Album Review: ScHoolboy Q – Habits and Contradictions

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 1st Q 2012, Hip Hop
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If Kendrick Lamar is the natural evolution of Ras Kass, then Schoolboy Q is somewhere between Kurupt, WC, and Crooked I on one end of the spectrum, and Micah 9 and Pharoahe Monch on the other, with the perversion of Akinyele thrown in for good measure.  On his new album Habits & Contradictions it’s often difficult to determine where Schoolboy sees himself on this continuum, and that may be a question for years to come.

Q made a splash last year with the release of his debut album Setbacks, which quickly endeared him to thousands of digital fans of both LA gangsta rap and innovative bohemian rap alike.  While it is always inspiring to hear a West coast artist continue to evolve the constraints of the defined notions of acceptable Gangsta rap, Q’s vocal stylings frequently outclass his lyrical machinations on Habits & Contradictions.  For what it is – sexually depraved, misogyny laced, violent, drug influenced, gang culture inspired storytelling – the level of vocal artistry may be unparalleled.  Over the course of 367 days, Schoolboy Q has twice managed to release the album hip hop heads dreamed Crooked I would release for ten years (and never did).  Of his two albums, Setbacks is the more accessible to the uninitiated and Habits & Contradictions is more likely to send someone into convulsions and fits of gangbang slang Tourette’s.

As a listening experience, a first exposure to Habits & Contradictions, is reminiscent to NWA’s Straight Outta Compton in terms of creating both a jolting yet engaging auditory experience, while pushing the envelope of comfortable content.  While rappers have delved into the lives of crips and bloods for years, Q occasionally removes the posturing and exposes the underbelly of emotion, doubt, self-hate, and drug use.  In doing so, Q somehow manages to offer a unique experience through what seems to many to have become a sub-genre hackneyed beyond repair.  There is no Pac, Dre, or Cube here (though maybe a hint of Efil4zaggin Ren), but instead the autobiography of a truly conflicted and demented individual.  Listeners will not have their mind blown with metaphors, similes, or extensive wordplay, but any points that Q loses with some fans over his lack of common emcee “poetic” conventions, he gains back for the unrelenting energy he injects into his flow, delivering his lines in diamond precise rhythmic pulses over every element of the spectacular production on Habits & Contradictions.

Q claims he’s taken more notes from Jay-Z in terms of flow than anybody else, but it’s evident that the pleasure he takes in rubberbanding his vocals over drum and bass heavy bouncy stringed beats, outweighs his desire to dedicate his craft towards mass appeal – at least to date.  While he may align himself to more mainstream counterparts, and certainly has worthy aspirations to achieve mainstream success, there are certainly elements of more bohemian antecedents like the Freestyle Fellowship here – but that’s part of the appeal.  Will his fans be backpackers or set claimers?  Or set claiming internet back packers?  Or all of the above?

The album is not without it’s imperfections.  At 18 tracks, and over an hour in length, it’s not the easiest album to sit through in one sitting, which is a shame, as the content and production meld very well throughout the album.  But seldom is there a time in this day and age when a person can sit for an hour and ten minutes to digest a cohesive hip hop record.  This is compounded a bit by the fact that a lot of the content is very dark as Q routinely delves deeply into his portrayals of sexual excursions, pill selling, ultra-violence, and drug use.  While there’s undeniable artistry in his representations, it will be understandably hard for some to endure at times.  That said, each track can be appreciated for the level of dedication and expression and the polish of the delivery and quality of production can be appreciated in their own right at all times.

As with most great West Coast releases across the course of rap history, this album is best enjoyed played at high volumes in a vehicle with a nice sound system with the windows down on a warm day, ideally on the way to or from a barbeque.  With two solid and unique releases over a 12 month period, there is no doubt that Schoolboy Q has cemented as a rising star on the rap scene.  Perhaps the greatest appeal of this album is that it’s hard to imagine an album like this occurring at any other point in rap history.  To have a gangsta rap artist, wholly dedicated to vocal innovation and flow evolution, receive this caliber of production (credits on Habits & Contradictions include Alchemist, A$AP Ty, Lex Lugar, Best Kept Secret and other up and comers), probably wouldn’t have happened in the 90’s or 00’s.  As a result you have the rise of an artist who, along with his Black Hippy brethren may be capable of bringing West Coast rap back to greater prominence.  He clearly has the ability to make more accessible music, as he does occasionally on Habits & Contradictions and Setbacks, but the question his music seems to ask is, “do I even have to?”

  1. […] Album Review: ScHoolboy Q – Habits and Contradictions […]

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  3. […] more variety and range in his raps and singing than probably any artist this year short of ScHoolboy Q.  SL is comfortable moving between segments of humorous impressions of industry rappers and […]

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