It's so great having L.A. rap back to being a big deal again. Obviously, Kendrick Lamar is the man most responsible for that. (Well, unless its Top Dawg Entertainment founder Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. I tend to favor artists over executives.) But I remember the moment when I felt like, "Hey, wow! There's really something going on here. Something really good. Something 'important.'" It was early 2012, my first time listening to ScHoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions.
A 52 Hoover Crip who used to make his money selling oxycontin, ScHoolboy has a great, distinctly Californian voice. Gravelly and stoned, equal parts smack-you-the-mouth menace and wise-ass humor, it's a voice that can carry a rap album pretty far on its own. Put it over a remarkably coherent collection of beats—from dark, Portishead sampling industrialism to dusty, vinyl-era funk grooves—and talk greasy about sex, drugs, and the nastier side of South Central street life, and, well, you're going to win at least one fan from around where I live in New York.
(There's one song in the middle of the album, just an interlude, actually, that has been one of those always-walk-around-hearing-it-in-the-back-of-your-head, day-to-day soundtracks for my last year-and-a-half. "Tookie Knows" it's called. One minute-26-seconds worth of grimey, psychedelic hip-hop and Q going "na-na-na-nat" and "yawk yawk yawk" and I wish it lasted for six hours.)
Before Kendrick's good kid came along, Habits & Contradictions was the best L.A. rap album since...Dr. Dre's 2001? Could it be?! Hold on a second. Let me check my records. Yup. That's what it says here. — Dave Bry