Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron

If you’ve ever seen Schoolboy Q live, you’ve probably seen him doing the dance he does: Both hands up, pogoing sideways, spinning, careening, head bobbling madly in every direction. It’s a chaotic, all-over-the-place dance, and I’m amazed he doesn’t accidentally whirl off the stage at least once a show. (Q started out as Kendrick Lamar’s hypeman, and I have to imagine he was a fucking great hypeman.) But when Q is doing that dance, his face tends to be blank, impassive, even thoughtful. He’s not losing himself; he’s merely conveying the impression that he’s losing himself. It’s calculated, theatrical performance. And he takes the same sort of approach to his rapping. Listen to the way he raps on “Gangsta,” the first track from his new album Oxymoron. His voice is strained and urgent, madly fluctuating among different pitches and cadences. Deep in the track, he makes a hilarious array of dizzy noises: Croaks, screeches, yips, growls, echoing back-of-the-throat grains. But all this surrounds a technically fluid, lyrically sharp I-will-fuck-you-up rap song, one that hits all the fundaments and never loses the thread. Q isn’t an Ol’ Dirty Bastard-style agent of chaos, but sometimes he wants you to think he is. And with Oxymoron, he’s devoted impressive levels of craft into making the greatest staggering-drunk rap album in recent memory.

Q’s last album was called Habits & Contradictions, but the title actually fits Oxymoron better. Habits & Contradictions presented Q the way he’d presumably prefer to be heard. It’s a weird, dark, intense, compelling album. The hooks, when they’re there, almost seem to arrive by accident, and the beats are scattered and unstable things. But that was an underground album from a promising young rapper without much name recognition, and Oxymoron is an album that comes with expectations attached. It’s Q’s first album under his Interscope deal, and you can hear the bits where the label people pressured Q to make his music friendlier than the stuff he’d be naturally inclined to make. And it’s the first album from the Black Hippy crew since Kendrick Lamar’s game-changing Good Kid, m.A.A.d. city, and there are moments where Q, or his collaborators, seem to be striving for that album’s levels of earthshaking importance. But Q isn’t the same type of rapper as Kendrick, and he’d rather bark at girls and yammer death threats than encapsulate the fears and thrills of being a young guy growing up in a dangerous area. So there’s a tension between Q’s rapping habits and the contradictions that his new circumstances have imposed upon him. But that tension works. Whatever messy compromises had to go into the album’s creation, it’s a blast hearing Q attempting to fit his giddy uncentered-hammerhead style into something resembling a commercial rap album. Even when he’s rapping next to 2 Chainz on a beat that Mike Will Made-It made, he’s constantly exploding in every direction. He can’t contain himself, and that makes it more interesting when he tries.

On a quick breeze through Oxymoron, it’s easy to guess which tracks are the ones that Interscope types insisted on, and all of them come out weird and off-kilter. The aforementioned 2 Chainz collab “What They Want” turns out to be terse and eerie, with Q lapsing into a high-pitched malevolent-Muppet voice on the hooks — not exactly “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” then. “Man Of The Year” is a celebratory song about Q finding girls to dance for him, and it’s got a glorious backwards string loop in its beat, but even its party-talk is feral and urgent rather than self-satisfied. “Hell Of A Night” is club-rap with EDM undercurrents, and maybe someone along the way thought Q had a “Wild For The Night” on his hands, but its ferocious hi-hat programming and blistering, locked-in rapping make it, paradoxically, one of the album’s toughest-sounding songs. And a song like that, it turns in, fits in just beautifully next to the low-creeping boom-bap of the Raekwon collab “Find My Way” and the slurry, cathartic six-minute fuck-you-up marathon “Break The Bank.” And if a song like the seven-minute wayward-youth memoir “Hoover Street” aims for Good Kid-style nostalgic introspection, it’s told from the perspective of the kid who dove headlong into gang life, not the one who did what he could to resist it. In its way, though, that song is just as pointed and observant as anything on Kendrick’s album; there are powerfully realized vignettes where Q describes living with a junkie uncle (“He sweats a lot, he’s slimming down / I also notice moms be locking doors when he around”) or the feeling when a friend’s older brother showed him his first gun (“we like, ’daaaaamn, nigga’”).

