Schoolboy Q had failed to impress me up until now, so the level of hype before Oxymoron’s release surprised me. I expected a Lloyd Banks level of hype, where we’re paying attention out of respect for his more popular teammate, but Q seemed to warrant his own love. Unfortunately, the radio interviews and the acclaim for the lead-up singles didn’t match his actual talent in my opinion. Collard Greens and Man of the Year were fun songs, but not fun enough to hide their emptiness, so neither lead-up single convinced me that a great album was on the way. Sure enough, hype-be-damned, Oxymoron only managed to slightly impress me. Here’s how:
Schoolboy Q, on Oxymoron at least, uses unconventional song structure to tremendous effect. Instead of the usual three 16 bar verses and a 4 bar hook repeated twice in between each, many of the songs have 2 or 4 verses, hooks that aren’t so repetitive, and little bridges or mini-verses. These musical touches, along with Q’s flow, do much-needed work to keep things fresh.
That work is needed because Oxymoron is rarely about anything that I find interesting. Gangbanging and sex are Schoolboy Q’s major topics, and he neither attacks them in a novel way nor does he have noteworthy lyricism to make arriving at boredom a hard task. Very little insight is here, and attempts at artistry like His and Her Fiend, where drugs are once again personified, are usually slow affairs with yawn-worthy instrumentals. It seems that Schoolboy Q’s rap handbook rules against fun beats for songs with substance.
Another example of failed substance is Hoover St., which, lyrically, is a very good piece of storytelling about Schoolboy Q’s upbringing as a Crip and his childhood memories of his addicted Uncle. But its beat and Q’s straightforwardness prevent any further listens after story digestion is completed. Why can’t mainstream rappers make story songs that are replayable?!
So Schoolboy Q as a rapper is ho-hum in most ways, only better than average in terms of delivery and flow. But, as a musician, he’s heads and shoulders above many of his peers. Two sentences ago, I almost questioned the absence of Kendrick’s influence on Q. But, if anywhere, I see the influence in the songwriting decisions. Q’s freedom and experimentation is refreshing, creating an artistic aesthetic that separates Oxymoron from most hip-hop. I must admit that I have no idea if Q is truly deserving of this praise or if it should go to the songs’ producers or a ghostwriter. But, especially since TDE operates as an indie with major backing, it’s fair to assume that Q had some (likely significant) hand in making these decisions. Regardless of who gets the artistic credit, the fact remains that Oxymoron’s song structure is very worthy of praise for being so abnormal in popular hip-hop. That this happened on a full hip-hop album is also noteworthy. Drake’s Nothing Was The Same is similarly creative, but it relies on rap/R&B hybrid songs where the sung parts hog all the structural variety. Q raps his bridges, making this album much more cohesive than Drake’s mashing of pop R&B with hip-hop.
Unfortunately, song structure couldn’t save this album. Despite the title that hints at depth, Oxymoron is extremely shallow. Most songs don’t even pretend to be saying anything worthwhile. Those that try often fail, as described above, and as evidenced on Blind Threats. Schoolboy Q uses a dope, sad beat to describe his once-sad life and religion’s failure in it. Raekwon joins to drop a verse of his usual, predictably off-topic, gangster-talk. Anyway, the song is just ok, because no one’s verses do the topic justice and the song is extremely out of place in this album’s context.
Another song that makes no contextual sense (or sense of any other kind beyond attempting to cross over) is Hell of a Night. It’s your worst fears confirmed: a dance song with a generic dance beat in the middle of a gangsta hip-hop album. Everyone involved in the album should be flogging themselves like that weirdo in Angels and Demons for letting this song happen.
So yeah, Oxymoron was over-hyped, and I don’t really like it. The hype may have allowed this album to sell more, first week, than Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, but it’s clear that the two rappers couldn’t be farther from each other in terms of ability. Q’s songwriting experiments are appreciated but he probably needs to decide what kind of rapper he wants to be, he needs better beats, and he definitely needs a lot more work on his rhymes.
Break the Bank