Album review: ScHoolboy Q’s ‘Oxymoron’
The rapper’s latest brings gangster rap back.
On Tuesday, ScHoolboy Q released his major label debut album, Oxymoron, bearing the weight of expectations set by critics, fans and himself.
Top Dawg Entertainment comrade Kendrick Lamar set the label’s standards high and speculation arose as to whether Q could release an album equipollent to Lamar’s game-changing good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Hype built up last March when he released the album’s first single, “Yay Yay,” a track reminiscent of his early life as a Hoover Street Crip selling narcotics in south central Los Angeles. Oxymoron quickly became the most anticipated rap album of the year following the June release of “Collard Greens,” an upbeat psychedelic anthem featuring a bilingual verse from Lamar that broke into numerous “Best of 2013” lists.
Not shying away from self-promotion, Q assured fans during a Reddit AMA in January that Oxymoron would be better than his last album, Habits and Contradictions, and he dauntlessly told listeners he was coming for Kendrick’s throne in his pre-released single, “Break the Bank.”
ScHoolboy Q wrote Oxymoron as gangster music, inspired heavily by the ‘90s West Coast movement and he lets that be known from the start. The album opens up with a voice clip from his daughter, Joy, announcing “my daddy a gangsta.” His aggressive delivery and marled voice spitting over hard-hitting bass-driven beats complement lyrics that outline his quick metastasis from playing with a gun for the first time (his grandma’s, at that) to robbing people, drug dealing and pimping.
Q makes it clear he’s Crippin’. In “The Purge” he raps alongside Tyler, the Creator and Kurupt, the ‘90s Death Row Records legend infamous for his Crip-walk, bragging about his blue belts and drug money over a snappy, eerie beat.
Songs like “Los Awesome” and “Fuck LA” directly reference drive-by shootings, cooking crack cocaine and running the block. On “Grooveline Pt. 2” he recruited Compton G-funk icon, Suga Free, to deliver an old school anthem from a pimp’s perspective directly indicative to life on the corner.
Oxymoron also contains a number of hedonistic melodies, celebratory of ScHoolboy’s fame and money, and escape from his past lifestyle. In “Hell of a Night,” he spits a celebratory anthem over a high-energy DJ Dahi-produced beat and lets it be known he’s been through the worst and is already living his dream. His fondness for in-your-face hooks and club-bangin’ beats deliver songs that slap, but lack the ingenuity and substance to make an album great.
But, just as the album title states, ScHoolboy Q is an oxymoron. He’s a gangster but he’s also a daddy. He mentions pimping in one song and his daughter in the next. In “Blind Threats,” he prays to God and reveals that he’s sinning to try to do good and feed his daughter — another oxymoron. Q questions his religion, feels like the Bible is giving him blind threats and decides to take things into his own hands, proclaiming, “But if God don’t help me, this gun will / I swear I’m gon’ find my way.”
Despite his romanticizing of his drug-dealing past, he doesn’t shy away from addressing the issues of addiction. When Q was growing up, his uncle showed symptoms of drug addiction that he didn’t think anything about. In “Hoover Street,” he evokes memories of watching his uncle constantly sweating and losing weight, while Q wondered why his things always went missing. He didn’t understand why his uncle would ask for him to pee in a cup.
“Prescription/Oxymoron” shows both sides, serving as juxtaposition between life as a dealer and user. Part one addresses his life as a drug user while he loses contact with his family, nodding in and out of consciousness from his abuse of Percocet, Adderall, Xanax and codeine, all over a spacy beat. He illustrates himself in a drug-induced coma while his daughter struggles to get his attention. In part two, the beat picks up while Q raps about selling the same drugs he was using in part one, boasting that he’s the “doctor.”
Q solidifies his role in Top Dawg Entertainment with hard-hitting, gritty and raunchy delivery in Oxymoron and brings confidence and power that he hasn’t been able to show on his past albums. While his predilection for repetitive hooks and ad-libs seems to surpass his ability to deliver consistently substantive content, it seems that Q has found his sound and it’s going to hit hard.
Oxymoron shouldn’t be compared with anything else on his label because ScHoolboy Q formulated his own style. The album features diversified production styles including work from Pharrell, Dahi, the Alchemist and Mike Will Made It. Plus, Q shows he isn’t afraid to rap alongside BJ the Chicago Kid, Raekwon, 2 Chainz or Lamar.
MOVE gives Oxymoron 3.5 out of 5 stars.