Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron

Beats, rhymes and life. That's all you really need to know.

Schoolboy Q is one of the signature pieces in the wardrobe that is TDE, the cohort of Californian rappers and producers that includes Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and board-smiths like Digi+Phonics and THC.

This San Fran gangsta not only plies his trade one of the most eclectic and exciting franchises in Hip-Hop, as a solo artist he operates in the tightly packed tranche that rests just below the upper echelons of Hip-Hop's ivory tower, and he is knocking on it's door.

Oxymoron then, is Schoolboy Q's coming out, the album that is required to build upon the success of his debut Habits & Contradictions, and give him an all-access pass to Kanye-like fame.

'Los Awesome' rides an uptempo synth-stabbing beat and trunk rattling drums courtesy of Pharrell. Typically, the backpacking sound of Q's early work would seem at odds with this speedy maximal offering, but the track showcases a sweet balance of low-end Hip-Hop and Neptunes-era gloss.

The backpackers get their shout-out in the form of 'Collard Greens', another uptempo banger, yet one that is more spacious and hollow. The openness of the beat allows Q and Kendrick Lamar to showcase their voices and lyrics. Both men appear lusty for the low-end bass and drums, with Kendrick introducing the track as "your favorite song".

The throwback boom-bap gets even thicker on 'Hoover Street', which starts a psychedelic treatise on familial relations over staccato drums, and then switches up into a buzzy, dusty groove that Odd Future would kill to be freestyling over.  'Prescription' is a gloriously trippy concoction that finds Q taking Recovery-period Eminem and restyling him as a sorry-for-himself addict rather than an empowered ex-junkie. It's pretty intoxicating.

Did someone say Odd Future? Not surprisingly, Tyler the Creator drops by for 'The Purge', a paean to death and destruction custom made for both men to go in with deliriously decrepit  (c)rhymes. Another spiritual brother-in-arms arrives for low-key head-nodder 'Blind Threats', as Raekwon the Chef preaches street justice in typically realistic fashion.

'Hell of a night' feels like an almost-single, a track too authentic to trouble the top 40 but important and street enough to live on car stereos for the duration of the summer. It stays the somber lane that the rest of the album refuses to deviate from, and yet you can still find fun in the middle of the paranoid haze.

The album closes with the celebratory 'Man of the year', its muted synths and hard drums making it almost jubilant in comparison the rest of the album.

The darkness and fog that pervades the album threatens at times to turn it into a downer, but the engaging flow of Q and  his high-caliber guests turn it into one of the years most distinctively enjoyable long-players.