-ScHoolboy Q takes a monstrous leap forward on his fourth LP.

I was never really that into ScHoolboy Q. Save for a few songs on “Habits and Contradictions” and basically none on “Oxymoron,” I found him boring. He had tons of personality, grit, and skill, and yet he never grabbed me and his albums became slogs. Nevertheless, I was excited for this album. I mean, features from Vince Staples (who murders every beat that’s thrown in front of him), Kanye West, E-40, Anderson .Paak, and The Dogg Pound? Production from tyler, the Creator, Metro Boomin, Sounwave, DJ Dahi, and Swizz Beatz? Sign me the fuck up. Plus, everyone basically lost their shit once this album did drop, so I was led to believe that this would be the first ScHoolboy Q album that I really got behind. And he not only put out an album I can get behind, he put out one of the best albums of the past few years. For real.

 

This album was preceded by the single “THat Part,” with Kanye West, and it reveals something about Q and why he is the perfect rapper for this album. He’s not too complex. He doesn’t wow you with the fastest flows, the wittiest wordplay, the deepest concepts, etc. None of that shit. He’s simple. He’s direct. It’s all about conviction. The grit. The flows aren’t speedy or entangled, but they’re catchy and carry these infectious rhythms that get stuck in your head without a big hook from an R&B singer. This virtue was made so clear when his fellow Black Hippy members (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, and Ab Soul) jumped on a remix of “THat Part,” a simple, eerie trap beat. They’re great rappers on their own shit, one of them might go down as the best to ever do it, but they got to complicated. Kendrick’s flow was all internal rhymes and tightly packed, Jay Rock’s was as well to a lesser extent, but the song lost its infectious groove. It lost its confidence. Meanwhile, on the original, Q makes the line:

“Style on top o’ style nigga

Five years I been rich nigga”

sound like the coolest thing anybody’s ever said. And Kanye’s verse? Despite how ridiculous(ly stupid) it is, I’ll take it, on this kind of song, over any of the other guys’ rhyme wizardry. The opening line is just “ok ok ok ok ok OK!,” but it’s gonna be quoted and memed and remembered for years because it’s so damn funny and energizing.

On the rest of this album, Q is blunt, in your face, vicious a lot the time, chill and reflective at others, but consistently engrossing. Now, don’t get it twisted; we’re not looking at a Lil Yachty on this album. Q still bars out here, and spits detailed stories of the streets, growing up in Compton, dealing drugs, etc. Not groundbreaking topics, but Q has developed into an incredible mic presence.

And he brought along some friends who are up to the challenge of keeping up with him. Vince Staples rips apart “Ride Out” with his signature brand of high pitched, cold blooded ‘do not fuck with me’ indifference, E-40 delivers an absurdly cadenced verse on the banger “Dope Dealer,” Jadakiss shows up and spits the coldest verse on the album with the greatest line of the century: “gettin’ high watchin’ NBA League Pass,” and Anderson .Paak shows up on the opener and the title track, delivering an intense hook on the former and a super impassioned, spiritually invigorating performance on the latter. He actually steals the show on the title track and reminds me once more that I should re-listen to “Malibu,” because there’s no reason that I shouldn’t like it more than I do. Q also brings along two friends from the hood to help close the album, and from what I can gather, this is their first commercial appearance, and they hang with him. Just a nice little detail.

…And speaking of nice little details, the production is full of them. There’s a lot going on in these beats. Some tracks feature a warm, organic jazz and gospel sound, with flourishes of electric pianos, shakers, and warm, loose guitars, while most of the tracks are villainous bangers. “Ride Out” is like a hood monster movie and “Dope Dealer,” produced by Metro Boomin, slaps harder than Ray Rice (yikes). Other songs rock urgent grooves while others lay back and reflect. But no matter the style the beat goes for, whether it be trap, boom bap, jazz, gospel, or whatever, everything features a deep, enveloping sound. For example, “WHateva U Want” has got one of those urgent grooves, multiple synth parts, underneath it all a looping melody from Candace Pillay, and some amazing multitracked vocals that pop in after the song. They sound so cavernous, so ethereal. They catapult the song into another dimension, and make it possibly the best song on the album. But how can you choose?

Because these songs are so memorable. Q is amazing on the mic, and he’s got incredible production to back him up. On every song, that’s the deal. And it’s catchy, too boot. Not because there’s a bunch of melodic hooks. There’s a few, and they all work really well, but Q has a way of finding the perfect flow and coming up with these lines that rattle around in your head because he delivers them perfectly. Quick anecdote: I had a major surgery a few days ago and had listened to this album for the 3rd time the night before, and had the line “STRAIGHT BALLIN LIKE BIIIIIIIIIIIIIITCH,” from the aptly titled “Str8 Ballin,” on loop in my head. Not a bad line to be remembering before you go under the knife, huh?

5 stars

Standout Tracks: “Lord Have Mercy” “THat Part” “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane” “Ride Out” “WHateva U Want” “Dope Dealer” “Str8 Ballin” “Blank Face”

P.S.- Take the severely out of place “Overtime” off of here, which appears to be here for a radio ready single, and this album is top to bottom perfect.

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