Album Review: ScHoolboy Q—”Oxymoron”

By Stuart Oakes

The pressure has been building on Los Angeles rapper ScHoolboy Q (real name Quincey Hanley). Two very good independent albums, 2011’s Setbacks and 2012’s Habits & Contradictions, have established him as a highly regarded name among rap fans and critics. Further, current rap-kingpin Kendrick Lamar and fellow member of the LA-based Black Hippy rap collective has had a year to remember, focusing the rap world’s eyes on Oxymoron, Q’s major-label debut. As the second such release for Black Hippy behind Lamar’s all-conquering 2012 classic Good Kid, M.a.a.d City, there’s a lot of weight on Oxymoron to prove that it can play ball with Good Kid’s overwhelming critical and commercial success, or at the very least show that the group has more than one trick up it’s sleeve. Thankfully, Hanley is too old to get caught up in the media spin cycle – he turned 28 in October and has a 4-year old daughter – and his confidence allows him to play to his strengths and hold together an album that sounds like it’s throwing around sounds to see what sticks. The even better news: Q is a complex enough character that each of those sounds fits in with some aspect of his persona and, thanks to a golden ear for beats and some of the best rapping of his career, this is a record that is well worth your time.

Album art of Oxymoron

Album art of Oxymoron

To be blunt, Q is not in Lamar’s league (it’s no slight; few rappers are right now), but neither is he concerned with following in his label-mate’s steps; other than the use of the rapper’s daughter to offer a peek into his private life (in a manner reminiscent of Good Kid’s “phone calls”), this is a record that owes very little thematically or stylistically to Lamar’s tightly-woven, cinematic narratives. Instead, Q has spent his previous two records cultivating an instantly recognizable personality as a former gang-banger and hard partier, and it allows him to both carve himself out from the crowd and retain familiarity while trying on different looks. Some are old fashioned, classic ScHoolboy, such as the opener “Gangsta,” and lyrical highlights “Hoover Street,” “Prescription-Oxymoron,” and “Blind Threats” should all come as no surprise to any of those familiar with the rapper’s body of work, though they prove to be particularly good examples of his storytelling gifts. Others, however, show off more unfamiliar sides: “Hell Of A Night” has a excellent, triumphant trap beat, “Man Of The Year” samples Chromatics’ Italian disco, “What They Want” carries the requisite Mike Will Made It production (it is, however, unusually ominous), and “Studio” is a well-executed shot at airplay. “The Purge” even features Compton legend Kurupt over a beat made by Odd Future teen ringleader Tyler, The Creator. As with many major-label debuts, Oxymoron walks the fine line between winning new listeners and pleasing old ones, and if this occasionally results in the feeling that the album is not quite as forward thinking as it could have been, so be it. ScHoolboy Q succeeds in everything he sets out to do here and we as fans get to enjoy another testament to his talents. (Top Dawg)

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  1. […] Top Dawg Entertainment announced six albums in 2014, and this year has already seen releases from Schoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, SZA, and Ab-Soul. The label recently tweeted that new music from Kendrick Lamar and […]

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