And then there’s all the drug talk. In interviews, Q is pretty forthright about how he is high basically all the time. Talking to Angie Martinez recently, for instance, he confessed that he’s got a big problem with lean, even though it deads his sex drive and he can’t make good music when he’s on it. That’s why he hasn’t shown up on many other people’s songs lately; he’s not up to it. He knocked it off, he says, when he was making Oxymoron, and he’ll knock it off again before he goes back to making music. Still, drugs hang heavy over Oxymoron, and it’s clear that we’re hearing from someone who hasn’t worked through all his problems yet. As on Danny Brown’s Old, there’s a confessional element here, though it’s not as finely and pointedly realized. On “Prescription – Oxymoron,” for instance, Q talks about ignoring calls from his mother and his daughter because he’s too high to deal with anything. Unlike on Old, though, moments like that aren’t the point of the album; they’re just one more trouble that Q has to deal with. He’s living through it but maybe not trying to figure out what it means — habits and contradictions, again.

But somehow, it always hangs together, and maybe that’s where the calculation comes in. Oxymoron has plenty of smaller pleasures: The feel-good scene-stealing verses from underappreciated West Coast rap greats Kurupt and Suga Free, the jazzy psychedelic drift of “His And Her Fiend,” the razor-sharp catharsis of “Break The Bank.” But the biggest, most enduring pleasure is in hearing a rapper as gifted and unique as Q just tearing through a series of impeccably selected, expensively recorded beats. Even when you’re not paying attention to what he’s saying, Q bounces his voice off of these tracks with Tasmanian Devil fervor, switching up flows and styles often enough that the goofy buzz never wears off. Q is a complicated figure, one who’s maybe never quite sure how much energy he should be giving off or how much of himself wants to reveal. But he’s also great at rapping, and that, itself, is the best reason to dive deep into Oxymoron. “Collard Greens,” the Kendrick Lamar collab he released last year, wasn’t a big radio hit or anything, but over the months, it’s sunk in. At this point, its off-kilter bounce, its echoing hook, Kendrick’s decision to deliver his entire voice in Devin The Dude’s Zeldar voice — it all sound better than it did the first time. That song has legs, and the other Oxymoron songs, the ones we haven’t had time to process the same way, probably do too. They linger.

Oxymoron is out now on TDE/Interscope.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Beck’s warm, classicist, gorgeously downbeat Morning Phase.
• St. Vincent’s sweeping, skronky, singular self-titled album.
• Wild Beasts’ smooth, dark, cinematic art-rocker Present Tense.
• Neneh Cherry’s skittering Four Tet-produced solo comeback Blank Project.
• The Notwist’s pulsing, tuneful return Close To The Glass.
• Vertical Scratchers’ jittery, melodic post-Enon move Daughter Of Everything.
• Bleeding Rainbow’s scuzzy, urgent, impressive Interrupt.
• Creative Adult’s dark, inventive debut Psychic Mess.
• Death Vessel’s majestically quirky Island Intervals.
• Synthy Thee Oh Sees side project Damaged Bug’s debut Hubba Bubba.
• Flagland’s wooly DIY debut Love Hard.
• Yellow Ostrich’s small-scale head-trip Cosmos.
• Throw Me The Statue synthpop offshoot Pillar Point’s self-titled debut.
• Tacocat’s bubblepunk attack NVM.
• Silversun Pickups’ career-spanning The Singles Collection.
• Major Lazer’s Apocalypse Soon EP.
• Friend Roulette’s Grow Younger EP.
• Special Explosion’s The Art Of Mothering EP.

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Comments (78)
  1. Picked up this and ‘St. Vincent’ today. Dug into ‘Oxymoron’ first and am not regretting that decision in the least.

  2. Nice write up, Tom. I’ve been meaning to give this album a listen. There’s just so much music to catch up on these days. Honestly, as far as “Album of the Week” goes, you could’ve picked almost any release from today (except for maybe the Silversun Pickups greatest hits).

  3. Really? Not St. Vincent? REALLY?

    Strange Mercy was my album of the year in 2011 and I honestly think her self-titled is even better. Wild Beasts’ album would have been a good choice too. Oxymoron on the other hand sounds like the less scrupulous, less intelligent cousin of good kid m.A.A.d. city and not in a good way. Too many weak hooks and weak lyrics.

    OK, I’m good. Malcontent out.

    • It’s pretty clear that Album of the Week is more “Best new album that wasn’t already written about by stereogum”, so you should go check out the expansive, thought-provoking essay that Ryan Leas wrote about her new one

      • And also I like Oxymoron better. (Sorry. Not an art-rock guy, really.)

        • Dismissing St. Vincent because you don’t like “art-rock”…

          This is how smart you look:

          • Well if he doesn’t like art-rock, then why would he pick St. Vincent? He wouldn’t. It’s art-rock. Quit hitting yourself.

            Though she did make a great album.

            Also, the Beck album is fantastic. If he didn’t have a history of being so genre-bending and innovative, then I think people would be more receptive to this intro-spective Sea Change “return.” It’s awesome.

