ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron

written by: March 3, 2014
Album-cover-for-Oxymoron-by-ScHoolboy-Q Release Date: February 25, 2014


During an era in which so-called “conscious rappers” reign supreme and the “gangsta rapper” persona appears all but extinct, it seems ScHoolboy Q has no qualms over trying to raise the dead.

But Oxymoron, Q’s major label debut, isn’t just an exercise in sub-generic necromancy. His (mostly) unique presentation of West Coast-worshipping bravado marks an evolution in the gangsta stratum, providing complex progression in many aspects while falling short in others.

Opening track “Gangsta” isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but delivers (in a not-so-subtle fashion) the first of the album’s two key motifs:

Oxymoron is, in part, a contemporary gangsta rap record about the associated lifestyle.

In fact, the song’s hook is that exact word 24 times, just to make sure no one gets confused.

The second song and first impressive piece is “Los Awesome,” featuring Jay Rock, ScHoolboy’s Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) label mate and Black Hippy cohort. Certainly a banger in its own right, Q has said that it was written for a specific audience. “I needed something that the gang bangers could identify with,” he said at the album’s listening party. “Not so much my core fans, more so the gang members.”

But although the tone of the track succeeds in this goal, here’s the catch: In saying that “Los Awesome” is specifically written for the gangsta demographic, ScHoolboy Q implies that the rest of his record somehow isn’t.

Nevermind that Pharrell (arguably the clean-cut gangsta antithesis out of Virginia Beach) produced the song—which is important to note because it’s an early mark of potential inconsistencies within the record as whole.

Of course, some inconsistencies are intentional. As a matter of fact, the concept of oxymorons is the key motif at work.

Case in point: “Hoover Street.” Production-wise, it’s one of the stronger tracks on the album, and echoes the idiosyncratic style and flow of Q’s 2012 release, Habits & Contradictions. Clocking in at 6:36, the two-part song first regales the listener with the same South Central L.A. bombast and pomp that’s made up the entirety of the record so far.

However, about halfway through, a shift occurs in the beat and, correspondingly, the song’s tone. The darker reality of Q’s upbringing is revealed, and Oxymoron‘s second theme is introduced (and soon to be expounded upon in “Prescription/Oxymoron”): the causes, effects, and consequences of living life as a gang-banging drug pusher on a stretch of South Central called Hoover Street.

“Had roaches in my cereal/My uncle stole my stereo, my grandma can’t control him”— ScHoolboy Q’s most successful imagery emerges sporadically to breathe new life into otherwise tired subject matter.

The titular oxymoron central to the album’s main themes goes as follows: Q is caught up in a negative drug-fueled lifestyle (fueling both his source of income and his recreational habits) with the sole purpose of building a life for his daughter Joy—who appears in the album artwork and a handful of audio snippets.

Another long, two-part track, “Prescription/Oxymoron” catalogues the rapper’s shortcomings due to pharmaceutical drug addiction (ignoring calls from his mother, and so on) that first stemmed, in a tragically ironic fashion, from an attempt at improving his living situation.

“Oxymoron” acts as a play on words here: Oxycontin is one of the drugs he’s selling—legal in a sense, but nonetheless destructive.

ScHoolboy Q is a lot of things, but inauthentic seemingly isn’t one of them. Sure, plenty of hip hop artists claim an unparalleled style, but there’s only one with the audacity to consistently model a series of customized bucket hats and capitalize the “H” in every song title.

And sure, lots of rappers talk about sipping lean and getting properly turnt, but few can say they’ve nodded off while witnessing Kendrick Lamar freestyle live on the radio.

With that being said, it’s difficult to imagine how such a unique artist with two studio albums under his belt could end up creating a record with more than a few discordant elements.

The record’s three singles—”Collard Greens,” “Man of the Year,” and “Break the Bank”—are all undeniably Q’s work, but the rest of the collection seems to waver, specifically with regard to production.

“Studio” is an awkward slow jam—Q’s attempt at romance. The track falls short, despite a decent feature by BJ the Chicago Kid, and seems incoherent with regard to the album as a whole.

“The Purge” and “Blind Threats,” featuring rappers Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator (both fellow Californians) and hip hop household name Raekwon, respectively, are both solid tracks, but seem stylistically upstaged by the supporting cast. The former sounds like an Odd Future song, and the latter might seem more at home on a Wu-Tang Clan release.

So, at the end of the day, does ScHoolboy Q regret his choice to sell drugs and drink codeine? It’s hard to tell. On one hand, he claims on “Break The Bank” that he “just [wants] to smoke weed and sip lean by the quart,” but on the other, is very clearly aware and upset about the effect it’s had on those around him.

The oxymorons on Oxymoron exist on multiple levels—from embracing and flaunting a decaying lifestyle he knows is nothing but trouble, to taking up amateur drug trade for the good of his daughter—but not all serve to flatter him as a conceptual artist, and not all of them seem intentional.

The music on the record is, overall, well done, and will easily contribute to his prospective transformation from one of hip hop’s distinctive up-and-comers into a formidable mainstream competitor. What remains to be seen is whether ScHoolboy Q can better balance and articulate his conceptual goals.

ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron tracklist:

  1. “Gangsta”
  2. “Los Awesome (feat. Jay Rock)”
  3. “Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
  4. “What They Want (feat. 2 Chainz)”
  5. “Hoover Street”
  6. “Studio (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)”
  7. “Prescription/Oxymoron”
  8. “The Purge (feat. Kurupt and Tyler, the Creator)”
  9. “Blind Threats (feat. Raekwon)”
  10. “Hell of a Night”
  11. “Break The Bank”
  12. “Man of The Year”