"Fuck rap, my daddy a gangster," says Joy Hanley, three-year-old daughter of Schoolboy Q, introducing the L.A. rapper's major label debut, Oxymoron. It's a jarring thing to hear from the toddler, who also graces the cover of the album's standard edition, but it's a fitting opener for Oxymoron, a TDE update of the classic "gangsta rap" album. Stream it above via Spotify.
Kicking off with the eerie "Gangsta," the album does an excellent job of splicing piano-driven, '90s-style tracks with more trendy fare, like the occasional trap hi-hat pattern or a touch of EDM influence. Behind this deft combination is a powerhouse crew of producers, including Pharrell, Mike Will Made It, Tyler the Creator, The Alchemist, and TDE's consistently thrilling in-house production teams Digi+Phonics and THC. With such a wide array of beatmakers, it's honestly a little astonishing how well this whole thing fits together, and we can thank Groovy Q for that.
Arguably the second most recognizable TDE signee (on "Break The Bank," he even admits that Kendrick is on "the throne"), Schoolboy is often viewed as the hedonistic yin to Lamar's more conscious, straight-laced yang, but Oxymoron marks a huge maturation for the man who once claimed that "pussy, money, weed, is all a nigga needs." Sure, there's still party jams like "Man of the Year," which instructs women to put their "titties, ass, hands in the air," but we also get an unprecedented look into Q's troubled upbringing, struggles with addiction and background as a Crip. Though addressing similar subject matter to the West Coast gangsters of yore that he clearly idolizes, Q deals with these issues less like Eazy-E would, and more akin to Danny Brown's approach on last year's Old. That includes tales of drug addict uncles, a brutally honest view of his early life, and soul-bearing quality that probably would've been deemed "soft" in the '90s.
Oxymoron is a product of the era of full disclosure rap, a time when self-effacing songs about your own douchebaggery can attract verses from bona fide gangsters, and because of that, it's a much deeper mining of Q's psyche. Especially on the seven-minute-long centerpiece, "Prescription/Oxymoron," you get the feeling that this album's lyrics were not easy for him to write down, let alone share with the world. This is an album that balances bravery and bravado, debauchery and recovery. It's a hell of a ride.