            Opossum will listen to Oxymoron now. Opossum out.

        • So you don’t like David Bowie or Radiohead? Cool.

          • Fa real. What qualifies as “art rock” anyway? There’s plenty of earwormy hooks to be had on St. Vincent. Is anything that aspires to more than just hooks and sunshiny choruses “art rock?” If that’s the case then Oxymoron might be “art rock” too.

      • Yeah, “Album of the Week” could more accurately be called “Under the Radar This Week,” as they almost always have a Premature Evaluation or other write up of all the really big releases.

    • Yep. Other than the roof-clattering bass lines, I found Oxymoron to be overwhelmingly mediocre. In 10 months at AOTY time we’ll all be talking about Wild Beasts, Beck and St. Vincent; I doubt there will be much mention of Schoolboy Q, except for maybe the few ‘save face’ types who refuse to ever contradict themselves.

  4. Really good album. I prefer St. Vincent’s, but it’s a close second of the major releases this week. And I, too, have a feeling this will still be in rotation when we begin reflecting on the year in music.

  5. Beck all day long.

    • Beck’s album is good but he kinda played it safe. I expected more after a 6 year break. St. Vincent’s album is good. That Neneh Cherry album produced by Four Tet is good too.

  6. Wild Beasts, ‘do.

    • So, so good.

      Tom Fleming has officially surpassed Hayden Thorpe as my favorite Wild Beast (blasphemy, I know). Namely the tracks “Daughters” and “A Dog’s Life” are my absolute favorites from “Present Tense”.

      But then you got “Sweet Spot” that won’t stop growing on me. The main lyric responsible being, “There is a guardless (godless?) state/ Where the real and the dream may consummate.” I love how both Hayden & Tom sing it in the song, as if they know it’s such a good line that they both wanted to take a stab at it. Or in the context of the songs, they’re implying that the “Sweet Spot” lies somewhere between Tom and Hayden’s polar opposite vocal stylings. Love it.

      Also, I may be way off base on the following lyric from “A Dog’s Life” : “So throw the ball up into space/ Put the phone up to its face.”

      When I hear that last line I always think of this picture, and it makes me chuckle:

  7. sd  |   Posted on Feb 25th +8

    No “Heavy Rotation” for St. Vincent. Has Stereogum fallen out of love with Annie Clark?

  8. CALLED IT: “My money is on ScHoolboy Q since Tom likes them rappers (me too!) and honestly, Oxymoron will end up being one of the best rap albums of the year.”

    OK. Now that I’ve patted myself on the back let’s look at this logically. Of the four albums I mentioned in the Shut up, Dude thread last Friday, Q’s was the last to leak/stream. Like many people here I’ve been trying to split my time between four great albums and even some albums that STILL aren’t out.

    I like this pick a lot but need to point a few things out since I’m a sequencing nut. “Man of the Year” is the official album closer. With all the bonus tracks, this can get lost in the shuffle. Since it samples the band that made my favorite album of 2012 (you know that’s a Chromatics sample, right Tom?) the fact he closes out this major album with that song makes me soooo happy. It’s such a celebratory track in a way that “Compton” could never be (since we’re making Kendrick comparisons, it seems).

    Tom nailed it when comparing “Hell of a Night” to “Wild for the Night” and my money is on Q’s. “Wild for the Night” was stupid fun but “Hell of a Night” is some sexy fun. Can’t wait to test it out at my b-day part Friday! One of my early favorites.

    “Collard Greens” has definitely been growing on me too (pun intended because weed). I just heard the Clams Casino produced track “Gravy” and THAT’S so simple it’s near perfect. Lots to love here since Q, even when he’s being his tough gangster self, oozes charisma. It’s just so easy to get behind this guy, as I discovered when I fell in love with “Habits & Contradictions” a couple years ago.

    Also he samples Portishead again as some astute ‘Gum commenters pointed out in the Stream thread last Friday. I didn’t pick up on it at first (wasn’t as obvious as “Raymond 1969″ sampling “Cowboys”) but will be paying extra close attention on future listens.

    It’s easy to get all bent out of shape over Q being picked for AOTW (remember, when I called it?) since there are so many other albums great in their own right. Overall I feel like Oxymoron is the proper choice because if “Collard Greens” is any indication, many of these songs won’t click for a few more months.

    Anyway, complain away!

  9. This is Wild Beasts’ week.

    I mean year.

  10. st. vincent

  11. I like this album, Beck’s and St. Vincent’s, but guys, for me, this War on Drugs album blows them all away. What an incredible piece of work, right from the top it slays me.

