Following Kendrick’s lead, Schoolboy Q is the next Los Angeles rapper to wave the Top Dawg Entertainment flag high from atop the Interscope mountains. While he has released independent projects leading up to this moment, his official debut album is Oxymoron, a record that will, for many people, be their first introduction to this promising new talent.
Like Lamar before him, Q forgoes trying to adapt to popular sounds for a single, and instead opts to just do him. The infectious first offering from Oxymoron, “Collard Greens”, which features Kendrick, lacks the significant club or radio spins expected from a new artist. But like K-Dot’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” before it, its a street-level track that resonates more with his already feverish fanbase than the average passers-by.
This is testament to a possible turning of the tides in major label hip-hop, as both Kendrick and Schoolboy Q have released number one albums, solely based on a strong buzz, rather than significant support from high impact radio markets. As we mature into an ever-connected, always-online planet, artists like those in the TDE camp are less reliant on traditional record label marketing strategies of the last fifty years.
The sound of Oxymoron is proof of that, as this is largely an album that seems untampered with by pesky A&R’s, with little room for “workable” singles. Q does nab some high profile collaborations here, which might be looked at as such, but the content is not watered down for safe radio play or mainstream product endorsements. Such is the case of the Pharrell helmed banger “Los Awesome”, where Q and Jay Rock unapologetically celebrate gang-banging with a catchy hook, yet one still unsuitable for corporate America. “I’m a groovy type nigga, rather two-step with you / Pants sagging, rag dragging, rather gangbang with you / Triggers squeeze, throw a palette, throw them thing-things with you / Hot degrees, anti-freeze, chilling cool-cool with you.” Pharrell’s influence is present, but there’s nothing “Happy” here.
If an A&R did have input on the construction of the album, “Los Awesome”, along with the 2 Chainz collab, “What They Want” and the Kendrick featured “Collard Greens” are each pushed up front, obviously to catch the attention of the average listener whom might not be yet familiar with Q. However this truthfully gets the album off to a bit of a rocky start, as it really doesn’t begin to hit its stride until around track #5, with “Hoover Street”.
“Hoover Street” is the first solo track on the album, one that displays Q’s true talent in full. It’s an ultra personal and extremely visual tale about growing up with a crack-addicted uncle, and the effects it had on both his family and his upbringing. Q brings to light grim realities of the situation, such as his uncle giving him whiskey as a child in order to get him to fake a piss test for him, or finding his bike stolen and sold for another hit.
The repercussions of these events take shape later on “Prescription-Oxymoron”, a brooding tale of Q’s own struggles with addiction, and how it is effecting his daughter (whom is featured on the deluxe version’s album cover). Its heavy stuff and makes for great art.
Amidst Q’s cinematic tales of gangbanging and drug problems, he also impresses with his delivery and multitude of styles. Much like Kendrick, its clear that the TDE camp is influenced by their neighboring Project Blowed / Freestyle Fellowship camps, as they aren’t afraid to experiment with styles and truly flex on the mic. This comes through on the hypnotic “Break The Bank”, as well as the album’s second single, “Man Of The Year”, the latter which just might be the next accidental club smash. Not to mention “The Purge” – a tribute to three generations of L.A. rap with Tyler The Creator and Kurupt, or “Blind Threats” with Raekwon; in both cases, everyone raises the bar.
The production on Oxymoron also stands out, as Q opts for dark, heavy, subterranean beats, instead of whatever the hot club or radio sound is. Even when he does attempt to make a “party” song, like “Hell of A Night” or the aforementioned “Man Of The Year”, it works because the overall sound of the album doesn’t change. It’s clear that he’s in control of this ship.
Oxymoron is a triumph of a rap album, because it signifies a return of “underground” rap to the major label scene. Q isn’t the fresh looking kid that Kendrick is, so one can bet that the major label system was scratching their collective head trying to figure out how to “market” him. Instead, it seems they just sat back and let him do his thing, exactly how he intended. The end result? A critical/commercial success. How’s that for an oxymoron?
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