Ride along with Top Dawg Entertainment's next to blow as Schoolboy Q brings the ruckus to a USC frat party.
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Written by Max Bell (@JM_Bell23)
It’s 11p.m. on a Saturday and Schoolboy Q just woke up. He’s well put together when he shuffles out of a friend’s Valley residence — bucket hat, black hoodie, black designer jeans, and Jordans — but his thick beard and groggy voice, in addition to the light-sensitive eyes behind his round-rimmed glasses, reveal a man who could use a maybe a year or so spent in repose.
The twenty-seven-year-old rapper enters the black van hired to drive him around, slouching and shifting in his seat until he arrives at a comfortable position. Doors closed, he heads for USC. At midnight he’ll perform a surprise set at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house. This is another in a long series of promotional events leading up to the February 25th release of his long-awaited major label debut, Oxymoron, but the half-asleep Q still seems excited. “It’s my first time ever going to a frat and not getting kicked out,” he says chuckling. “Well, not getting in trouble for being there.”
While Q seems relaxed and carefree in his post-slumber haze, he’s at the tail end of months of near constant speculation and inquiries. At this point, anticipation for the release of Oxymoronrivals that of Kobe Bryant’s impending return to the Lakers. Every interview he’s granted in the last year and a half has been bogged down by questions about the album, which has been pushed back a few times over the past year. The Internet is filled with fans begging for it to leak.
Kendrick left me no choice but to make a classic record.
Arguably the most anticipated rap album of 2014, Oxymoron is also the second joint release between Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope/Afermath. Expectations have been raised exponentially with the success of their first joint release, from Schoolboy's friend and TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-nominated smash, good kid, m.A.A.d city.
To deny that Lamar’s album has brought extra pressure to Schoolboy Q would be downright delusional. In an interview with 2DopeBoyz just weeks after the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city, Q said, “Kendrick left me no choice but to make a classic record.” Since that time, Q worked on his album while Lamar’s project gained more and more momentum, racking up platinum sales plaques and seemingly endless coverage and acclaim.
This self-decreed burden of delivering a “classic” undoubtedly led to Q’s exhaustive recording schedule: twelve-hour days for weeks on end. Fueled by kush and an occasional dip into the bag of Adderall, he hardly ate or slept. When not in the studio, he was on the road, building his own buzz as he performed songs from his previous projects, Setbacks (2011) and Habits & Contradictions (2012). In light of all this, the fact that he’s even awake as the van speeds along the freeway becomes increasingly impressive.
With 23,000 pre-release orders at the time of this writing, Oxymoron has only two true singles “Collard Greens” and “Man of the Year” (“Yay Yay” will only appear on the deluxe edition, and Q doesn’t classify “Break the Bank” as a single). The former is a kaleidoscopic, THC-tinged banger with woozy bass and a guest appearance from Kendrick Lamar. Lamar plays witty, bilingual wordsmith, his pen raised for battle and sexual conquest/innuendo. Q comes across as aggressively blunt (and/or blunted), yet somehow maintains a laid-back cool. As he says at the end of the song, he's the “groovy gangster with an attitude.”
Aside from showcasing Lamar and Q’s distinctive styles and undeniable synergy, “Collard Greens” also displays their spirited competition. There’s no explicit challenge leveled in any verse, but each artist's effort to out-rhyme the other is implicit—an essential aspect of this inherently competitive art form.
“It’s a healthy competition, but I feel like the media be making it out to be more than it is,” Q says of his relationship to Kendrick and the rest of the TDE camp. Clearly tired of comparisons — and all questions about Kendrick — his voice borders on frustrated. “[I don’t] wanna see a nigga fail. I’m going to be just as happy if he does better than me.”
With the release of Oxymoron now (roughly) two weeks away, Q seems content with whatever outcome is meant to be. “Of course I’m going to say it’s a classic,” he says of his album, a record that sounds every bit as dark and chaotic as Q's early life in Los Angeles. “I love it. But it’s up to the people.”
Of course I’m going to say it’s a classic. I love it. But it’s up to the people.
Perhaps just as important, Oxymoron—a term which describes an apparent contradiction or nonsequitur—leaves Q creative running room for the future: “This [album] I gave people the full Schoolboy Q, but at the same time I kept a little piece of it out to carry on for the next album," he explains. "I think that’s what most of us rappers do too often. We put too much information in some of our albums that could actually be on the next ones.”
As for the immediate future, Q hits the road in March for a world tour with over 67 dates alongside Vince Staples and recent TDE signee Isaiah Rashad. Though he’s eager to get on the road, Q says the release of Oxymoron is paramount. “Once [the album is] out then I can really, really look forward to the tour,” he adds, shaking his head slightly, as if trying to forget the last several months of waiting. “Right now I’m just—album.”
Talk of touring leads to a discussion about Q’s three-year-old daughter Joy, whose face appears on the album cover. In addition to appearing on the cover, Joy was also in the studio for some of the recording and her voice appears briefly on the album. As Q has said numerous times, she is the inspiration for all that he does. “It is [difficult] being away from her. But at the same time I understand and she understands. No need to mope over it all the time,” he says, leaning his head on the wall of the van and looking out the window. “Of course, every now and then I’ll be on the tour bus and be like, ‘I miss my baby.’ I always miss her.”
Perhaps the most dynamic member of TDE when on stage, Q says he spends little time actually rehearsing his live show. “I don’t practice it or nothing. I don’t have a set list,” he says nonchalantly. “I just load the songs up and go from there.” Tonight’s spontaneous performance at USC won’t be any different.