Friday, February 21, 2014

Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron Review

Schoolboy Q's daughter Joy adores the cover of his highly-touted major label debut, Oxymoron. She's even the first to speak. She's the driving point of Quincy Hanley's career, his pride and joy. The one woman he'd do anything for in life. And yet, on The Purge, Q proclaims:
Bust my gun all by myself
Rock cocaine all by myself
Poured propane all on myself
Go so hard might harm myself
Not the kind of talk you'd want a father proclaiming on an album dedicated to his daughter. But it's this exact contradiction that makes Oxymoron great. For where Schoolboy thrives is in the vicious. And what better way to continue on with his tradition of conflicting messages than to portray his daughter sporting his famed bucket hat giving a gangster snarl on the cover of his album, one littered with bullets, bitches, and xannies.

Nowhere here does Q show this better than on the album's centerpiece, Prescription/Oxymoron. Backed by a emotionally charged Portishead sample, our ears find Q fumbling about with his various prescription pills. It may have taken two albums worth of material for Q to finally open up about his lean usage, but that fact only drives home the impact even further. Throughout his heartfelt verses the Hoover Street rapper opens up about the hardships he's encountered while on "Percocets, Adderall, Xanny Bars, & Codeine." The brunt of his experience doesn't hit home until his daughter, confused about her daddies' behavior, comes creeping into the picture pleading him to wake up. Grief immediately overwhelms the listener as compassion sets in for the daughter who must endure such hardships. Sympathy for Q is another story. As quickly as he reflection begins it ends, as the song abruptly warps into a trap rap smash proclaiming Q the leader of the drug dealers.

Unfortunately, for the album as a whole, lyrical depth is not something to find here. While some may argue (rightfully so) that Schoolboy Q is not a lyricist, the differing content he provided on Habits & Contradictions surpasses this one, which boils down to the same rehashed topics over different beats. In fact Prescription, Studio & His & Her Friend may be the only tracks here that don't fit the formula of a ordinary Schoolboy joint. Fans of the rapper won't mind this however because his forte resides in drug talk and adlibs, and there are a plethora of both to be found on Oxymoron. Lines like "Knock knock knock knock knock YAWK", "So we bout to break the bank!", & "BOUNCE!" are surely going to be blasted through speakers from college campuses to the streets of Compton.

Speaking of blasted speakers, the production throughout Oxymoron may very well be it's greatest asset. The infectious head-nodding of Collard Greens, to the pulsating trap bass of What They Want, to His & Her Friend which sounds like ATLiens & Stankonia combined and remade in 2014, Q has it all here. Well, almost all except diversity. Over the course of the hour and ten minutes many of the same techniques are employed throughout the various beats, the most prominent of which are trap-influenced synth lines. It's understandable for Q, on the cusp of blowing up in the rap community, to have a multitude of tracks that could get serious radio play across the country but lasting, for the most part, throughout an entire album can be monotonous. The two lead singles, Collard Greens & Man Of The Year, Hell Of A Night, Studio & What They Want could all vie for serious time on the airwaves if all goes well for Q. Which means that while critical acclaim isn't what Oxymoron might receive, commercial success is what it might accomplish.

For the vast amount of features represented on the album none seem to hold any sort of impact to the piece as a whole, and many seem to only be present for present's sake. 2 Chainz, Raekwon, & Kurupt all pull in mediocre performances and their uses, especially in 2 Chainz' case, is strictly that of the beat and topic fitting. Many of the great features actually lie behind the boards with Tyler, The Creator, The Alchemist, & DJ Dahi (Of Money Trees fame) all pulling in quality work for their respective songs. But the one track that falls flat on its face is Los Awesome. It brings together Q & Jay Rock over a Pharrell beat and, mostly due to the latter, is nearly unlistenable. Everyone feels out of place, starting with Pharrell on the album to begin with and ending with Rock, even a stronger street rapper than our lead, who has no place on this synth overload of a beat. Regardless of the album's inconsistencies, Oxymoron provides enough to please diehard Schoolboy fans.

Ever since 50 Cent, one of Schoolboy Q's largest inspirations, lost to Kanye West in the Graduation vs. Curtis battle of 2007 the descent of the 00's era of Gangster rap has been well noted. Former heavyweights like The Game have fallen to the wayside in favor of 'soft' rappers like Drake, while the few street rappers left are making their living in the underground, much like the case of Freddie Gibbs. With Oxymoron, Schoolboy Q aimed to create the first true mainstream gangster rap album of the new decade. While a few of the tracks largely miss the mark the true essence and grit of the album lies within the details. From Gangsta to Fuck LA, Oxymoron is a true street album, representing the struggle between family, specifically father and daughter, and the complications of living on the streets of Compton, surrounded by drugs and violence.

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