?ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP is a vivid self-portrait as much as it is a rap album. Released Thursday night, the Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) rapper’s sophomore effort peels back his life’s layers, revealing an inspired, transformative journey. To accomplish this, Q (born Quincy Matthew Hanley) explores his troubled past with candid introspection. He recalls “sharing food with roaches” while his mom was “slavin’ for the rent.” His father? Absent. He left them “where hope just don’t exist” in South Central, California. Raised by his “granny,” Q wasn’t able to avoid the violence that plagues his hometown. He’d watch grandma sweep shell casings off her driveway, a devastating reminder of violence at every corner. Thanks to this type of narration, listeners can view life through young Quincy’s eyes, better contextualizing his future trials and triumphs.
The theme of innocence cut short continues throughout Blank Face. After rhyming about his uncle’s drug addiction and family’s financial struggles, he recalls his gang initiation. “Since ’96 I wanted to gang bang,” he rhymes on the hard-hitting “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane.” “Few years later, I’m really from it/ We were still kids.” As his gruff delivery dissolves into a somber tone with that last line, the effect is chilling. He was just a kid. In ’96, he was only 9 or 10. By the time he turned 13, he admits on “JoHn Muir” that he was carrying a gun. By 14, he was selling dope.
Although Q was able to turn his life around through rap, Blank Face allows him to reflect on these experiences. Here, the album thrives. It isn’t simply that Q is able to recount stories well; he comes full-circle with these themes, even when they contradict each other at times. For example, after exploring the gangster lifestyle on “Ride Out” with fellow Crip Vince Staples, Q calls for a gang truce on “Black THougHts.” He compares the Crips and Bloods gangs to slaves and then offers a solution: “Let’s put the rags down and raise our kids/ Let’s put our guns down … All lives matter, both sides.”
Q brings things full-circle again in what is perhaps the album’s most endearing moment. After lamenting his dad’s absence and calling himself a “deadbeat father” on “Lord Have Mercy,” Q flips the script completely on the LP’s title track. He recalls playing Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy for his baby girl, seven-year-old Joy. “Easter egg huntin’,” he raps. “Pickin’ seeds out the pumpkin/ Six years straight, the Valentine for my munchkin/ I made a queen out of nothing.” There’s a sense of pride in his voice there, the joy that comes from ending a cycle of abandonment with love.
Q shines most when he takes life experiences and provides reflective commentary. For instance, he does this expert when recalling law enforcement encounters. “Still nervous as drivers,” he rhymes on “Neva CHange.” “You see them lights get behind us/ They pull me out for my priors/ Won’t let me freeze ‘fore they fire/ You say that footage a liar … Shit, no wonder we riot.” That description is eerily powerful and jarring as videos of the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by cops and the five police officers in Dallas flood timelines and headlines this week, scenarios that aren’t lost on Q.
Earlier today, a fan tweeted that he couldn’t seem to enjoy the LP in light of recent atrocities scarring the nation. “I understand,” Q responded. “On a day I’m supposed 2 Happy I’m sitting Here fucked up about everytHing goin on myself.” He adds, “Da fact tHat I wrote ‘NEVA CHANGE’ & ‘BLACK THOUGHTS’ over a year ago and it speaks on tHese topics is SAD.” He’s right. It’s downright tragic. It’s also necessary for art to become a vehicle for frustration and agony as the country grapples with its current despair.
Blank Face isn’t only about introspection. The Kanye West-assisted “THat Part” or the Candice Pillay-featured “WHateva U Want” are just two examples to show Q’s versatility. But for an album titled Blank Face, it’s these moments of contemplation that provide a more complete picture of who Q is, complete with complexities, layers and insight. He’s the same man who made 2012’s Habits & Contradictions and 2014’s Oxymoron, just sharper, armed with more experiences to learn from. By opening up about all of this — lost innocence, gang violence, police injustice and fatherhood, Q was able to pen his most well-rounded project yet. Like a painter turns a blank canvas into a moving piece, ScHoolboy looked inward to make Blank Face his own personal masterpiece.