SchoolBoy Q entered the Black Hippy collective (along with Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul) as a weed-smoking prodigy looking to infuse Crip-friendly raps into Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment label. His first album, Setbacks, assimilated poverty and partying with precision. Q’s uniquely gruff voice, and energetic flows made him a stand-out star on the west coast, immediately propelling the party animal into hip hop superstardom (also with the help of songs like “Man of the Year” and “Collard Greens’).
That being said, Q is now 32 years old. And like any rapper over 30, times have changed for the LA native (just look at Kanye or Jay-Z’s career trajectory after reaching 30). His problems have shifted from starvation to fatherhood; from partying to introspection, and from weed to golfing. He’s not the same guy yelling “girls everywhere/Titties ass, hands in the year/It’s a party over here.” Instead, Q is trying to find a lane he’s comfortable in musically-amidst a life he’s not quite used to living yet.
Schoolboy’s music has taken a bit of a nosedive upon entering unchartered waters. Aside from a few bangers, 2016’s Blank Face quickly became an afterthought (not so much critically though) amongst an incredibly prosperous year in hip hop (one that featured Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, Drake, and Migos releasing critically acclaimed albums). Critics still appreciated the album for its psychedelic nature and complex themes.
To me, his concepts on Blank Face were loosely assessed; mainly hidden by tales about Q’s darkest sexual fantasies (“That Part” and “Overtime” come to mind). The production was there (thanks to Swizz Beats and Metro Boomin’ to name a few), but the storytelling was under-baked.
Fast forward to 2019, and Q’s newest effort, CrasH Talk, follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. After three years in hiding, nothing’s changed. Half of the project sounds like throwaways from Oxymoron. Songs like “Black Folk” and “Drunk” present interesting ideas about temptation and greed, only to be bogged down by menial choruses. The instrumental on the latter bears a gorgeous piano riff; and with 6LACK as the feature one would think nothing can go wrong. But Schoolboy’s phoned-in hook (“I ain’t really drunk/I ai’t really drunk”) actively ruins the otherwise thoughtful verses about the passing of his closest family members.
Q’s street perspective lacks dimension outside of “Gang shit, been hot, gang shit get dropped, whip clean dope boy” (as he raps on “Gang Gang”). Q’s uncharacteristically stark lyricism fails to match the dizzying trap beat on the intro track. It reminds me a lot of A$AP Mob’s “Telephone,” just without the infectious songwriting.
In fact, this may be Schoolboy’s worst lyrical record to date. “CHopstix” is about as empty as a song gets, with Travis Scott seemingly continuing his celebratory run off of Astroworld’s success. The second lead single sounds like a throwaway from past recording sessions. I guess Q just wanted to reap some of the benefits from Scott’s growing popularity.
When Schoolboy isn’t making outdated music, he’s hopping on the DJ Mustard wave. “Lies” is an obvious attempt at adapting to the times, while appealing to younger Blueface fans in the process. The spacey trap drums, and breezy synths can be heard on any modern-day west coast radio hit. It doesn’t help when YG and Ty Dolla $ign are floating through the track without a care in the world either. Unfortunately, that seems to be YG’s MO since the critical success of Still Brazy.
Things work best for Q when he’s not trying to develop this loose concept about enticement. “5200” is a small reminder of Schoolboy’s intoxicating essence; something hip hop fans appreciated at the time of his rise to fame. The LA native finds a perfect balance between witty (“I been counting dead men, putting bodies in the safe”) and braggadocio (“Dollars ain’t C-notes/House on each coast/Glocks go emo”) without sounding too hackneyed.
Even the menacing 21 Savage verse on “Floating” produces a fresh look for Schoolboy’s gruff aesthetic. Their gang-related vernacular about guns and drugs (what else?) represents horror core rap in its purest form. It’s almost as if the collaboration was meant to be. More importantly, it’s Schoolboy finally exiting his comfort zone on CrasH Talk.
Honestly, Q’s songwriting doesn’t reach its apex until the final song; “Attention.” Aside from an awkward refrain, Schoolboy successfully provides a self-examination through contemplative storytelling ranging from his uncle’s past tribulations, (“I can finally understand why my uncles was never sober”) to raising a daughter in this fucked-up world (“Months later like the shit ain’t happen/I’m with my daughter At the laundromat, the shots rang of/I ducked to the back wishin’ for a strap but hear more fire from Tiny Rat”).
Unfortunately, Q’s soul-searching on CrasH Talk rarely enters the forefront. He’s comfortable staying in his own lane stylistically (the psychedelic, street-related elements)-often sacrificing vulnerability in order to keep his overtly-masculine image. He’s stuck in limbo; trying everything in his power to stay relevant without forfeiting the party animal physique. As a result, Schoolboy’s awkward approach is about the only thing that stands out amongst the antiquated subject matter. In the fast-paced streaming age we find ourselves a part of as listeners, artists should never feel comfortable. One album can make or break a career, even for established musicians (look at Eminem). Knowing that, maybe Schoolboy shouldn’t have taken the safe route on CrasH Talk. And with the album underperforming commercially and critically, one should wonder; is there anything Schoolboy has left to say?