ScHoolboy Q should be celebrating right now: His fourth album, Blank Face LP, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and is receiving some of the strongest reviews of his career. Instead, sitting in Complex’s midtown Manhattan offices in a navy blue hoodie and matching sweatpants, he sounds tired and dejected, and doesn’t shy away from explaining why. On the day of the project’s release, a childhood friend was sentenced to 100 years in prison; shortly after the 29-year-old rapper’s daughter broke her arm. The day before, there was the killing of five police officers in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter protest. “All this stuff that’s going on in the world right now,” Q says, “a lot of people can’t even listen to my music at this moment.”
Q’s unabashed honesty has helped make him a star—the second name, behind Kendrick Lamar, that comes to mind when someone mentions his label, Top Dawg Entertainment. But his unfiltered personality has also got him in trouble, especially when it comes to label pressure to make more radio friendly singles. On Blank Face LP, ScHoolboy raps with snarling lucidity about growing up in South Central Los Angeles, and the traps of drugs and violence that make it difficult to imagine a bright future. But if this album’s release is any indication, climbing the ladder of success doesn’t mean your past can’t catch up to your present.
People tweeted at you the day Blank Face LP dropped, saying that it was hard to digest the music given the timing of the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, followed by the madness in Dallas. How do you feel about that reaction?
People can’t even really listen to it. Some people are really affected by the situation that’s going on, and some people can cope through music, some people can’t. I respect the people who can’t really digest it yet. I’d rather they listen when they’re ready.
You mentioned on Twitter that you were feeling fucked up about these events as well. How do you cope with that? Do you write, or listen to music, or something else?
Right now, I ain’t been able to write music—I’ve been going through things. I lost one of my homeboys the day my album dropped, found out one of my closest homies got 100 years in the penitentiary. I haven’t been able to eat in three days hearing that. I’m over here running around and my daughter breaks her arm. I can’t be there for her; I had to see her on FaceTime, hurt in the hospital bed. How can I really be happy about my album being out when all this is going on? All this hard work I done put in up until this point is overshadowed by some punk-ass cops not doing they jobs right. Me and my peoples stayed up late working hard for this. It’s bigger than just me and promoting and all that shit. People are going through real serious issues right now. People in Dallas are so fed up, they’re killing cops, and two cops just died in Michigan. People are starting to fight back. I don't think killing is the way, but standing up for yourself is definitely important.
You tweeted about writing “Neva CHange” and “Black THougHts,” songs about relations between people of color and police, a year ago but both still feel relevant.
Because it’s been happening before the cameras were out. It seems like people didn’t start caring until they had footage. People didn't start caring until they could tweet it. People love saying what they’re going to do on Twitter. But in the real world, they ain’t doing nothing. This dude asking me what am I going to do on Twitter is probably sitting on his couch in the house. You’re sitting in front of a computer screen, in front of a TV, asking me what I’m going to do?
Would you clarify the Alton Sterling lyric from the remix to “THat Part”: “When Alton Sterling gettin' killed for nothin'/Two cowards in the car, they're just there to film/Sayin' 'Black Lives Matter,' should've died with him”?
There’s no need for four or five people to film another black man die. We get it now. We keep seeing black men die on camera.
What would you have done in a situation like that?
I might’ve been harsh, but that’s how I felt when I was writing them lyrics. I’m tired of seeing people filming our people get killed. It’s too many different angles of this dude getting killed. Me, personally, I’m aware of my surroundings. I see one person filming, that’s all I need. It’s two cops, they can’t do nothing with him, and so I think it’s my job now to stand right next to the situation. If that means I have to get tased or if I have to go to jail for an hour because I’m in they way just to save this mans life, I’ma do it. I’ma sit there. I’m going to have my hands up. If they shoot me, so be it—I’m doing something that I think can stop this man from getting killed. I’m about to sit here and watch and film and not say anything? Don't get me wrong, we need at least one person to film. But if it’s multiple people who are witnessing it, there’s no purpose in getting different angles of it. I’m starting to think you just really like to get this shit now. You wanna go around screaming “black lives matter,” right? You didn't care when they was on him, doing him wrong. The store clerk wants credit about all that stuff but he didn't come outside.
And the video evidence against cops rarely leads to justice.
