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Ride along with Top Dawg Entertainment's next to blow as Schoolboy Q brings the ruckus to a USC frat party.
RELATED: All "Oxymoron Week" Posts
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.
Once off of the freeway, the van creeps down frat row. The vehicle is roughly five minutes from 51st and Figueroa, the neighborhood where the young man born Quincy Matthew Hanley grew up with one foot in gang life. When asked if this area brings back any memories, he squints his eyes, looks out the window, and says, “Just riding my bike through here and shit… I ain’t never had a homie that was in a frat.”
After a few minutes, the van pulls into the back alley behind one of the frat houses so Q can enter with the least amount of fanfare. Packs of students who were unable to gain admittance to the frat watch the van's movements, their eyes glued to the tinted windows like the hustlers who used to work the block.
Hey, they just told me to tell y’all to calm down... F### that. We gon' keep turning it up tonight.
Before the van comes to a stop, Q's head security guard throws the van door open. He's sweating profusely, as if he’s spent the last two hours trying to keep drunken bros and girls who continue to misinterpret “Swimming Pools,” from sacrificing a virgin. Q considers going to the green room, but another equally overworked guard assures him that heading straight for the stage is best.
When Q exits the van, several onlookers immediately call out to him for photos. He waves and turns to the head security guard, “Where’s my DJ?” Q learns that his DJ is on stage as a hired security guard asks for a photo. Though he’s just turned down several fans, Q obliges.
Once security gives the all-clear, he walk down the alley that leads to the back of the stage. Security does little to keep the fans away, but the increasing walk-ups and handshakes don’t faze Q. This sort of thing is light work compared to the life-and-death situations he experienced on the surrounding streets. The shout-outs run the gamut from formal (“I love you work, Mr. Hanley.”) and informal (“What’s up, Schoolboy?”) to self-serving (“Can I get a selfie with you?”) and tactless (“Figg siiide! Figg siiide!”)
Q enters a heavily guarded iron gate that leads to the stage, which is housed under a massive white tent adjacent to the side of the frat. Waiting behind the white tent, the frenetic sway of bodies inside and the chest-rattling bump of the bass are palpable. Someone hands Q a microphone and a bottle of water. He still appears slightly somnambulant, hydrating slowly with the mic hanging lightly in his hand. Just before showtime he declares, half-smiling, that he's “Ready to do this so I can go back to sleep."
When the DJ plays the Top Dawg Entertainment drop the crowd screams. There isn’t a kid within miles who hasn’t heard it. The opening of Q’s smash “Hands on the Wheel” blares from the speakers and the white tarp opens as Q jumps on stage.
Lights shoot in every direction as he begins to rhyme. They bounce off of a gaudy, ersatz chandelier, bathing the tent in shades of red, blue, and green. Smoke machines exhale billows of synthetic and sticky gray. The wasted and waiflike girls up front are so keyed up they nearly topple the railing next to the stage. Cheap liquor and cans of Natural Ice rise and fall (and spill) in conjunction with fist pumping hands, as giant cut-outs of Schoolboy’s head and huge white Styrofoam letter Qs loomi in the mist.
The theme of the party appears to be some variation of ‘Playboy Mansion.’ Gaggles of girls sport bunny ears, and several bros don smoking jackets in an attempt to look like Hugh Hefner, albeit much younger and far less regal. For reasons that remain unclear, some sport full sailor regalia, from captain’s hats and ascots to top-siders. One male party-goer, who sports a shirt that reads “#entitled,” seems more than adequately impressed with himself.
On stage, Q moves as if he’s just received a shot of adrenaline. His voice is clear, not groggy. His movements are electric, bordering on manic. He bounces up and down and waves his arms, interacting with the crowd throughout the performance.
After killing his verses from “Hands on the Wheel,” he blazes through “Collard Greens.” The crowd is growing feverish, and security puts more bodies in front of the railing. “Chill,” Q says as the song ends. Then security says something in his ear. “Hey, they just told me to tell y’all to calm down,” he says, pausing for dramatic effect. “This is what we gon' do... Fuck that. We gon' keep turning it up tonight.” The crowd roars as Q launches into “Man of the Year.” He tries to leave when the track ends, but the audience chants for “one more song.” Q grants them a verse of “There He Go.”
Being a rapper from your city and being known, you can’t do nothing. I go to the bank and the teller knows who I am.
Though it feels longer, the show is over in just fifteen minutes. Afterwards, Q rushes through the alley and up a set of stairs at the side of the frat house. In the ‘green room,’ which turns out to be the unkempt bedroom of one of the frat bros—unmade bed with dubiously hygienic sheets, half-eaten sandwich sitting out, books and clothes strewn everywhere—Q waits for the van to come back.
“That was the sickest party I’ve ever seen at USC,” the bro who sleeps here says. "Literally. I’ve been here for three years." Q, slouched on the stool he’s been provided, smiles faintly and nods.
Given his condition just before going on, it's amazing Q could summon the energy to deliver that caliber of performance. “They do most of the work,” he says, laughing a little, as if stating the obvious. “They know the words. It’s not like I’m trying to win them over or nothing. Just go up there and play the songs.”
Before leaving for the van both the head security guard (the same one who took a photo with Q earlier) and the bro in charge ask for video shout outs. Ever-polite Q mumbles his way through both, but he clearly wants to go.
Back in the van, Q’s mood shifts. The adrenaline from being on stage and/or the prospect of sleep has made him more talkative. “Look at this weak-ass fraternity,” he says, nodding to an outwardly vacant frat house. “Ain’t nothing cracking over there.” Everyone in the van laughs.
It’s clear that Q feels he had put on a good show. Yet when asked if tonight was characteristic of most performances in L.A. he responds in the negative. “L.A. shows are wack. Fans don’t turn up like everywhere else—they’re too cool,” he says, sitting up. His voice takes on a new level of urgency, as if he’s been waiting to get this out. “Hopefully that will make them turn up when I come to L.A. this tour… [L.A. shows are] always sold out, but they’re always wack.”
On the ride back to the Valley, talk shifts from Q’s preference for ‘talking shit’ while playing Call of Duty online to his decision to live where he does. “Being a rapper from your city and being known, you can’t do nothing. I go to the bank and the teller knows who I am,” he explains. “You have to be somewhere where you feel comfortable walking around. [Or else] you just turn into a weirdo.” Q has tried his best to avoid becoming a weirdo, a nonsensical character, or an oxymoron. Like any kid from the hood he's trying to turn his talent into a better life for himself and his family. What could be wrong with that?
Before the van drops him off, Q asks to stop at CVS. The clerks and customers there treat him like anyone else and he couldn’t be happier about it. He buys two bags of Jolly Ranchers, a two-liter bottle of Sprite, and a large bag of ice. They could be innocent post-show snacks or part of his recipe for a much-deserved, good night’s sleep. The rapper has spoken about his fondness for lean before, and tonight there seems no point in asking. He’s answered enough questions.