q never manages to control it. Quite the contrary once the music switches up, though: “Hoover Street”, titled after the other street Q grew up close to, becomes infinitely more interesting. Sounwave's instrumental isn't the heaviest, but it moves things along at a very quick pace, and our host spits three more verses documenting his come-up into his current lifestyle. Quincy is the type of rapper whose boasts and bullshit are good enough to get him by, but when he dives into some personal stuff, he knows how to command your attention, and the final verse on here hits you like a sock full of quarters, as he details his rocky relationship with his uncle and his grandmother's inadvertent contribution to his early gang-banging ways.

6. STUDIO (FEAT. BJ THE CHICAGO KID)
I haven't said “meh” in a while, so.

7. PRESCRIPTION / OXYMORON
The first half (well, more like the first third) of “Prescription / Oxymoron” is a spiritual successor to Habits & Contradictions's “Oxy Music”, except Quincy is describing his own prescription pill abuse and how it affects his life and personal relationships. Including his daughter on the “hook” is a little too on-the-nose for me, and it's not like the stakes are risen, since Quincy is obviously alive and promoting this album as we speak, but for a brief moment, his self-awareness is sobering. And then “Oxymoron” kicks in, which was somehow annoying and boring all at once, with our host's celebration of all things drugs canceling out everything that he just got through describing. Hence, the “Oxymoron” title. But just because he was trying to be clever doesn't mean that you have to buy into it. Sigh.

8. THE PURGE (FEAT. TYLER, THE CREATOR & KURUPT)
So Quincy couldn't find room for Ab-Soul on the album (after their collaboration was left on the cutting-room floor due to sample clearance issues, although it will undoubtedly see a leak within the next month or so), but Tyler, The Creator and Kurupt made the final cut? The fuck kind of world are we living in? Well, as it turns out, a world where Tyler is actually one of the better parts of “The Purge”: his instrumental (even in the slightly altered form that appears on Oxymoron) is darker and immediate, thanks to the incessant low beeping throughout, and he lends the song half of an actually pretty good hook. Quincy and Kurupt attempt to run with the vibe, which may or may not have been informed by the horror flick of the same name (whose synopsis sounds lifted directly from J-Zone's “No Consequences”, except with more killing), but only Q walks away unscathed, as Kurupt turns in an absolutely fucking atrocious verse that almost retroactively alters my perception of Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food. Seriously, are we supposed to let him slide by with these bullshit contributions just because Kurupt's hyper-misogynistic ass has been a part of our chosen genre for longer than Quincy and Tyler combined? As consumers and fans, we all need to start demanding better. True fact.

9. BLIND THREATS (FEAT. RAEKWON)
All of the good ideas may be taken already: “Blind Threats” cribs from the same source material as Cypress Hill's “Illusions”, Big Punisher's RZA-produced “Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)”, and Mobb Deep's “Can't Get Enough Of It”. However, producer LordQuest throws enough at the listener to show that he merely used the Gary Burton "Las Vegas Tango" sample as a jumping-off point and not as the endgame. Quincy's two verses aren't quite as tight as I would have preferred, but he at least swings for the fences, unlike guest star Raekwon, who coasts by on name-brand recognition, thanks to his sleepy flow and bars filled with worse non-sequiturs than usual. Because if it's a Chef Raekwon verse, you know there's a reference to food somewhere (it's actually his very first bar on “Blind Threats”), because Chef. I wish Q had given the cameo spot to B-Real instead: now that would have been interesting. But Raekwon became the Wu-Tang Clan's answer to Kool G. Rap so gradually that nobody really noticed: dude will work with absolutely anybody as long as he gets a check. Sometimes less is more, Corey.

10. HELL OF A NIGHT
I can't think of any reason why I would like “Hell Of A Night”, but I do. DJ Dahi's instrumental is alright, a bit quieter than a description of “a hell of a night” would command, and our host's actual verses are okay, but the dual hooks are both frustrating, especially the one that contains the song's title, as it appears to have been custom-built for radio playlists. I'm not the biggest fan of deliberately changing your style in order to cater to a specific audience as a rule, but there are always exceptions for everything, and somehow “Hell Of A Night” qualifies. Don't go into this one expecting an actual good song, and you'll go far.