It never works in court! They getting off. Because he’s a cop, he only deserves two years? I saw a cop tase this white kid, knock him unconscious—a 16-year-old kid. Cuffs him, picks him up, and throws him on the ground while he’s cuffed and knocked out. e has like brain damage or something like that, and the cop only gets four years. This is what he’s doing to a minor. You mean to tell me, you couldn't handle this minor, bruh? You don’t need to be doing this job. These cops are scandalous out here, bro. They’re doing wrong.
"All this hard work I done put in up until this point is overshadowed by some cops not doing they jobs right."
What was your initial reaction when you saw the Alton Sterling footage?
Some bullshit. I’m mad at the whole situation: the cops, the people, everything—the whole shit is just depressing, bro. I’m just sick of seeing that over and over and over and over again. In the Castile video, you see the little girl in the car crying, comforting her mother. Dude in the front seat slumped over, this cop still aiming his gun at them. So much stuff going on, it’s just not right. There’s no reason to shoot this man in the passenger seat. He even had his seatbelt on. It’s too much.
How do you feel whenever the cop situation or Black Lives Matter comes up, people always want to bring up black on black crime?
No, black on black crimes does need to be mentioned. A lot of black folks be like, “why you trying to mention that?” Because it’s really happening. My homies are dying every month over gang banging. Let’s not forget we are killing each other. Our community is still, to me, the bigger picture, bro. We’re preaching unity but as soon as we get back to the hood dudes are still killing each other. We need to stop that also.
Did you know about Jay Z’s protest song “Spiritual" and Punch’s involvement in getting it finished and released?
No, but I’ve heard about it. I haven't listened to the song yet.
He talks about being a black parent in the lyrics. Even Jay, someone with so much money, says he has to worry about his daughter and her safety.
Eventually my daughter’s going to leave the nest. At the end of the day, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why I said I’d die before my daughter’s got to fight this fight. Nobody is willing to put their life on the line for a cause. If me dying means my daughter gets to live peacefully, I’m with it. It’s not about me no more.
How does taking care of your daughter keep you grounded?
She keeps me out of trouble, she got me out of the streets. Hanging out, doing stuff I don’t need to be doing—she got me out of that and changed my life.
How do you manage being away from her when you’re traveling and touring?
FaceTime—that’s really it. That’s why I took a break from music for a little bit. Because I’m not missing soccer games. Certain things I can’t miss. I have to take break from music every now and then, because I’m not going to be that rapper that hit the road for years and years and next thing you know his daughter’s 18 and all she knows is to ask him for money.
Has being a parent helped you keep up with your sobriety?
“Prescription/Oxymoron”[from Oxymoron] was a true story. My daughter used to try to wake me up and I’m in a Xan coma or a lean coma. I’ll be sitting there for three, four hours, and she just sitting there looking at me like I'm crazy. That don't sit well with you. And that’s where all the weight loss came in for me. I’m about to be 30 in October, and there comes a time where you just gotta update yourself. You can’t stay the same person.
"Complex is turning into TMZ now."
You mentioned gun control recently and said they should just take all the guns away. Would you elaborate?
I wish they could, but, at the same time, not everybody is gonna give they gun up. But then people are going to start murking the police. This is America, bro. I’ll be in Amsterdam or London, and it’s so peaceful. I go to these different places and then I come back to America and it's mayhem. I wish guns were never made. Kids are killing themselves by accident because of guns.
Will you vote in November?
I always said I wouldn't vote but I think I may vote for the first time, bro. Because I don't want Trump in office. I don't know what the fuck Hillary does or what she brings to the table, though.
A lot of people feel that way.
You get what I’m saying? Should I really vote when I really don’t know what the fuck is going on? When I don't know who is who or what is what? I just know I don’t like Trump for disrespecting Mexicans when I live in a Mexican state. I live in Los Angeles—that sounds Latin to me. San Jose sounds Latin to me. San Francisco sounds Latin to me. California sounds Latin to me. I don't like that whole “build the wall.”
How do you feel about President Obama?
