It’s been a quiet two years for South Central’s Schoolboy Q, whose critically-acclaimed 2014 album Oxymoron shook the world with a few platinum singles, and songs that remain in my rotation today. As one fourth of the supergroup Black Hippy, Q has been all over the rap scene since early 2011 when his debut, Setbacks, was released. My first Schoolboy experience was his feature on A$AP Rocky’s “Brand New Guy” later that same year (a song I find myself returning to regularly). By now, Schoolboy Q is a household name to modern music fans. For rap fans like myself, Quincy’s fourth full length project, Blank Face LP, was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year.
While the Internet was buzzing a few weeks back about the fake, meme-licious album covers Q posted on Instagram, two out of three short films were posted on Schoolboy Q’s YouTube channel to promote the album. Both followed a day in the life of gangsta Q and his gang-banging friends, while serving as music videos to songs “By Any Means” and “Tookie Knows II,” which I’ll dig deeper into later (they’re both fantastic). The films perfectly set the mood for a dark, heavy album and I highly recommend taking the time to watch them before listening. Needless to say, when July 8 came around I was more than ready to hear what Q had been cooking up since last summer.
Like Oxymoron, Blank Face LP has tracks that reach into multiple genres. We get instrumentals from a handful of grade-A producers that range from angry, groovy, hard-core, west coast, and soulful. On the opener, “TorcH,” metal guitars and thick bass call Rage Against the Machine to mind, but a soft piano contradict these comparisons beautifully. After brief vocals from the great Anderson .Paak, Q gives his fans thoughtful, lengthy verses and I prayed that the remaining 16 songs on the album were going to be at least as enjoyable as this one.
Following a brief interlude, the two singles appear with “THat Part” featuring Kanye and somewhat of a remix to “Groovy Tony”, now ending with a verse from Jadakiss. Both tracks go hard in their own way. “THat Part” was clearly designed to perform at live shows and is the most well known track on the project. The instrumental is simple but the bass is just begging you to blow out your speaker, and Q delivers more solid verses. Unsurprisingly, Kanye’s bars are absolute garbage, wasting the first line by saying “okay okay okay okay okay okay”, then continuing the effortless raps with Chipotle references and other lines that are frustrating to listen to. The song drags on way too long and ends with a pointless “freestyle” from Mr. West that I cannot imagine people who aren’t Kanye die-hards enjoying. “Groovy Tony” was the first taste of new Schoolboy Q material, as it was the first single released, and it’s still one of my favorite singles and videos of the year thus far. Q’s flow is incredibly original, starting calm then progressively getting more and more aggressive until 8 bars of rapping are finished, and he returns to a quieter tone and the cycle repeats. Lyrically, Q is spitting some of his rawest lines I’ve heard from the emcee. The song depicts Groovy Tony as an alter ego to Q, one that’s a violent money-stacking gangbanger, maybe where the man would be if his music flopped. All blended together with an eerie, gritty, ad-lib and sound effect filled beat, I’ll be returning to “Groovy Tony” frequently for a long time. I was intrigued months back when I first heard the song about this character Q seemed to have created, but unfortunately this realistic (yet fictitious) man was not built upon throughout the LP.
A few more notable downsides to this project for me were a handful of boring and unnecessary tracks. This begins at the fifth song with new TDE member Lance Skiiiwalker on “Kno Ya Wrong”. Once again, we have a track that’s way too long and goes nowhere in five and a half minutes. I was unimpressed by Skiiiwalkers half-assed singing, not to mention Q sounding like an intoxicated grandfather attempting to sing for the first 90 seconds of the song. Underwhelming verses are sprinkled here and there, like Tha Dogg Pound’s on “Big Body.” Feature aside, it’s a great cut and undoubtedly on the funky, light hearted side of Q’s discography. The following track brings another disappointing feature from the sole female TDE signee, SZA, on “Neva CHange.” She doesn’t do anything wrong, but by only making a brief appearance on the chorus she certainly doesn’t do anything close to what I hoped for. Miguel also brings disappointing vocals to the LP on one of the final cuts, “Overtime.” Schoolboy told Rolling Stone Magazine a few days ago that “[My label] let me do a whole album how I wanted top to bottom; they just asked for one song,” Q says. “It’s a dope song — I wrote the song, I just thought it didn’t fit my album. But like I said, I also didn’t want ‘Studio’ on my album.” The tracks are similar, both with male R&B singers on the hook and ba more brooding vibe, like the majority of Q’s songs. What separates the two is that “Overtime” contains one of the worst choruses ever. There is simply no way this track will ever reach the success of “Studio,” since it (easily) has the most asinine chorus of any Schoolboy Q song. Not only will this never be played on the radio like “Studio” was, but it just makes for a terrible, cringe worthy listen. It’s unfortunate because the rest of the song isn’t half bad.
