Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Record Label: Interscope
Release Date: February 25, 2014
At this point in the game, if you aren't familiar with the acronym TDE, you simply haven't been paying attention. Hailing from California, the record label Top Dawg Entertainment has been generating buzz for a few years off of some notable artists, one that you may or may not have heard of before. Kendrick Lamar can mostly be credited with putting TDE on the map with 2011's section.80 and by following it up with his major label debut the next year in good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but the people around Kendrick on the Top Dawg label have also been making moves of their own. Ab-Soul's Control System was an overlooked, albeit great release in 2012, and Jay Rock has been showing more potential lately than he was originally given credit for. But right now, its Schoolboy Q's time, and for his introduction to the mainstream eye, Q has offered up Oxymoron, his major label debut for Interscope.
What Schoolboy Q brings to the table on TDE is pretty easy to identify: he makes great party rap, but as a former gang member he has a lot of stories from the streets to tell as well. On his last effort, 2012's exceptional Habits and Contradictions, Q interwove mini-hits like "Hands On The Wheel" with more personal stories for a varied album that presented him as a versatile rapper with an unpredictable flow. Much of the same is sought after on Oxymoron, but this time, the results are a little less effective.
The most immediately glaring problem throughout Oxymoron is the hooks. Now, Q has never been that great of a hook writer, but H&C had its fair share of memorable melodies and phrases. On Oxymoron, hooks are approached with such an over-the-top mindset that when he goes for the single-repeated-word route on a track like "Gangsta," it makes you never want to hear the word again. That whole song is bogged down with Q shouting ad-libs left and right that completely clash with the laid back, sinister beat. When hooks are approached with a little bit more subtlety and finesse, as on "Collared Greens," the results are noticeably more bearable. Still, many of them fall very short and it becomes a problem for most of the record.
Regardless, there are still some very good songs on Oxymoron. "Prescription/Oxymoron" is a two part track, and on the first half we get one of the most personal tracks from Schoolboy Q yet, dealing with his drug addiction and a passage of his daughter asking him if he's asleep. The beat switches up into a mean, looming trap song that falls victim to another subpar hook. The DJ Dahi-produced "Hell Of A Night" is another standout here, with Dahi offering the same kind of hazy and smoked out party jam that we saw in his "Worst Behavior" beat from Drake's last effort. Album closer "Man Of The Year" is possibly the best of the collection, and the Chromatics-sampling single has only become more enjoyable over the last few months. The fact that it closes the album out is fitting since it feels like a victory rap as Q reminisces on where he's come from and where he is now, but having already heard it as a single greatly diminishes its impact in this slot. Nevertheless, the great songs on Oxymoron are really great, and they make up for at least some of the pitfalls throughout the record.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few pitfalls outside of just weak hooks. The pacing of the album feels a little off, and it starts pretty early on with "Los Awesome" being a jarring change from the opener "Gangsta," though the former is much more enjoyable than the latter. Following the aforementioned "Prescription/Oxymoron" is a song that should have been excluded from the album entirely. "The Purge" was produced by and features Tyler, The Creator, and if you're into his style of production you'll probably be into the song, but there's no denying that this thing sticks out like a sore thumb on the record, failing to match the mood and tone of any other song here. It also has some of Schoolboy Q's more deplorable lines, though there's no shortage of those on the rest of the album.
Schoolboy Q seemingly wants to play the bad guy through most of Oxymoron, and the upfront aggression, explicit sexual details, and braggadocio rap he offers becomes more and more overbearing as the album goes on. The flashes of vulnerability and raw storytelling scattered throughout are rewarding when they're able to be uncovered, but more often than not those moments are buried underneath weak hooks and songs that are more interested in rehashing the same old gangsta rap narrative. Oxymoron isn't a total failure, and the songs that stick out will be in constant rotation for many months to come, but the album as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Still, Schoolboy Q remains an exceptional rapper, and if he can refine his songwriting skills into something less all over the place, he may have a truly special album in him yet.
Very fair review. 7 might be too high but that doesn't mean anything. You explained as much your review which was spot on. After the singles this album was a letdown for sure....hoping it gets better with more listens.
Good review. Pretty much how I feel, but I had too much hype though. Q said he kept pushing it to perfect it and wanting to bring it up to par with the classic that GKMC is, it's just not even close though. Forgettable for me.