Man of the year

Schoolboy Q‘s “Oxymoron” builds on the druggy beats and impressive lyricism of “Habits & Contradictions.”

Grant Tillery

Schoolboy Q is an oxymoron.  He joined Los Angeles’ Hoover Crips at age 12, and maintained a 3.3 GPA in high school while barely showing up for class.  

Though Q — real name Quincy Hanley — maintains faded detachment in interviews, his smarts shine through on “Oxymoron.”  If he wrote an autobiography, this would be it.

“Oxymoron” is the yang to the yin of the 2012 “Habits & Contradictions.”  The latter evokes a party where drugs are passed around in a decrepit, dim house.  “Oxymoron,” however, is a summer soundtrack tailored for cruising in a ‘64 droptop.  

A&E breaks it down.  

 

“Gangsta”

The first track is solid, with a nod to 2Pac’s lyrical styling — when Q proclaims “Real [expletive] never die homeboy, we multiply,” it’s a near quote off of 2Pac’s verse on Biggie’s “Hot 95 Freestyle.”  Q’s repetition of, “Gangsta gangsta gangsta” is inevitably infectious and more reminiscent of a pop hook than gangsta rap.  

 

“Los Awesome”

Q establishes his street cred on this braggadocio anthem by comparing himself to the grim reaper.  Pharrell‘s production adds glitz to the gunplay onomatopoeia, which Q emulates by blasting “Block ten bla ba bum” on the bridge.

 

 “Collard Greens”

This ode to marijuana starts out with the same heavy, clanging beat that’s present on featured artist Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle.” Lamar steals the show with his verse, spitting blunt game in both Spanish and English.

 

“What They Want”

Schoolboy Q becomes one of the few rappers audacious enough to spit out the words “penis” and “semen.”  Though this number (like most of his work) is not radio-friendly, it will be a mainstay in smoky rooms for years to come.

 

 “Hoover Street”

Expounding on Q’s days with the Hoover Crips, “Hoover Street” shows that he has no qualms about his past.  Instead, a faint hint of nostalgia and fondness is detected.  The drum kit providing the beat is a welcome change from sampling.

 

“Studio”

Q shows us he has a soft side on “Studio,” a love song that puts the Weeknd to shame. It inhabits a similarly depraved aura, yet possesses an earnest plaintiveness.

 

“Prescription/Oxymoron,” “The Purge” and “Blind Threats”

Q again goes autobiographical on this trilogy about his days as a drug dealer and addict.  It’s harrowing from the get-go; the intro could be a somber indie rock song, but when pill bottles become audible, it’s pure Q.  

Q’s daughter Joy, unaware of her father’s struggles, is featured in a haunting vocal role.  She frightfully asks a doped-up Q, “What’s wrong daddy?  Wake up!  Wake up!” Her bone-chilling lines make “Thriller” sound like “Call Me Maybe.”

“The Purge” begins with a hook by Tyler, the Creator and details Q’s relationship with guns.  Beyond Tyler’s hook, it’s a lackluster track, one of two small missteps on the album.  Kurupt’s verse is particularly miserable.  He makes Rick Ross sound like a poet laureate, and he loses steam quickly, especially in contrast to the articulate Q.

“Blind Threats” captures an average day for a gangster without any manufactured glamor.  Though the beat and lyrics don’t match initially, they open the door for lyrical staggering, leading to brilliant wordplay.  Raekwon shuts it down with his flawless flow, and he somehow makes “thinking” and “acquaintances” a feasible rhyme.

 

“Hell of a Night” and “Man of the Year”

These tracks are bombastic club bangers.  The former is rife with reverb, the latter saccharine synth.  Both are hedonistic, lacking depth and meaning, but they hit the brain’s pleasure centers and make you want to bump and grind all night long.  

 

“Break the Bank”

Breaking up the two party anthems, Q takes cues from Eminem with the hook and angry delivery.  The eerie motif is an Eminem rip-off as well — as is the biting square shooting.

 

“His & Her Friend”

Featuring SZA, this is the album’s other misstep and the only song that should have been omitted.  It chucks Q’s trademark West Coast sound in favor of lo-fi haze.  The auto-tuned vocals are muffled and inaudible, a gamble that doesn’t pay off.

 

“Grooveline Pt. 2”

Q’s gangsta lean returns on this slow-burner (which is not a continuation of “Grooveline Pt. 1” off “Habits & Contradictions”).   Featuring Suga Free‘s thick articulation, this slow jam employs Memphis Horns-esque licks.  It’s sung from the perspective of a pimp, which adds a smidgen of scintillating sleaze.

 

“Fuck LA”

 “Oxymoron” goes out with Q’s ode to his hometown.  The titular jab is in jest, as Q describes the streets of L.A. as his muse and embodies the laid-back West Coast vibe that gets him higher than any drugs he takes.

 

3.5 out of 4 stars