If Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly soared above heads and into the frontline of our social consciousness and YG's Still Brazy kept heads ringing with an in-your-face shot of real life dystopia, ScHoolboy Q snatches listeners from beneath the underground and into an uncompromising fog of war. And this war? A tug between the good, bad and ugly facets of living by a survival-at-all-cost forward motion, all sprawled over production that is sharp as nail and cold as the chip, he often makes mention of, on his shoulder. "Concrete where we rose, you wasn't built from this mold," he raps on "TorcH," the haunting opener to Q's Oxymoron follow-up, Blank Face LP. "You don't know the half of what I had to hold... I see faces at my window, my patience growing short / I had no one to lend on, that's why that chip is so cold." On one end of this tug of war is Q's aspirations to "go out like BB King." But on the other end is his aptness for "specializing in pistol grip." All in all, he finds his beauty through the madness and in doing so, delivers a dank, gangsta rap epic that not only welcomes you into the bleakness of his past, but also draws you closer to knowing who the man, born Quincy Hanley, is behind the mic.
"This be the realest shit I wrote..."
As the rousing opener to his beautiful nightmare, so to speak, Q implores Anderson .Paak to help "trade the noise for a piece of divine." Sonically, this isn't what you would typically expect from an album intro: Spaghetti-twisted guitar strums that is almost reminiscent of Habits & Contradictions' classic intro "Sacrilegious," a flurry of demented ad-libs and boozy vocal bursts all above a zombie-walk beat. In enlivening the darkness, Q utilizes all of these elements to shine some light on the choices he was forced to make early on, out of limited options. Sounding like a ball of burning ember, this dank opener sure sets the tone for a recollection of cold thoughts ("Met the devil in disguise"), decisions ("I've been a loc since embryo") and lessons ("The world done flipped on me, took my soul then clicked on me").
"Lord Have Mercy"
To let you know where he's going after the sullen intro, Q opens up the haunting "Lord Have Mercy" with the following words: "Preacher told me don't set trip on a Sunday." A thug's prayer and cry for clarity, or what he fittingly refers to in the song as "Heaven's mercy," Q accepts his decisions all while trying to come to terms with the balance heaven and hell. "Dirty habits of rapping and being savage," he raps. Swizz Beatz's ghoulish hook pops also helps set the scene ("Lord have mercy, please Heaven's mercy"). It's on this cut, where we start to see Q's ability as a storyteller begin to shine like never before. Here, along with several other cuts throughout the album, he is fearless and with that trait, it allows for an forthright and nuanced peek into his inner life. "This workin' affair was better than bullet holes in my shirt," he declares. "The demons hate when you make it and stay alive, they'd rather see me down under than see me fly." Lord have mercy.
Released as one of the earlier singles off the album, the meandering "THat Part" sounds even more undeniable now that it's placed within this haunting collection of sounds.
"Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane"
"Robbing kids too, my heart an igloo," raps Q in the most urgent cadence ever, on the burning "Groovy Tony." The stark cut, which originally served as the album's official first single, gets a facelift thanks to a stellar showing by special guest Jadakiss. "Getting high while watching NBA League Pass with your family at the repass," the latter raps just seconds before Q jumps in as the Mr. Jekyll to his earlier verse's Mr. Hyde, explaining the methods to his madness. "Nothing given, I'mma take it first," he raps over the rollicking second half of the song. You can try your hardest, but this cut demands more than a few playbacks. "And your proof is in the pudding."
"Kno Ya Wrong"
Like an interlude between the madness, the jazz-tinged "Know Ya Wrong" whisks away the ominous undertones brought by the former tracks and offers a sunny intermission all while Q ponders on the trials and errors of fame. "All I hear, "Gimme, gimme / When y'all was sleeping, who was working with me," he questions, before later scoffing, "But want these benefits and tour the city, leeching, won't you find your titty."
For the booming, maximalist gangsta rap epic "Ride Out," Q tags in Long Beach wunderkind Vince Staples, and the result is a match made in heaven. Clicking like a pair of tap shoes in dance class, these two do more than offer the best of both worlds, they cook up a certified, stone cold banger that fits this LP as a perfect centerpiece.