    • That’s been my problem too.

      Just when I thought I was getting a grasp on the four great albums released today, I come across “Lost In The Dream” and nothing else matters.

      I want to live in that album.

      • Can’t believe how into this album I am. I haven’t listened to anything else today really. “Under the Pressure”, for me, is set to join the canon of opening tracks. I’m talking Only Shallow, Summer Babe (Winter Version), Like A Rolling Stone, Airbag, Teen Age Riot, Five Years, Atrocity Exhibition, Leaf House, etc. This is the most astounding opener I’ve heard in a long time. Maybe I’m just excited but that’s the way I feel at the moment

        It’s a bummer it leaked so early, for them, and because I want to own this record so bad.

        • And don’t even get me started on Suffering, nearly in tears by the third track.

        • Not too early! It comes out Mid-March.

          Wholly agree and I felt very similar when I first heard “Under the Pressure” for the first time. BTW, phenomenal list of opening tracks, damn. Anyway! It feels futile to try and describe how it sounds, but I was overwhelmed by it the first time I heard it (overwhelmed… by the pressure?!) It’s so great that it’s honestly enough to send you to the end of the album. After hearing it, how could you not just stay put and listen to 50 more minutes of wherever THAT song came from? The 3 minute outro is completely deserved, especially since it rolls into “Red Eyes” (equally phenomenal).

          But yeah, that song in particular would be on loop if it weren’t for the rest of the album. Because “An Ocean in Between the Waves” is equally amazing.

          This record deserves all of the hyperbole.

        • FWIW the first time I heard “Under the Pressure” I found myself singing the song title to the riff before hearing him actually sing it for the first time. I was a little shocked when I heard him sing it since it was near identical to the way I uttered it seconds earlier. It’s one of those songs (hell, the whole album) where it feels like it’s a classic rock song that’s been around for decades, but you’re just now hearing it. Except it’s brand new and not even out yet and OMG I can’t wait til everybody on this site hears it.

          Needless to say it kicked Wild Beasts out of my CD changer and won’t move til summer probably. And trust that’s saying a lot because I love that Wild Beasts record but “Lost In The Dream” is on another plane of existence.

          • That’s exactly it. That’s the weird thing about this album, it feels strangely familiar upon the very first listen. Not in a sense that it’s a rip off of anything, more that it’s like sitting down and reconnecting with a childhood friend. Such an odd feeling from a brand new album. By the time “In Reverse” is gone and you’re just left breathing, you realise that you and this old friend haven’t really changed much since you were kids, and that’s perfect.

          • Beautifully written.

            “In Reverse” catches me off guard every time it wraps up. I guess I expect the album to never end. Of course on CD it means it’s time for track one again sooooooo :)

        • Now I know why everybody’s talking about “Lost in a Dream”. Maaaaaaan! That allbum is epic, and that’s from the beginning: “Under the Pressure” is the best opening track in a long time. What is the plan between Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel? To make the most amazing albums of these years in a row? Was this planned years ago?

      • …alright I’m convinced. I love Slave Ambient. Its one of my favorite albums of the last few years, and I’ve been nervous that the follow up might not be as amazing. But you guys keep talking about how awesome Lost In The Dream is, so I’m listening to Under the Pressure right now and sweet baby yeezus in a black cadillac this is GREAT.

        • Yeah, Lost in the Dream has blown my mind. The whole thing is just so fucking good, but the last track in particular just slays me. I loved Slave Ambient and Wagonwheel Blues and thought I had a pretty good handle on what to expect from the War on Drugs. But damn… this has decimated my expectations. It kind of reminds me of how I felt when I first heard Kaputt –– so decent company, basically.

      • It’s a great album, but not really out this week. So…

        Still, AONW! (next week)

    • Balls!!! I didn’t ever realize War on Drugs dropped a new album this week! I will never be able to thank you enough, honlads. Also, I like Schoolboy Q as much as the next mid-20′s white guy, but giving his album AOTW over St. Vincent, Wild Beasts (and probably War on Drugs) is just silly.

    • Thank you so much for mentioning this album here. I hadn’t heard of it, and Jesus Christ, I am glad y’all gushed over it in these comments. All other albums are outta the rotation for now. I would call out a single song as amazing but most of them are anyway.

  12. Apropos of nothing, can I just say that Beck looks like a goddamned scarecrow on the cover of Morning Phase? Because I just did. Because he does.

  13. Yessss. Schoolboy Q all day.

    Q REALLY went for it with this one. His rapping style feels so much more real than other MC’s out right now. Tom’s last couple sentences describe Q perfectly. It took me a while to get into Habits & Contradictions, but when it clicks, it just clicks. Even after many listens, Oxymoron still might not “process” because for a hip hop artist – Q’s songs have different layers.

