Perhaps I shouldn’t be reviewing this album, as the very first words uttered on ScHoolboy Q’s latest release Blank Face LP are “This that f— the blogs”. While I understand why you might feel this way, Mr. Q, please don’t hate me for constructive criticism. And fortunately, not a great deal is needed as the album is, at the very least, miles better than his previous attempt, 2014’s Oxymoron. ScHoolboy Q is a member of the label Top Dawg Entertainment, most famously housing Kendrick Lamar. Of the 5 rappers currently signed, I never regarded him on the same tier as the rest as he seemed to have a different approach to his music. Instead of being focused on lyricism and creativity like his labelmates, Q dropped track after track of straight and to the point, abundantly fun music about a singular topic – his life as a gangster on the West Coast.
While this is still the vast majority of the subject matter, ScHoolboy Q looks to join the rest of his TDE contemporaries by providing us with what he dubs a concept album, though I still have not been able to piece together the overarching message. In the wake of sprawling works like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Q’s creativity game has been clearly stepped up. He foregoes his usual recycled West Coast trap beats for more intricate and complex instrumentation, often featuring live instruments (who knew we would hear this much electric guitar on a rap album in 2016) and quite a bit of layering.
The project also boasts a plethora of diverse and interesting personnel. A wide array of producers are present, very few contributing to more than one song on the project. This makes for a good variety of sounds ranging across the album, but still remarkably sounds quite cohesive throughout, at least instrumentally. ScHoolboy Q has clearly locked down this brand of dark and grimy West Coast hip hop in the modern era. For 17 distinct producers to work on an album and have it still sound like a fully fleshed out unit speaks volumes on its creative direction. Frequent TDE producer Sounwave (various tracks), perennial rap hitmaker Metro Boomin (“Dope Dealer”) and perhaps most surprisingly, Tyler the Creator (“Big Body”) did an especially commendable job. The project contains many beat switches mid-song, all of which are pulled off quite seamlessly.
In addition to the production, nearly every featured artist on Blank Face turns in an impressive verse, especially the older rap legends Q tends to invite onto his albums – Tha Dogg Pound, E-40 and Jadakiss all drop a number of memorable lines. I even love Kanye West’s much maligned turn on “THat Part” – I’m sorry, he’s just such a goofball that how could you hate it? “Beggars can’t be choosers b—- this ain’t Chipotle!”
ScHoolboy Q and the rest of the Top Dawg Entertainment roster
The main problem with this project is that I feel like ScHoolboy Q has so many ideas for it – so many that the overarching theme of a concept album is difficult to understand – that he couldn’t possibly have been expected to execute them all well. Many tracks have a variety of interesting elements but end up falling flat for one reason or another. The beat of “Know Ya Wrong” switches from a pleasant piano melody to one of the worst musical stretches on the entire album. I can see exactly what Q was aiming for on “WHateva U Want”, as Candice Pillay’s creepy vocals playing the role of an overly attached lover snake around the track, but Q’s vocal performance and energy is far from being there. Concept albums shouldn’t have filler, and most of the back half is. Q himself even said he didn’t want “Overnight” on the album, and it was forced upon him by the label. His flow starts getting lazier and rhythm is sacrificed for saying West Coast buzzwords over a nice beat.
Q also shows that he has an ear for melody and harmonies on tracks like “JoHn Muir”, and it leaves me wishing we had heard it more here. He does take a lot of risks on the project, why not that one? It would be especially welcomed because the hooks are somewhat of a weak point. Finally, at 17 tracks Q’s voice gets a little grating (“Str8 Ballin”). He tends to yell a lot, some of that could be attributed to the style of attempting to sound hard I suppose but it becomes a tad obnoxious.
All things considered, the more whimsical and fun side of ScHoolboy Q’s work might still be his best. Tracks like “THat Part”, “Dope Dealer”, and “Big Body”. It’s why his previous hits “Collard Greens” and “Man of the Year” were so ubiquitous. When Q starts a simple and deceptively playful flow on the outro of “Dope Dealer”, punctuating each line with “Boom!”, he is audibly having fun. A combination of this aspect with his new penchant for increased complexity in his music would certainly contribute to success in the future.
Favourite Tracks: Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane, Dope Dealer, Big Body, THat Part
Least Favourite Track: Str8 Ballin’