11. BREAK THE BANK
Runs a bit longer than absolutely necessary, but “Break The Bank”, the previously-released Alchemist production, knocks. I'm probably the only blogger on the planet that doesn't think everything Al Maman touches turns to gold (which would make him a rather inconsistent alchemist, technically), but when he's on, he's fucking on, and hiss work on here is as haunting as some of his production in the early part of the millennium (*cough* Mobb Deep's “When You Hear The” *cough*). With a performance that was apparently recorded before K-Dot dropped good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Quincy doesn't let his second opportunity with an ALC beat go to waste, and he owns this shit with enough confidence and swagger that his sorta-sung hook doesn't even sound corny. Black Hippy remix of “Break The Bank”, please. Now.

12. MAN OF THE YEAR
Music video full of hot chicks aside, I never gave much of a shit about “Man Of The Year”, Oxymoron's second single and the final song of the standard program. Quincy sounds like he's trying far too hard to make it seem like meshing misogynistic gangsta rap with melodic flourishes is effortless, and the marriage is doomed from the jump, since this shit isn't so much a song as it is some verses vomited over a Nez & Rio production under the thinnest of pretense. Fuck this song. It knows what it did.

The deluxe edition of Oxymoron contains the following bonus tracks. Or you could just buy the digital release, as its “regular” edition of Oxymoron is the deluxe edition everywhere else. If the album cover on your copy of Oxymoron features Quincy's face, you only have twelve tracks in your possession.

13. HIS & HER FIEND (FEAT. SZA)
Wait, what just happened here?

14. GROOVELINE PT. 2 (FEAT. SUGA FREE)
This sequel to the Habits & Contradictions album track swaps out Dom Kennedy and Curren$y for actual pimp-slash-rapper Suga Free, who's usually good for some hilariously wrong sound bites. Tae Beast's instrumental is pretty smooth, but Quincy isn't the man for the job, his performance riding that fine line between merely embarrassing and appalling, and even Suga Free is unable to salvage it. No wonder this was chopped from the standard program. Your life won't be affected in any way if you simply pretend this song doesn't exist.

15. FUCK LA
Any song where the first words you hear are “pussy lips” has to fight an uphill battle to ever be considered as credible. “Fuck LA” actually comes pretty goddamn close, though, due to Nez & Rio's dope instrumental (with what could be a concealed organ, unless my mind is playing tricks on me and it isn't even close to Halloween) and Quincy's riding over said dope instrumental. Thankfully, “Fuck LA” is neither a diatribe against the City of Angels, nor is it a travelogue like Kendrick's “The Recipe”: instead, it's just a room where our host can, what else, talk his shit. Pretty good for what was basically a throwaway song.

The iTunes deluxe edition of Oxymoron concludes with the following additional bonus songs.

16. GRAVY
Producer Clams Casino boasts the first retailer-exclusive bonus track with “Gravy”, two verses of circular shit-talking that never leads anywhere but to a really shitty hook that people will end up loving anyway. Quincy's comfort level behind the mic reaches, and I'm not kidding, this is really what popped into my mind just now, Sean Price levels, so much so that I would love to see a collaboration post-haste. And Casino's instrumental is low-key but grows on you, no thanks to the drum machine that nevertheless helps bring the song home. I see why it was cast off into the bonus track ether, but it isn't bad.

17. YAY YAY
Q had already leaked “Yay Yay” last year, so why not just give that shit away as a bonus, right? Boi-1da's moody instrumental is pretty smooth, but my problem with the song before was Q's hook, which informs the song's name but relies on the phrase waaaaaay too often, as it is annoying as fuck to hear the words “Yay Yay” repeated so many goddamn times and, as expected, this album version is exactly the same. The thing is, Quincy sounds pretty good over it otherwise, so it's upsetting that a poorly-thought-out chorus can sway my opinion on a song like that, but it just happened, and you are all witnesses. Groan.

