On his 2012 independent release "Habits & Contradictions," ScHoolboy Q was dangerous -- and not in the boasting-about-your-guns type of way, but in the I-love-drunk-driving type of way. He was fiendish and self-sabotaging, sinking into the simple indulgences of sex, money and drugs while also trumpeting the pleasures of saying the word "fuck" ("Uh, motherfucka, motherfucka, yeah/Fuckin' is my favorite word, reason why I'm fuckin' her," he rapped on "There He Go"). ScHoolboy Q's words were all id, but they were presented with such brute force -- each syllable a sucker-punch, every verse a scorched-earth manifesto -- that even the most morally reprehensible lines were stupefyingly exciting. Q's music wrapped around its listener's neck and began throttling, but one wouldn't mind the violence if it kept their head knocking.
A lot of the highlights of ScHoolboy Q's debut album "Oxymoron" tread the line between paradise and poison, with the bleary-eyed MC equating life with crushed-up pills and a bleak existence with fits of assonance that one has to hear again and again. Cold cynicism comprises 99 percent of Q's worldview, and he's going to do his best to synthesize that gloom into barking anthems. But that one percent of romance still exists within Quincy Hanley's heart, and he wisely makes room for it on "Oxymoron." His young daughter Joy, who is featured in the album artwork, makes multiple appearances on the album, at times to confirm her father's lyrical dominance and at other times to make sure he's still breathing. "I cry when nothing's wrong," Q rasps on the tremendous "Prescription/Oxymoron," "I'm mad when peace is involved." The moments of humanity -- the admissions of oxycontin addiction, of his up-and-down childhood, of the struggles he's gone through to provide for his child -- don't excuse the menace who stars on much of "Oxymoron," but ScHoolboy Q doesn't want excuses. He simply wants to explain who he is, and how he got this way.
"Oxymoron" will no doubt be compared to "good kid, m.A.A.d city," the debut album of Q's fellow TDE rapper Kendrick Lamar and arguably the best rap album of the past half-decade. To say that ScHoolboy Q's major-label debut is "less consistent" than "good kid, m.A.A.d city" is something of a misnomer, because, while Lamar dazzles with precise storytelling, Q conjures attention with brusque physicality. Both MCs are aiming for different marks, and although Q's style is too unkempt to produce an album full of clean shots, his misses on "Oxymoron" are often just as compelling.
Which tracks on "Oxymoron" are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of ScHoolboy Q's new album.
1. Gangsta - After the first of many cameos by Q's young daughter Joy, "Gangsta" reintroduces the rapper's pummeling nihilism, the oscillating fury in his voice reminiscent of Eminem's most unhinged material. Raging through misogynistic codas and tossed-up racial stereotypes, ScHoolboy Q is "fucking up the streets again, tags on the toes all amongst your friends," and is not apologizing for the carnage.
2. Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock) - Hankering for a new Neptunes-produced Clipse track? "Los Awesome," produced by Pharrell, is probably the closest one can get for a while, with the virtuosic violence and elastic beat sounding like something off 2006's knuckle-cracking classic "Hell Hath No Fury." "Liable to drive-by on a summer day/July 4th will be in June," sneers ScHoolboy on the bridge, a line that's eerily similar to the scope of Pusha T and Malice's "Chinese New Year."
3. Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Q might start his bars with "Smoke this, drink this," but the truly addictive component of "Collard Greens" is the subtle bounce of the rapper's cadence in the first half of his verses. The bisyllabic screech drives the thudding beat forward, and the technique is even more effective when Q returns after his pal Kendrick Lamar pops up to playfully spit bilingual game.
4. What They Want (feat. 2 Chainz) - "Oxymoron" could have easily become ScHoolboy Q's version of 2 Chainz's "Based on a T.R.U. Story" album -- an engaging collection of inconsequential bangers. Q is too serious-minded to stuff his debut with one-liners about booties, though, and instead pulls 2 Chainz into his murky world on "What They Want," a chilling stunner in which the headliner channels his aggression into peddling another bleak anthem to his supporters.
