That opening declarative statement simply laid out the thesis of Oxymoron, the highly anticipated debut album from Black Hippy/TDE member Schoolboy Q. Oxymoron comes rushing out of the gate with a force that does not stop surging. After the success of lead single Collard Greens, the stakes were set for a high-energy album, and Oxymoron does not disappoint. Swelling with bombastic beats, absolute bangers, and speaking with a voice of authenticity, this album is true gangsta rap (but more on that later). Oxymoron advances the momentum of the West Coast (and specifically, LA) hip-hop renaissance, showing us that Schoolboy is much more than hype he is the real McCoy.
With an album named Oxymoron, the task for the listener is to find the irony: At what point do we get to see notes of unexpected contradiction? At what point does the hard, rough gangsta exterior melt away to this deep, introspective, sensitive boy-next-door? Essentially, at what point will Schoolboy be like his homie Kendrick Lamar and become some respectability-politics version of a tolerable, neatly contained artist to which we want to convince our hipster friends to listen? If those were the expectations you have coming in to this album, then promptly exit stage left. Oxymorons irony and brilliance does not lie in the expectations of the album but instead of the authenticity dripping from the start.
From start to finish, this album can be described as a banger. Not just in the sense that you want to press play and cruise down the 105 or Figueroa with it blaring from your sub-woofers though, that compulsion will take over you but in the sense that, sonically, the album features blaring bass, snares, and (in very unmusical terms) a loud-talking Q that really works. The impeccably well-designed beats on tracks like Gangsta and Los Awesome are only made better by Qs commanding cadence that almost grabs the beat by the throat, bending the song to his will.
Indeed, it is this same hype energy that makes tracks like What They Want (featuring the reverend of the ratch, 2 Chainz), Break the Bank, and F*ck LA so fun. But to be sure, the only reason this aggressive energy works on these tracks is because of who Q presents himself to be throughout the album. As previously stated, the work begins with the toddler-age daughter of Q declaring that he is not merely a rapper, but a bona fide gangsta.
With Hoover Street, Q explores the influences of his life as a young man growing up in South Central LA. The descriptive imagery that makes up the six-and-a-half minute track gives us an authentic case of LA ghetto life. What endears us to it is that the song is unapologetic, not trying to excuse away dirty clothes, drug-addicted uncles, or an old school, gun-toting, grandma. Using precise detail, you know this is not caricature or hyperbole, but indeed real life.
Contrasting, but not contradicting, the realness of Hoover Street, Prescription/Oxymoron acts as center piece for the album, in that if the former song shows a young, naïve Q, the latter shows the wear and tear that hood life has had on him. The Prescription half of the song is mellow, somber even, and so, never staying down for once, the second half of the song Oxymoron shows the apparent contradiction (and elation) that comes from transitioning from being a drug pusher to becoming a rapper.
It is this motif of fuck rap, Im a gangsta that makes this album something to be cherished. This type of hood life to rap life is the very foundation of gangsta rap, and yet it has been missing in mainstream hip hop since the likes of 50 Cents Get Rich or Die Tryin or T.I.s Trap Muzik. While 20 years ago it might have been obvious that rap should be semi-autobiographical, its now all too common for rap to be focused too much on the trappings of wealth, opulence, and indulgence, and so the bite and edginess is replaced with a basic hook and weak samples. It is this where the oxymoron lies. A rapper of 2014 should be one of a few kinds: Either aspiring to high-cultured trips to Paris, obsessing over sexual conquests, or, at the very least, singing about social justice causes while shopping at secondhand stores.
Schoolboy Q is having none of it. He is not a rapper, he is a gangsta. And hip hop is all the better for it.
Rating : A-
Best Tracks: What They Want, Hoover Street, Prescription/Oxymoron, Break the Bank
Peep our faves below:
What they Want
Break the Bank