Thankfully, not all of the features were like these. One of the stand out tracks on Blank Face LP comes earlier on the record, when Q is assisted by young Long Beach native (and hands down one of the best rappers alive right now) Vince Staples on “Ride Out.” The fellow Crips have natural chemistry over the gothic, murderous beat and Vince fits in perfectly. The two paint a picture of basically ruling the streets they come from. Stealing cars, counting paper, women, drugs, jewelry, gang-banging and more. Don’t skip this track. Another impressive collab is heard from the Bay area legend E-40 on “Dope Dealer.” 40 returns from his “IDFWU” phase, and raps like he did decades ago over another ominous beat from Metro Boomin. Q manages to keep up with the rap veteran, spitting the extraordinary bars we’ve come to expect from the LP. The last track, “Tookie Knows II,” has one of the most surprising features on the project, coming from Schoolboy Q’s lifelong friends known as Traffic and TF. Easily in my top 3 favorite songs on “Blank Face LP,” “Tookie Knows II” contains some of the best lyrics and perhaps the best instrumental on the record with a ghostly piano ballad and a snare that absolutely slaps. When the bass kicks in alongside the toughest lyrics on the project, the result is pure greatness and one of the best songs of the year.
But per usual, Quincy can create top notch tracks without any assistance. This is apparent on “By Any Means”, which originally premiered as part one of the film trilogy in late June. The track nods to a Malcolm X speech, “By Any Means Necessary,” where the late human rights activist urged African Americans to seek “freedom by any means necessary… justice by any means necessary… [and] equality by any means necessary.” Q applies this speech to his life growing up in South Central LA, where any means of income was justified as long as you “get yours”, as Kendrick Lamar softly harmonizes in the background. On par with “By Any Means” is “JoHn Muir,” which appears about halfway through the project as the tenth track. Over a modern twist on a classic west coast beat by TDE’s Sounwave, Q depicts his childhood during the time he attended middle school that shares the name of the song. From having a gun at thirteen, to his clothing and jewelry, to dealing drugs and getting girls; Schoolboy Q was a very mature young teen to say the least.
After about a week and a half of listening to Blank Face LP pretty much non stop, I’ve identified many highs and a number of lows. In addition to some of the botched features and a couple of tracks that needed to end sooner, I don’t think I’m alone when I say I would’ve loved to hear a proper Kendrick feature, or any other Black Hippy member for that matter. (There is a “THat Part” remix with Black Hippy, but it did not make the cut on the album although it is unbelievable and K. Dot goes OFF). Also, Isaiah Rashad is nowhere to be found on the project, which does make sense considering that he’s preparing for his second TDE release, hopefully out later this year. A$AP Rocky? Danny Brown? Q didn’t seem to team up with many of his usual sidekicks, many of whom could have very possibly brought better verses to the project.
I did, however, enjoy many aspects of this record. Although there’s not the “Groovy Tony” storyline I was hoping for, Blank Face LP continued Q’s typical gangsta-life themes. His lyrics are consistent and for the most part, very intelligent and detailed. All of the beats are on point. The bangers on here are grimy yet clean, and TDE’s in-house engineer, MixedByAli, kills it on every release. Q stays creative but doesn’t really push a ton of boundaries sonically, and as a Schoolboy Q fan, I’m okay with that. I don’t expect myself to be returning to this project in its entirety many more times throughout the year, but there’s no doubt that four or five of these songs will be some of my favorites of 2016.
Written by Dylan Hardin