Target, the big-box retailer who has gone through some public relations nightmares over the past few months, also offers two alternate, also-exclusive bonus tracks on their own special edition of Oxymoron. As if the rest of the post didn't clue you in on the fact, I'm trying to be as comprehensive as possible with Quincy, so I tracked those songs down as well.

16. PUSHA MAN
Did Q really push an interlude as a Target exclusive? What the fuck, man?

17. CALIFORNICATION (FEAT. A$AP ROCKY)
Maybe Quincy figured he could get away with the bullshit that is “Pusha Man” because Target customers also get this A$AP Rocky collaboration, I don't know. “Californication” is four times the length of the previous track, which is longer than it had to be, since our host repeats a couple of his ideas throughout the run time, and I'm not talking about the hook. But this wasn't that bad, thanks to Nez & Rio's simple-but-insistent beat (those guys are really the unsung heroes of Oxymoron, "Man Of The Year" notwithstanding) and Rocky's contribution, as he gives the first verse the swagger required for the listener to comprehend just what the hell kind of song this is going to be. I wouldn't go out of my way for it, but for what it is, not bad.

THE LAST WORD:  I would have probably recommended a purchase based on "Collard Greens" and "Break The Bank" alone, but the rest of Oxymoron is rather hit and miss.  Quincy's lyrical assault on these beats, volatile when he feels the need to be, is in top form, and when he takes the time to put the bullshit aside, he's as compelling as your favorite rapper was back when he released that thing that one time, and a lot of the beats will get you moving, even if it's just within your own head as you lounge upon your throne and gaze upon your cloud empire.  But an over-reliance on filler, not-well-thought-out guest spots, and "Man Of The Year", a song I really cannot stand, ruin Oxymoron's chances of reaching Kendrick's heights.  But it's not as though this album is a total loss: there are several tracks that will slide onto my iPod playlists, and for being the first major label hip hop release of 2014, it certainly isn't bad overall.  The good outweighs the bad up until the point where you have to justify actually buying the product: then you may have some issues rationalizing the purchase.  There is no need to seek out either of the retailer-exclusive editions, though: save some money with the regular, and then, well, Google is the guy to talk to for those other songs.

-Max

19 comments:

  1. i agree with your reviews of setbacks and hnc, but idk about oxymoron. i thought the mike will beat on what they want is the hardest on the album, and the beat/chorus on Studio are epic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Duncan IdahoFebruary 28, 2014

    Goddamn, Max, you are awesome. Great post, and perfect timing. Thank you for writing all this. Making my way through Q's discography as well! Love H&Q and Oxy, but haven't heard Setbacks yet...

    ReplyDelete
  3. roc marciano reloaded

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well done, Max. I'm definitely going to have to give Habits and Contradictions a shot after reading this. Your album reviews are usually hit or miss with me, but you nailed the Oxymoron review in my eyes. I LOVE Collard Greens and Break The Bank and can't stand Man Of The Year either. I agree with most of your assessments on the other tracks too. I bought the deluxe edition at Target and would have been much better off saving the $5 and just buying the standard edition. Overall a good start to 2014.

    ReplyDelete
  5. first off, slow clap for the effort Max. Now i'll say Schoolboy has never impressed me enough on his guest verses to actually listen to him, but you've convinced me to try Habits and Contradictions.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I mostly agree with your Setbacks review but I happen to love "Im Good". Just something about the beat and production really calls to me. Habits and Contradictions has some awesome bangers as well; Sacrilegious and Hands on the Wheel are my two favorite Q songs easily. Oxymoron was overall decent, but outside of Collard Greens and Break the Bank had no standouts, so I was really disappointed.

    Also, you seem to really enjoy Jay Rock (he is my 2nd fav Black Hippy behind K-Dot), and when his album comes out, hopefully this year, can you see yourself doing a similar group review for him (Follow Me Home and Black Friday as well)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure, but right now I'm leaning toward no, since I'm not quite as big a Jay Rock fan as the Q review may have you believe (I'm not the biggest fan of K-Dot's "Money Trees"). Who knows at this point, though.

