In the label’s early years, ScHoolboy Q was often pegged as a secondary member on Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster. The independent label was fraught with new and exciting voices such as Ab-Soul, who released Control System to critical acclaim, and Kendrick Lamar, whose first two commercial projects, especially Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, were considered roaring successes.
Q, whose full name is Quincy Hanley — hence, why the Qs and the Hs are capitalized in his song titles — dropped projects in 2011 and 2012 to favorable reviews but didn’t receive nearly the level of buzz that his labelmates would get later that same year.
These projects were and still are beloved by his core fanbase, yet the splash made by fellow TDE members had overshadowed his work to a degree. Instead of being discouraged by the lack of widespread reception to his music, Q remained steadfast and enabled his competitive spirit, showcased on a lyric from the song “Break the Bank” rapping, “Tell Kendrick move from the throne; I came for it” to ignite a growth in artistry that many fans and critics cite as the reason for his ascension to fame.
On 2014’s Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q emerged as a formidable fourth member on TDE’s stacked roster with a fresh style on traditional hip hop sounds and a delivery that begged attention from fans and skeptics alike.
The LP kicks off with a bang on the first two tracks, “Gangsta” and “Los Awesome,” ambushing the listener with aggressive flows and zany background effects. The latter track, produced by Pharrell and featuring Black Hippy conglomerate Jay Rock, possesses a nuclear energy that can’t be described, only heard.
The following track, “Collard Greens,” is a much smoother, albeit off-kilter song featuring a partially Spanish-spoken verse from Lamar. The album hasn’t boasted a ton of lyrical substance with the first three songs but has effectively set the tone vocally and exhibited a more expansive sound palette than even Lamar’s legendary GKMC record.
Tracks four and five are soaked in a gray, murky atmosphere, the former “What They Want” with 2 Chainz being equally catchy and vulgar, and the latter spinning a personal tale of Q’s pernicious childhood environment and upbringing. The tenacious delivery and uncompromising realness of what he says makes this track, titled “Hoover Street,” one of the most compelling songs on this project. Even though there are many popular hits on Oxymoron, the most enduring material on the album tends to reside in the deep cuts.
Another example of this comes in the form of the part-tearjerker, part-trap banger: “Prescription/Oxymoron.” The first half depicts his bitter relationship with prescription drugs, specifically oxycodone, and how it is threatening to permanently fragment his family life. The second half is a conceptual attack on the things in life that Q views as contradictory, primarily how he and society at-large treat drugs as both malignant and necessary.
Q would not have been able to survive his adolescence if not for the income earned from selling drugs, but the opposite end of the same exchange incurs detrimental, long-lasting effects on the recipient, who is also Q in other scenarios. This dichotomy is explored throughout Q’s entire career but has never been laid so poignantly as it was here.
The track “The Purge” is a wayward banger with more vicious bars, foam-at-the-mouth deliveries and a bizarre siren-sampled instrumental from Tyler, the Creator, who also performs the chorus. A much-needed, cool-down moment appears directly after on the track “Blind Threats” featuring Raekwon, which is a nice reprieve from the overall blistering energy of the album.
It’s also worth noting that every feature on this album enhances the track they land on, and many are incorporated in unpredictable, unconventional ways. The flow and pacing of this album is highly laudable, and the efforts to make this album sound complete and fleshed out are apparent.
Two of the final three tracks are “Hell of a Night” and “Man of the Year,” which are concessions to trendy styles and aesthetics, though certainly not careless ones. Though less substantive and more mood-inducing, the tracks are enjoyable and visceral in their beats, and Q sounds suited for any style he indulges on this project. The track that splits these two is “Break the Bank,” a top-three song on the entire album, and a captivating telling of the personal journey that brought Q to his peak as an artist.
Backed by a sepulchral piano loop and a sample of Toad dying in MarioKart (look it up; it’s true), Q delivers brutally honest lyrics about his lifestyle and unabashed reflections on both his past and his future ambitions.
All in all, this is a profound statement from an artist who had only scratched the surface of mainstream attention before. Each song is well-developed and detailed, applying both more structure and dynamic to ScHoolboy Q’s songwriting style.
The production is fantastic, both inventive and rooted in hallmark hip-hop elements. It’s a classic blast from the past that cemented ScHoolboy Q not just among the heavyweights in his label, but among the best in rap, period.