"WHateva U Want"
Another one of the lighter records on the project, this cut features a groove that's good enough to warrant an electric slide at the summer BBQs or soundtrack a trip to the mall. Either way, it's "Whatever you want," like he croons on the song's hook.
"By Any Means"
With Kendrick Lamar on the hook, Q continues his 'by any means necessary' coming of age tale, this time taking listeners back to 2004, years prior rapping. The cinematic production allows for Groovy Q to recount the days he "hit the corner, Heaven, Hell / I come from pimping, banging." All in all, a stark and poignant reiteration of the lifestyle that bred this top hat wearing MC.
Metro Boomin' and Southside galactic production help make this bouncy track a standout — not to mention, providing enough room for E-40 to steal the show.
Sounding like something out of the western epic "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly," Q rhymes with an urgency and remorseful groan as he remembers "selling dope at 14," losing his first fade "nine years after school," all while "belling through the mother—king street." The life and times of Groovy Q.
The groove behind this cut alone is infectious enough to move your finger away from the skip button. Songs like this doesn't only showcase Q stepping into another sonic dimension, it also infuses some the elements that made projects like Habits & Contradictions a stellar listen (Remember "Sexting," "Sex Drive"?)
Staring at the world through his mental scope, Q paints a clear picture on this undeniable standout that finds him tackling societal woes and the life pressures that force those to make certain decisions. At two verses, he lays out a stream of rewind-worthy quotes, but nothings hits harder than the last line: "I'm at the top aiming higher / My lawyers stay on retainer when white folks point the finger / Place my neck on that hanger, shit no wonder we riot / Niggas still killing niggas, child support killing niggas / Cops enslaving us niggas, little girls killin' mothers / They treat their kid like a brother / Fathers stuck with them lifers, kept it real with his niggas but left his kid for the suckers / Shit no wonder we bang, damn shame, mane, some things will never change." SZA's velvety hook wraps up this number like a bow above a gift box.
Borrowing the title of 2Pac's famous deep cut, Q shares his own definition of balling and over airy, booming production he describes it as being one of the reasons why "Snoop ain't the only rich crip" and "flossing in the mind, stunting like the first and shuffling the work." But boasting isn't the only foundation here, instead this is Q detailing how far he's comes along since following his rap dreams ("Used to sleep with roaches, cracky uncle and all") and how he is dealing with the fruits of his labor. "They always said I'd never make it big though," he points out, before laying the 'told you so' moment: "Straight ballin' like a b*tch. Picture Q rolling.
Turning on the social scope once again, Q laments on the current state of affairs in inner-cities around the country and provides a stern call to action while dishing out his own commentary. "Let's put the rags down and raise our kids," he notes. "Let's put the guns down and blaze a spliff, let's do it now, ain't no buts or ifs / It took a Blood to get me Pringle chips/ You can learn to fly or take the ladder / Real nigga shit, all lives matter." A poignant message during what is certainly an important time.
Once again providing social commentary, Q looks back on how far he's came since asking for "Heaven's mercy" on track two. With Anderson .Paak setting the scene ("And if I never make it to 25 I swear to God I’m still gon' fly, nigga"), Q takes the pain ("Young nigga grew up on hate, but where's the love?") and swaps it out with the beauty that came from within it. "I made a queen outta nothing," he raps, acknowledging the beacon of hope that his is daughter, Joy.
Albeit a good song, this Miguel and Justine Skye number doesn't quite fit the bill, especially since it arrives after a series of songs that find Q at his most vulnerable and socially conscious. It's a drastic mood shift that would have served well as a bonus cut instead of the LP's penultimate track.
"Tookie Knows II"
"Tookie Knows II," a sequel to the 2012 original, redirects the scope back toward Q's starting point as a Hoover Crip. Featuring rising rappers Traffic and TF, this is Q at his most comfortable. No star-studded guests, mainstream attempts, nor is there any attempts that joking a trend. This is the TDE at his purest, closing out an album that finds him in rare form, with its strongest message. "We might die for this shit," he raps after asking the serious question: "Should I thank God for the hell I raised?"