      Delete
  7. 1) Re: Dude above- I dunno why you'd request Max review a Roc Marci release. As good as Reloaded (and Marci Beaucoup) are, you're not changing Max's mind on dude. Sadly.

    2) I haven't heard Setbacks yet (the only first-wave TDE mixtape I've heard is Soul's, although I have O(verly) D(edicated) and Setbacks earmarked) but I was underwhelmed by H&C but LOVED OxyMoron, maybe just on pure surprise, since I was convinced it was never coming out and also my expectations were nothing since Quincy was my least favorite of TDE. But damned if he doesn't have an ear for beats and go at everything like his life depends on it. The only lowlight on OxyMoron was "Hell of a Night" (which grew on me); otherwise I don't skip a bit on this, and I feel like the HARD AS NAILS production is the type of shit that Game has been playing at his whole career- and that K. Dot nailed on "M.A.A.D. City"- but has only been truly realized here. It's West Coast blunt ride music, but it's contemporary and scary. Truly a unique sound, and Quincy's story raps are the perfect lyrical content for these dark backgrounds.

    If I had to suggest a review, I suggest you accept my submission for Danny Brown's XXX that I am going to send you by the end of the night. Or maybe a Stalley tape because I think you'd have an interesting perspective on it. Or Rick "Officer" Ross' Mastermind because it just leaked, it's not awful but you will have a field day picking out all of the pilfered ideas and hooks that Ricky and Diddy run with throughout.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the Ricky Rozay album was pretty damn good and Stalley has to be the best guy on Mayback Music from listening to Honest Cowboy, but people should ask if Max will accept the reader review before they end up wasting their entire time writing it.

      Delete
    2. Max have you heard Ab's Control System? If not you are probably sleeping on Ab.

      Delete
    3. Patrique I totally agree with you on Oxymoron, wall to wall bangers. And Hell of A Night grew on me too that beat is actually pretty sick.

      Delete
    4. I agree with the "sending Max a message first" thing. Unsolicited submissions tend to end up in the trash. And no, I haven't listened to Control System yet in full, but the little I have heard hasn't really changed my mind about the guy.

      Delete
  8. Fun Fact: the beat for the "Prescription" part contains a sample of Portishead's "Undenied". Mr. Schoolboy Q sure loves some Portishead

    ...gotta love him for THAT at least

    ReplyDelete
  9. Druggys wit Hoes (part 1) is arguably the greatest track in Q's entire catalog.. his flow is so dope on that track and then Ab comes in with "knew I was gonna be a star when I had a cubby, watchin FernGully, now everything I puff's fluffy and I'm so comfy." And the beat is just perfect for the rhymes. Cant believe that track got no love. But that was still a sweet triple review nice work Maxy. I still think Oxymoron is the best of the three by a mile but oh well

    ReplyDelete
  10. Please review Acid Rap and ten day by Chance the Rapper

    ReplyDelete
  11. I thought Oxymoron was near worthless, Los Awesome, Collard Greens, and Break the Bank being the only true bright spots. The Purge and Blind Threats were cool ideas poorly executed, and I HATE you for liking Hell of a Night! I agree that Hoover Street's introspection is extremely noteworthy, but can you really say that it's a song that you'll play anymore now that the review is done? Unlike Los Awesome, Studio didn't belong AND was terrible in every way possible. This album is 90% misses imo

    ReplyDelete
  12. AnonymousJune 26, 2014

    I thought you'd love Man of the Year, the beat is moody as fuck

    ReplyDelete
  13. AnonymousJuly 07, 2014

    Fuckkkkkin gooood album!! Dem beats. The inclusion of 2 Chainz was definitely a mistake for an otherwise decent track. Come on Max, stop lying to yourself. Man of the Year bangs. great beat, great flow, who cares if he's not really saying anything? the music on that song just works. Sounds at least as moody as those Drake tracks you are so fond of (particularly Started from the Bottom).
    One word to describe this album: refreshing.
    And thank God he doesn't do that fucking annoying half-whisper thing Kendrick (who I am a fan of) does.

    However, great blog! Keep up the ace reviews :)

    ReplyDelete