    My only complaint is this might sound a little too produced for Q’s raw style. Still brilliant album though.

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  15. I definitely prefer St. Vincent to Oxymoron (I mean definitely), but from the listen or two I gave it Oxymoron is pretty solid.

    I like that this is the first real battleground week of the year – there seem to be at least 5 albums (now that people started boosting War on Drugs, too) that have people seriously impassioned. I disliked Slave Ambient on a whole, and haven’t REALLY liked any Beck album since Midnight Vultures (that very concsiously is including Sea Change, but then again I liked everything prior), but the sucker in me is kind of curious about both new albums. War on Drugs more than Beck though at this point.

  16. Great review, I really like St. Vincent’s album but Oxymoron is pretty amazing imo, and the one I’d choose if I had to pick.

  17. I’m hoping this album is a grower. But so far I am more partial to Habits and Contradictions.

    • It really is a grower. Getting an album like this from Q feels like hearing the first half of Danny Brown’s OLD. The thrills are a bit more subtle this time around.

  18. I am furious.

  19. This is OK but St Vincent, Blank Project and Present Tense were all better than Oxymoron.

  20. Also The Foreign Resort’s new album New Frontiers is out this week.

  21. This and “Blank Project” are still on the backburner for me.

    Mostly just listening to “St Vincent” with the occasional dip into “Present Tense” as a palate cleanser. Up until a year or two ago I had never heard the term “art-rock,” but if St. Vincent and Wild Beasts make art-rock than art-rock is definitely something I like.

  22. Not really sure why Pitchfork felt the need to crap on the Bleeding Rainbow album, I thought it was quite enjoyable

    • After ten years in which I basically grew up with Pitchfork, I can say that I am no longer shocked by their tendency toward wholly unwarranted crapping. They’ve brought the knives out for Warpaint, Phantogram, and Crosses so far… and all of those albums were pretty solid!

  23. Auto  |   Posted on Feb 27th +3

    Present Tense is just so, so good. I haven’t been this absorbed in a record for a long time, I’ve loved Wild Beasts in the past but this is just a step further. When I first read Line of Best Fit’s 10/10 review I thought it might be a little exaggerated but the more I listen the more I agree with them. I absolutely cannot wait to see them play next month. The album has so many fantastic moments. Nature Boy just swaggers along, it’s so badass and I love Chris’s drums. That line on Mecca, ‘how we feel now was felt by the ancients’ and the rising synths with the chorus that get me out of my seat every damn time. Sweet Spot is just gorgeous throughout. The pregnant pause on Pregnant Pause. Literally everything about A Simple Beautiful Truth, that synth line is the best thing I’ve heard in god knows how long. Past Perfect’s vocal line. The guitar on Palace. Dammit, the whole thing. All of it. It’s perfect. I’m in love.

  24. pretty late to the party on this one, but “I eat so much pussy, my moustache pink” is my favourite line of the year so far

  25. Q is great but his ad libs are awful – some of the worst in the game. Every track is like listen to a pack of hyenas throwing up. “Gangsta” is the worst offender:
    YAK YAK YAK YAK YAAAAAAH YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH. SHUT THE FUCK UP .YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH. YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.YAH.

    Hova used to ad lib alllll over his shit like he was hiding the beat – it’s so grating. Let me hear the beat for 10 seconds CHRIST. Young Thug for best new ad libber of the year tho.

    • ^^^ fuck the formatting of this post YAH YAH. YAK-YAK-YAK-YAAAAAAAAAAH

    • Also I would love if someone could construct a timeline of the first time someone showed Q a [insert gun type].

    • Ok I’m live commenting at this point. Feel like I was too harsh in my initial eval’. I stand by the opinion that Q has HORRIBLE/UNFORGIVABLE ad-libs. But, then I get to Los Awesome, Collard, and Mikey Will’s cut and I’m feeling better about it. Then Prescription comes on and I feel Q’s pain – makes me feel some type of way but I’m all man and don’t forget it-then oxymoron comes on and WE’RE BACK TO THAT YAHYAHWHOOPWHOOPWHOOPYEHYEHYEH UUNGGUNGHUGNG KNOCKKNOCK

      It’s pretty uneven and Mac miller is an idiot.

    • Also DJ Dahi is on fire. Would love to hear someone else on this beat though, without the GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO.GO. GO. GO THEN Q – JUST GO

    • I love Q’s adlibs, unquestioningly, if only for when he comes on every other TDE member’s tracks.

      mAAd city adlibs >>>>

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