Oxymoron spins street narrative
“Hello, my daddy’s a gangsta.”
With these words, spoken from his young daughter’s mouth, Schoolboy Q begins “Gangsta,” the savage opening track on his long-awaited major label debut Oxymoron, a menacing and dark album rife with violence, addiction, and moments of good and filthy fun. In addition to Schoolboy Q’s intense first-person narratives, the album boasts a wide stylistic variety of beats — including help from such industry heavyweights as Mike WiLL Made It and Pharrell Williams — and collaborators such as Raekwon, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, and Tyler, the Creator.
Oxymoron’s lyrics primarily concern Schoolboy Q’s history as an OxyContin dealer, an occupation he claims to have held in order to support his daughter — hence the album’s title plays on the contradictory nature of drug dealing to be a good father — as well as his experiences with street violence and drug addiction. While these themes are certainly nothing new in gangsta rap, Schoolboy Q imbues his raps with brash emotional honesty and a ferocity that gives them a fresh spin.
“Hoover Street” is the gangbanger origin tale we’ve been hearing since gangsta rap’s birth in the ‘90s, but delivered with the kind of menace and first-person immediacy that made The Notorious B.I.G. a legend in his own time.
“Prescription/Oxymoron” lays Schoolboy Q’s experiences with drug addiction out on the table, personifying his demons as a female lover and exposing his inner torture through sexual imagery.
Using a tactic made popular by the original rapping dad, Eminem, Schoolboy Q’s daughter makes an appearance on the track to accentuate the collateral damage of his addiction, but her cries of “Wake up Daddy, wake up” give the song a kind of emotional bombast that hurts rather than helps.
While Oxymoron’s strengths surely lie in its moments of reflection and honesty, Schoolboy Q also knows how to have fun, and the album delivers multiple tracks that would fit well within a DJ set.
The EDM-inspired “Hell of a Night” begins with a house-style buildup before finally dropping into a trap beat for Schoolboy Q’s confident and victorious verses in which he boasts about living the high life and states that he “ain’t minding if the world stops.”
“Collard Greens,” the collaboration with Kendrick Lamar that has been blowing up rap blogs since last July, floats over a spacey and wandering beat that allows both wordsmiths to showcase their skills. Schoolboy Q bookends the song with simple, hypnotic verses, commanding himself to “smoke this, drink this, straight to my liver.”
Kendrick, however, lights the song on fire with a multilingual verse that reinforces why he’s not only one of the most technically talented rappers around, but also possesses a stylistic flair that you just can’t take your ears off of.
Not all the album’s guests contribute as much as Kendrick, though, and one of them marks one of the album’s lowest points. “What They Want,” featuring 2 Chainz, has the kind of “cough syrup” Southern rap beat — brought to the party by Mike WiLL Made It — that Mr. Chainz has made his name on. Even on his home turf, though, his delivery stumbles like a man with two broken legs trying to climb up the stairs. Perhaps you should put some writers on your payroll instead of strippers, Mr. Chainz.
Oxymoron has been one of the most anticipated releases in hip-hop for 2014, and with good reason. Schoolboy Q’s first two studio albums, Setbacks and Habits and Contradictions, released through the independent label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), both made waves in the rap community. Habits and Contradictions even spawned the radio hit “Hands on the Wheel,” a song that made it onto every music hipster’s “let’s get hammered” playlist.
In addition to his own success, Schoolboy Q is a member of the Black Hippy rap collective, which counts many of the most forward-thinking artists in rap — including Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Kendrick Lamar — among its ranks. Kendrick’s own 2012 street narrative epic and Grammy-robbed good kid, m.A.A.d city prompted Schoolboy Q to state in an interview with 2DopeBoyz.com that Kendrick left him “no choice but to make a classic album.”
Well, while Oxymoron may not be the classic Schoolboy Q claimed it would be, his career is just getting started, and the album’s variety of hard-hitting beats, coupled with Schoolboy Q’s always ferocious delivery, will probably give him the exposure he needs to deliver that classic further down the road. Until that day comes, Oxymoron will do just fine for driving around with the windows rolled up.