Review: ScHoolboy Q Goes Numb On “Blank Face LP”

The hip-hop community knows ScHoolboy Q pretty well at this point.

He broke out on to the scene back in 2012 with his second commercial LP: Habits & Contradictions. However, he really carved out his own brand of west coast gangsta rap with his follow up, “Oxymoron,” in early 2014. He really brought back the blunt, abrasive attitude of the 90s and combined it with his, now well-known, energetic yet gritty performance backed by progressive beats.

As undoubtedly west coast as ScHoolboy Q is, the main influence for this latest project actually came from a member of one of New York City’s most prominent hip-hop collectives: Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. The group was known for creating a sort of mythology for themselves, which was heavily inspired by old school Kung Fu movies (one of which gave Ghostface Killah the idea for his rap alter ego).

In several interviews leading up to the release, ScHoolboy Q has mentioned how influential Ghostface Killah has been for him and how he had to name the album “Blank Face” because he couldn’t just put another rapper’s name on the album. With that in mind, it was impossible not to be excited for what he was going to deliver, seeing as we’ve never seen him get conceptual on an album.

While I wouldn’t say this is a concept album, the idea of the Blank Face killer does loom over the record. Throughout the tracklist, ScHoolboy Q paints the picture of a man that who, through his experiences, has become unfazed by all aspects of gang culture and simply carries on.

This is introduced by his first verse on the album, where he goes from talking about smoking weed after school, to one of his friends getting killed, to taking you to the strip club like it’s nothing. His numb attitude towards such a varied subject matter goes on along a tracklist which explores both his gang affiliated, drug infused past and his jaded present. Now, this isn’t to say that ScHoolboy Q sounds emotionless on the record, as a matter of fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard him spit with this much energy and passion.

The first single off the album, “Groovy Tony”, is one of the best gangsta rap hits I’ve heard in a long time. The track finds ScHoolboy Q delivering an onslaught of violent bars over a hard-knock, boom-bap production by Tae Beast. The album version adds a much welcome Jadakiss verse and second part: “Eddie Kane”. While the first part celebrates and expresses ScHoolboy Q’s past with the Crips, part two finds him breaking down how his oxycontin addiction still haunts him.

The grit displayed here is carried forward to the majority of the album, like in the gangsta-ballad “Ride Out” featuring Vince Staples. The bass-heavy song finds both emcees rapping about their time as a part of the Los Angeles Crips and has one of most unapologetically violent verses Vince Staples has ever put out. The violent content on songs such as these comes paired with more “conscious” subject matter.

Leading up to the album’s release he released a three part short film, each part also serving as a music video for a different song off the album. Both the songs as the film speak on ScHoolboy Q’s state of mind and the black man’s experience in modern America. Each one approaches a different aspect of this subject matter differently, with the standout for me being “By Any Means”.

The track serves as a twisted take on the idea of a hustle anthem where ScHoolboy is willing to excuse any kind of behaviour just as long as you “get yours”.  As far as the short film goes, I’d heavily recommend watching it if you’re still curious about the picture he’s trying to paint. While both the aggressive and more political songs in the album fit together very cohesively, in a very dark and calculated tour through ScHoolboy Q’s mind, there are songs that stick out, in the bad way.

One of the most popular songs off his last project was the love song “Studio” featuring BJ The Chicago Kid. It was smooth, fun, and, quite frankly, unexpected coming from a gangsta rapper such as Schoolboy Q. For this new album though, the songs “WHateva U Want” and “Overtime” just seem like attempts to recreate that magic.

To be fair, “WHateva U Want” is pretty catchy and definitely isn’t an awful song, the production just feels out of place in such a dark record. On the other hand, “Overtime” loses all chance of being smooth with Miguel repeatedly saying “I wanna f*** right now” on the hook. However, neither song is that bad, they just feel like they belong in another album.

ScHoolboy Q has made some real progress here. He managed to get a  variety of producers (ranging from Metro Boomin, to The Alchemist, to Tyler The Creator) and made a much more layered yet cohesive body of work than what we’ve previously seen from him. Another notable is improvement is found in his lyricism. While he still has that in-your-face attitude, his wordplay has become more clever. For all hip-hop fans out there, this is definitely a must-listen for this summer.

Grade: B+

Similar Sounds: Ghostface Killah, Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples

Highlight: “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane”, “Ride Out”, “By Any Means”, “Neva Change”

Lowlights: “Overtime”

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Jose Alberto Orive

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