I don’t know shit about presidents. I’ve been struggling and hustling my whole life, and I don’t know what they ever done for me. I’m not saying they don't contribute to anything, but I don't know what they’ve done for me, personally, because I’ve always been doing the same thing over and over again and nothing changed for me. Minimum wage is still the same, rent is still the same that's my whole thing. And I know they probably have no control over that, so what the fuck am I voting for? I never looked at health care, I just knew my daughter needed health care, so I’m gonna hustle to pay for her to get health care, you know what I’m saying? I know he be giving nigga’s phones and shit, that was cool. [Laughs.]
Is there going to be a Black Hippy album?
You niggas been asking the same question for four years! Goddamn, go to y'all last post of the last ScHoolboy Q interview and just repost it! [Laughs.] That’s the answer. Hell fucking no, it’s not happening. Of course, there’s always a chance. But right now with the schedule and shit, hell no. Y’all wouldn't want a Black Hippy album before a Black Hippy tour.
TDE founder Anthony “Top Dog” Tiffith posted a photo of the label’s 2016 album schedule on Instagram. You mentioned Isaiah Rashad’s project is getting mastered, and that SZA has a classic on the “THat Part (Remix).” Is everything on schedule?
Yeah, I heard of all the projects, but I don’t know what’s going on. I don't run the company. [Laughs.] People always blame labels and stuff but at TDE, we take a long time to make an album. A lot of people blame Top. I get tweets all the time telling me to leave TDE. Bruh, I helped build TDE. What the fuck do you mean, I need to leave? What would I do? I wouldn't even know where to start. I wouldn't know how to do business with somebody else. I don’t know how to run my own business as a rapper. I came in a different way. I didn't come in like Chance the Rapper. I came in needing help. I came in with my friends and my family, under this one roof, working, with this one dude paying the bills. Niggas need to cut that out, I’m not leaving TDE. For niggas to be talking all that weird shit, you need to cut that out. I’m about to slap a nigga if you tell me that in person. Don’t tell me to leave something I started. I am TDE, nigga. I didn't come up with the name but, nigga, I’m part of the reason TDE is what it is today. Don’t disrespect me like that. That shit got me hot now.
You alluded to label pressure being the reason for “Studio” landing on Oxymoron and said something similar about “Overtime,” featuring Miguel and Justine Skye, during a Blank Face LPlistening session in New York. Some people took that as a diss to Miguel. How do you—as an artist on a major label—navigate having to make radio hits?
It ain’t Interscope. I go to Interscope, they show me love. When I say label shit, most of the time I be talking about Top. That’s his job, man. He’s a CEO and his job is to keep his company rising and to make big records. My job is to create. We’re not always going to agree on things. We human beings.Top let me do the whole album the way I wanna do it — I could give him one record. [“Overtime”] sounded like a bootleg “Studio” at first because my vocals were on it. I’m the one who asked for Miguel for the record, because I’m not singing again on a fucking song. But y'all weird for that, too! Y’all was the first weirdos to post it. Before I even left the listening session, it was all headlines. Complex is turning into TMZ now. Even though part of it was my fault — I’m not going to sit here throwing the blame on y'all. I just hate the fact that y'all are always the first fucking motherfuckers to post something.
How did Jadakiss end up on the album version of “Groovy Tony"?
My man Brock, who always be with us, manages producers DJ Dahi and Cardo. I was like, “Man, it would be hard if I got Jada on this.” But I wasn’t trying to holler at him—those OG niggas don't wanna be fucking with us young niggas like that. Brock was like, “Jadakiss fucks with you. I’ll call him right now.” So he calls and Jada’s like, “Bruh, Oxymoron was golden. Whatever you wanna do, just send it over.” Three days later, he sent [his verse] back.
His verse is incredible. What was your initial reaction when you heard that shit?
I gotta get him again. [Laughs.] Can’t just let him come smack me like that, so I had to put “Eddie Kane” after his verse. I’m gonna get a whole nothing song on this nigga. You ain't about to do me like you been doing all the rest of these niggas over the years. It ain’t going down like that. I put a whole hook, a bridge, nigga. I put everything on the back of his verse.
Have you read any reviews of the album?
I read a review that said I was unfocused on this album. I said, What?! I’m tripping now, I feel like Kanye—I’m tripping on everything. You got me fucked up. I took so much time on this record and I talked about myself so much on this record. This motherfucker said I sound uninspired, unfocused. Did you not hear what I just said?