Album Review: ScHoolboy Q, ‘Oxymoron’

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It must be said: Black Hippy is the most consistent rap crew out there. And really, who else can even be considered competition? Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label drops a steaming turd of Big Sean or 2 Chainz for every great release like Pusha T’s My Name is My Name, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is responsible for two #1 J. Cole albums but little else, Odd Future’s hype seems to have petered out, and the less said about Lil Wayne’s Young Money crew, the better.

As for Black Hippy, you don’t have to love their music but you can’t knock their hustle. Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul were hardly known outside the Internet mixtape scene just a few years ago. Now? They’re household names— scratch that, Kendrick is a household name, but the other guys continue to wait in the wings for their time to shine. It’s bad enough that XXL labeled the group as “Kendrick Lamar & Black Hippy” as if Jay, Q and Soulo were coasting on Kendrick’s fame.

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Yet all of that could change in an instant with the release of ScHoolboy’s long-delayed major label debut, Oxymoron. This album may very well be the next step in Top Dawg Entertainment’s total dominance of the rap game. Sure enough, the South Central-bred rapper drops a real ego bomb on the album’s fourth single “Break the Bank”, telling Kendrick to “move from the throne, I came for it.” Meanwhile, opening track “Gangsta” features the premature brag “I’m famous, fucking famous, nigga I made it!”

Not so fast, Q. In the humble opinion of this critic, your album is fucking forgettable.

Oxymoron is very much an intentional revival of gangsta rap plagued with the unfortunate stigma of being released in a post-gangsta rap era. In 2014 the biggest gangsta rappers are larger-than-life caricatures, i.e. Rick Ross and 2 Chainz, while the rest of the flock overdoses on bland tough guy posturing. ScHoolboy fits somewhere in between, as on tracks like “Hoover Street” and “The Purge”, occasionally indulging in a bit of turnt-up party music to break the monotony. Dude can rap for sure, and the production’s generally on point, but this album does little to make me actually care about it.

Even after listening to this album over and over again over the course of the weekend, I can’t recall at least half of the songs. Q’s form of “charisma” is so aggressive and repugnant, it disappears into the background like white noise. When was the last time someone tried so hard to sound hard? It’s exhausting, especially over the album’s absurd 70-minute runtime. Choruses like “Gangsta gangsta gangstaaaaa, gangsta gangsta gangsta G” and “I just stopped selling crack today! O-X-Y, a morooooooonnnnn” sound like deliberate attempts at trolling. Congrats Q, you successfully pissed me off.

It’s telling that the best moments on Oxymoron are when ScHoolboy cuts loose. Only “Hell of a Night”, “Los Awesome”, “Man of the Year”, and the slick, multilingual Kendrick feature on “Collard Greens” are worth mentioning but even some of those tracks overstay their welcome. “Hell of a Night” is anchored by a gorgeous sample of Chromatics’ “Cherry” while “Los Awesome” features a Pharrell beat so moronically, audaciously simple it actually works, and “Man of the Year” has the album’s most infectious hook. Elsewhere “Break the Bank” rocks it Wu-Tang style with an ominous piano loop and boom bap drums, but Q’s raps see-saw from cool to annoying. This pattern is all too prominent on Oxymoron.

ScHoolboy’s last release, 2012’s Habits and Contradictions, proved a tedious excursion into the very real tribulations of a thug’s life, culminating in the same promise of redemption that accompanied Kendrick’s far superior debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. Of course Q attempts the same arc on Oxymoron—especially with the centerpiece “Prescription / Oxymoron”—but he falls flat on his face. The song’s first half is a chilling tale of prescription drug abuse, yet the second half all but celebrates drug dealing to a nauseating extent. If ScHoolboy intends to be ironic or subliminally critical, he failed.

“Living to die, oxymoron” is a great thesis for an album as featured on the solid Raekwon-featuring “Blind Threats”, but the lyric’s potential is never realized. None of the songs on Oxymoron are BAD, save for the throwaway 2 Chainz collabo “What They Want”, but few of them are enjoyable. Paired with the album’s inexcusable length and a relentless sense of nihilism, I doubt Q will be topping the charts any time soon. Maybe there’s a reason why Kendrick’s the only famous one.

2/5 stars

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