After the critical and commercial success of Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 effort good kid, m.A.A.d city, all eyes within the industry have fallen on Top Dawg Entertainment’s other artists, particularly Lamar’s well-known West Coast collective Black Hippy. To the uninitiated, the group features four members: Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q. Each of these artists has a distinctive voice, style and catch phrase (such as Ab-Soul’s “Solo!” or ScHoolboy Q’s “YAWK! YAWK!”) expressed throughout their respective bodies of work. ScHoolboy Q has been the next in line to release an album. After 2011’s Setbacks and 2012’s Habits & Contradictions, his constant hype and the steady release of singles for his 2014 effort kept fans on the edges of their seats up until Feb. 25, when Oxymoron finally dropped.
If you are looking for a concept album, you should stick with good kid. Oxymoron is your standard song-focused rap record as opposed to an album that interweaves a story throughout the tracks. The project is loud, gritty and raw – there is virtually nothing soft about it in any way. Bass-heavy beats, violent content, and in-your-face metaphors and similes make Q’s major label debut a tough entry into the genre’s current status quo, where artists like Drake, Kanye West and Nicki Minaj still reign supreme.
The introductory track “Gangsta” starts with his daughter informing the listener that “[her] daddy [is] a gangsta.” The beat drops into a mid-tempo bass drum beat. There are some strings and then Q announces his presence with “Gangsta, gangsta, gangsta,” repeatedly to drive the point home. After detailing his some of his questionable behaviors — past and present — we are welcomed with the Pharrell Williams-produced “Los Awesome”, a wonky, synth-heavy banger. Jay Rock assists on the hook as the two detail a 2014 “gangsta party” of sorts.
“Collard Greens,” one of the earlier singles, is all smooth bass line as Kendrick Lamar sings the hook. In “Greens,” Q succumbs to materialism, drugs and alcohol while Lamar lets listeners know that “This [is] your favorite song” before delivering a tongue-twisting couplet in Spanish. The rest of the album is full of twists and turns sonically, with some great features from 2 Chainz, Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator and Kurupt.
Sonically the album flourishes, with a different production style on nearly every track. While some sounds may have similar influences, no two songs sound the same. Some are gritty and slow (“Gangsta,” “Break the Bank”); some are weird or borderline spooky (“What They Want,” “The Purge”); some are wild and loud (“Los Awesome,” “Man of the Year”); and others have a more mellow, laid back vibe (“Collard Greens,” “Hoover Street,” “Studio”). The track that stands out the most is the Raekwon-assisted “Blind Threats.” With a classic, boom-bap production style, Q is not only trading bars with one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s best rappers; Raekown is also bringing some much-needed introspection to the project.
Lyrically, the album lacks focus and overall content. Most of the songs fall into the trap of sex, money, drugs and guns. Thankfully, Q’s charisma and enthusiasm keep Oxymoron’s recycled themes from being a weakness, and he even sheds new light on them such as in “Prescription/Oxymoron.” In this double track, he discusses the impact that his drug dealing and using days had on his life both before and after his daughter’s birth.
ScHoolboy Q has delivered a solid major label debut that expresses his differences from Kendrick Lamar as a lyricist and — more importantly — as a solo artist. He has finally discovered the sounds and style of rapping that works for him and he’s incredibly confident on the mic. This — above things like content and production — is what is most important to hip-hop in 2014.