Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: ScHoolboy Q Blue Lips


It’s no coincidence that CrasH Talk is ScHoolboy Q’s shortest album. Speaking with podcast Back On Figg last September, Q admitted that the 40-minute project was his least introspective. He credited the lack of depth to transitioning from a gangster image and dealing with fatherhood, but there were also matters like coping with the tragic death of his friend Mac Miller. In any case, by the time he was done making the LP, he says he was feeling “empty.” The album itself was a little hollow, too, lacking in the character and outright ambition that propelled his best projects to greatness. Five years later, things have changed. Laced with sprawling production to match sophisticated flows and even more complicated emotions, his latest effort, Blue Lips, is decidedly full.

On the 59-minute release, Q gets deeper than ever, inhabiting all of his personas as he oscillates between goofball, repentant gangster, not-so-repentant gangster, and doting father with seamless ease. It’s a credit to both his pen game and the performance instincts of a stage actor. Combined with shapeshifting beats, his twitchy tonal inflections, diverse flow structures and varied perspectives, Blue Lips gives the impression of a compelling one-man show — an electric examination of Q in all his multitudes.

Tracks like “Cooties” erase any introspection deficits. For the song, Q gets meditative while flaunting some of the most honest and technically sharp couplets of his career. He discusses fatherhood and personal catharsis with a warmth that makes it feel like he’s in casual awe of his hard-earned wholesome lifestyle, even mundanities like still being able to beat your kids in a race around the house. The rhymes themselves fold into each other with all the multi-dimensional precision of an origami: “Like, literally, my daughters is chill/ Likе, I can’t believe my housе on the hill/ Like, I can’t believe that mountain is real/ Accountant is thrilled/ The scars on the back of me healed.”

Q taps in with all sides of himself, and his beat selections only make it easier for him to make contact. Coated in swaths of dazed, surrealistic rock, glimmering soul and understated jazz, Blue Lips’ production is layered and sophisticated. But just as importantly, Q understands how to maneuver his vocals within the soundscapes, which are sequenced to phase into each other gracefully.

For “Pop,” Q dives into hazy electric guitar and sneering menace, teaming up with Rico Nasty for a barrage of shouts that match the intensity of his death threats. He’s as precise as he is ferocious: “I’m snatching niggas’ wave caps off, gang tats off.” A track later, on “Thank God 4 Me,” he sandwiches anti-snitch sentiments and themes of mortality with bursts of Blockboy Joy. He shifts between a conversational flow and a propulsive one, altering the velocity to match a beat that switches from foggy flutes to a sprightly “Chickenhead” sample and a hook that’s more than symbolic enough to be anthemic. It’s too early to say for sure, but it feels like a pantheon ScHoolboy slap.

Regardless of song type, Q manages to adapt. “Yeern 101” is what the score for Batman Beyond would sound like in real life, and Q’s high-speed flow matches the kineticism. “Nunu” feels like a druggier “Umi Says,” and Q laces the sluggish, ethereal jazz with a murmured flow that evokes the scattered thoughts of a man adrift in his own psyche. Reuniting with Ab-Soul, Q collapses the distance between joy and sorrow with a matter-of-fact delivery that emits stoic acceptance. The casual tone echoes a numbness you learn to adopt in the face of suffering: “I done ran out of faith and it be like that/ Hit many times and it be like that/ Bled for the gang and it be like that/ I died so many ways and it be like that.”

While “Foux” is the sound of detachment, it’s clear Q is feeling things now more than ever, whether it’s aggression, peace, conflict or disenchantment. The range here is quintessential Q — an artist who can serve up pensive rhymes (“Germany 86′”) as easily as he can supply bangers (“Pig feet” with Childish Major). “Germany 86′” connects themes of familial love and abbreviated childhoods with vivid imagery and dreamy soul: “We in the streets playin’ catch, I guess we comin’ up nеxt, uh/ I guess we comin’ up next, I guеss we growin’ up stressed/ By 10 years, we was 30, watchin’ your homie get stretched/ Watchin’ your homie get X’ed out and bleed through his flesh.” Meanwhile, the guttural shouts of “Pig feet” are effectively an explosion.

The vocal-to-beat symbiosis on the tracks only enhance the impact of all the songs, which feature production from Cardo, TaeBeast, Kal Banx, DJ Khalil. Additionally, the varied deliveries imbue the album with an electricity that prevents it from getting boring. It’s an all-around songwriting dexterity that made him the second biggest act on Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster. With Kendrick Lamar gone, he’s now the label’s biggest rapper, even if SZA, TDE’s flagship singer, has eclipsed him in commercial dominance. Still, his distinct charisma and holistic artistry make him a singular force in hip-hop.

By the time he dropped CrasH Talk, Q didn’t sound all that invested in trying to prove anyone wrong or right. He says Blue Lips was uncomfortable to make, but it’s also just the latest evidence of a dynamism that’s made ScHoolboy a young West Coast legend. Although the album runs a couple of songs too long, and Freddie Gibbs’ verse on “Ohio” feels just a bit tacked on, ScHoolboy Q’s latest is well-executed: layered and meticulous but also somehow raw. Besides, being a little overstuffed is way better than wishing you asked for more.

Blue Lips is out now on TDE/Interscope.

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from Premature Evaluation