5. Hoover Street - After a quartet of bruising radio cuts, ScHoolboy Q flaunts his ambitious side on "Hoover Street," a flashback to his childhood struggles that reverses its rhythm midway through. Unlike Q's coarse hooks, "Hoover Street" rewards patience: even when the yawning beat grows tedious, the rapper's recollection of his uncle's drug addiction -- "He used to give me Whisky to piss in cups," he laments -- remains riveting.
6. Studio (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid) - Make no mistake, "Studio," a love song that morphs into a sex song and ends with Q crooning about putting "my tongue in different places," has no place on the light-free first half of "Oxymoron." However, "Studio" is also a weirdly charming cut and fine showcase for BJ The Chicago Kid, highlighted by Q becoming tongue-tied by his girl's body at the end of his verse.
7. Prescription/Oxymoron - At six-and-a-half minutes, "Hoover Street" is a go-for-broke opus that doesn't quite congeal. "Prescription/Oxymoron," which clocks in at over seven minutes, is instead the centerpiece that touches brilliance. The shockingly personal tale of Q's salvation over pills, through music and his daughter, soon shifts into detailing the drug-dealing life he dabbled in while trying to be a father. "Prescription/Oxymoron" is heady, punishing and intense, with a Portishead sample at its crusty heart and both eyes locked on a harrowing reality.
8. The Purge (feat. Tyler, The Creator & Kurupt) - The West Coast summit features a dead-eyed Tyler, The Creator hook and more wild-eyed ScHoolboy rhyming ("You n---as half-price/Which means you half off/I'm going Adolf/I'm smoking bath salt") that sometimes feels too arbitrary. Fortunately, the wily veteran Kurupt strolls in, "Tired of this bullshit," and absolutely crushes his guest verse to close out the track.
9. Blind Threats (feat. Raekwon) - Here, Q is as uncompromising as ever over LordQuest's gritty beat, rhyming in a sing-song cadence, "Aim that, shoot that, pledge allegiance/Kill mine, kill yours, make it even" will no hesitation underneath his snarl. Raekwon has the old-timer guest verse here, and his imagery is predictably great; "Blind Threats" may be the only track on which Q is soundly lapped by his collaborator on the mic.
10. Hell Of A Night - A pair of "Oxymoron's" bleakest tracks are followed by the springy "Hell Of A Night," which features some of ScHoolboy Q's slinkiest rhymes about fast-living and hypnotizing women. With an spooky harmony floating in the background and a drum machine snapping Q's syllables shut, "Hell Of A Night" is the album's non-single with the most potential to become a hit.
11. Break The Bank
Like "Collard Greens," "Break The Bank" makes the most of both ScHoolboy Q's lock-step rhyme schemes and ping-ponging intensity -- every time you think he's about to fly off the handle, he dials his energy back down and powers up for another peak. Q is less concerned with fashioning a radio hook here than nailing the internal rhymes of the second verse, but he accomplishes his goal and then some.
12. Man Of The Year
ScHoolboy Q's best songs race downhill, with enough momentum to make a listener believe they will have to jerk their head back and forth. "Man Of The Year" is not a lyrical masterpiece, but it slays: with a beat from Nez & Rio that nicks an obscure Chromatics track, the track explodes every time Q spits the refrain "Man of the year, ma-man of the BOUNCE," which is nonsensical but feels oh so right.
13. His And Her Friend (feat. SZA) - The album's shortest track is also its most outlandish, with Q embodying an empathetic Oxycontin pill and trying to convince someone to let him take away the pain. "His And Her Friend" is musically lacking, but kudos to Q for stretching out as a storyteller and not settling for the easiest route. The track also doubles as an introduction to SZA, another TDE member with a promising future.
14. Grooveline Pt. 2 (feat. Suga Free) - A sequel to a "Habits & Contradictions" cut, "Grooveline Pt. 2" once again finds ScHoolboy Q masquerading, this time as a pimp who's pleasantly recounting the ins and outs of the trade alongside Suga Free. The buttery beat and blissed-out guitar strumming create a hazy coma that deserves a more engrossing lyrical focus.
15. Fuck LA - The standard version of "Oxymoron" ends with one of its hardest-hitting street tracks, with Q name-checking the harsh realities of gun-toting gang life and never flashing his vulnerabilities. The full-throttle approach has always suited Q, and here he operates with an intoxicating mercilessness, keenly aware of his city's sorrowful state but still proud to be the king of it.