#1 Review in America: Schoolboy Q’s “Oxymoron”
A week ago, I suggested that an increasing problem for America’s most popular music is that it’s almost exclusively white and a generally uninventive pastiche. Then Schoolboy Q had to come along and blow that to hell.
Oxymoron is the most inventive and intriguing album I have heard so far this year — pop album or otherwise — and no other record of 2014 has yet to come close to matching its bombastic display of musical talent. What makes Schoolboy Q’s full-length major record label debut1 so interesting is that the album rarely caters to popular tastes and cross-over fads, but instead consciously situates itself within the aesthetic and musical history of gangsta rap, as the opening track “Gangsta” makes abundantly clear.
That’s not to say that Oxymoron is a phenomenal album. It sounds like Schoolboy set out to make an album that sounds killer while pumped through car stereos and that dwells on the difficulties of raising a child while addicted to Oxycontin, rather than dealing with trivial matters like “subtlety” or “wordplay.” But no matter, the songs sound great and they’re a welcome break from Frozen‘s stranglehold on the charts.
Take “Los Awesome,” a Pharrell-produced song that sounds like it mugged Ludacris circa 2007 for its beat. It’s a silly song, but fits within Schoolboy’s brash delivery. Then there’s the quintessentially west coast “Hoover Street,” whose circular bass-injected ADD journey shifts through the scenes, sounds, and identities of Los Angeles. Tracks like “Break the Bank” or “Studio,” meanwhile, have undeniably cool hooks and verses that demonstrate the joy inherent in Schoolboy Q’s display of his talent.
Who knows, maybe the result of Macklemore winning a grammy is that gangsta rap is coming back to the national mainstream. Out of all the members of the Black Hippy collective, I certainly never would have guessed that Schoolboy Q would become the most mainstream of the artists. At times, Schoolboy is damned by the incredible company he keeps — appearances by 2 Chainz (‘What They Want”), Raekwon (“Blind Threats”), Tyler, the Creator (“The Purge”), and of course Kendrick (standout track “Collard Greens”) tend to minimize Schoolboy Q’s contributions by instead showcasing the skills of the featured artist. In the end that probably works in his favor, however, as few artists could so perfectly complement such a wide array of major hip-hop players.
But my favorite song on the entire album — one that’s not particularly representative of Schoolboy’s output or even the best song on the record — is “Man of the Year,” whose intoxicating interplay of looping synths and laser-sharp beats lands perfectly in conjunction with the rhythm of Schoolboy Q’s pleas for (sexual) recognition. Besides sounding, in the words of Schoolboy, “So fucking dope… it’s harder not for me to blaze,” I think that the track embodies the best characteristics of Oxymoron. The album is obsessed with the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate parts of Q’s life (like the aforementioned tension between gang life and fatherhood), and “Man of the Year” conveys Schoolboy Q’s acknowledgement of another paradox in his life: the discrepancy between where he is in his career versus the future possibilities inherent in his abilities.