Schoolboy Q // Blank Face LP

by and on July 27, 2016

Posted in: Album Review, Hip Hop, Music, Rap

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After his momentous debut in 2014 with Oxymoron, Schoolboy Q is back with Blank Face LP, a pièce de résistance for the gangsta rap genre. In some ways analogous to his first studio album with Top Dawg Entertainment, Schoolboy Q utilizes the album’s harmoniously disturbing beats to deliver his off-kilter style flow to give the listener a snapshot into his life; from growing up in the slums of Los Angeles to being one of West Coast’s biggest rappers. On July 7th, the day before the album’s debut, Q tweeted out four bars from one of the songs more poignant pieces, “Neva Change,” after the tragic death in Minnesota of Philando Castille. “You see them lights get behind us/They pull me out for my priors/Won’t let me freeze ‘fore they fire/You say that footage a liar.” It is a touching verse that sets the tone for the entire album as we listen to Schoolboy and the myriad of prominent, but also up and coming, LA artists that give us a portrait of the life of Quincy Hanley.

What instantly separates Blank Face from Oxymoron is the slew of rappers and high-profile producers involved in the project. In “THat Part” we listen to Kanye spit bars with Schoolboy in one of the album’s two singles (the other being “Groovy Tony”). “N***a with an attitude, I feel like O’Shea (that part)/ Walkin’, livin’ legend man I feel like Kobe.” Kanye vaunts as Schoolboy responds with even further exaggerated assertions. He effortlessly changes up his pace and speed as his lines fuse with the beat like a roller-coaster.

E-40 joins Schoolboy Q in the eerie track “Dope Dealer” with the pair’s’ lines mesmerizing over the track. You’re are almost slowly put into a trance to begin the song, and Schoolboy violently takes you out of it with “I got a sack of blue faces but my AR black/ I got two bitches in my whip and they got hold my strap/ I put the knife to the coca leaf and turn that crack/ I put the nine to your coconut and pull that back,” immediately setting a vivid scene. Later on E-40 introduces himself in also spectacular fashion with Cali niggas is managin’ we havin, Greedy/ We got F 57s and we savages, beasty/ My little niggas be ampin’, they some P’s, hustlers/ Some of them sell candy some sell trees, customers.” as the pair go into full storytelling mode in the track.  Other features have their moments, lending different perspectives to Schoolboy Q’s stories’ and providing anecdotes along the way.

Vince Staples unrestrained cameo in the boisterous “Ride Out,” and Anderson Paak’s distinct beat-poetry verse in the album’s title song and old-school duel, The Dogg Pound, provide potent messages to the struggle of the streets, from 30 years ago to now. Sadly, the album does not have any features with Schoolboy Q’s group Black Hippy. The reason behind this is because the quartet no longer rap together, as Schoolboy Q said on a recent interview with Real 92.3 in LA: “We don’t like rapping with each other no more. That’s pretty old now, for us. We love each other.” Hoping to hear Kendrick and Schoolboy reach the heights they did with “Collard Greens,” this was slightly disheartening. (Side note: the group just dropped a remix to “That Part” which is not featured on the album, but is definitely worth the listen.)

The album finishes strongly with “Tookie Knows II,” featuring Traffic and TF who bring exuberance; starting out with Traffic’s verse “I’m holdin’ the heat, he’s watchin’ the block / I’m watching for cops, I’m holdin’ these rocks / Fiends keep comin’, this s**t don’t stop / When it’s war time, n****s get popped / We might die for this s**t off tops / My n***a gonna ride for this, Crip, no lie. But I ain’t dead, yeah, n***a, thank God.” His message is important; just like Q, he feels like he will probably just end up in jail again or shot. This problem is bigger than him. He is not the exception to the case. They are just the blank face to the world they were before fame. The only difference is now they realize it. What is ironic about this euphemism is that he is still powerless. The lives of Q and those around him follow a pattern, a pattern of death and crushing despair that only a miracle will bring them out of. Until then they’re doing the same thing as those all around them: gangbanging, robbing and shooting. TF speaks along the same lines with “I got a Benji Button like Brad Pitt / I press that, I’m getting’ rich / I might go down for this shit.” He lives his life with the knowledge that any stray bullet, any unlucky day will render him inconsequential and another statistic, or a blank face; fantastically bringing the album full circle.

The multiple, distinct producers in Black Face give the album a wide array of flavor. From songs blending tranquil Blues and Jazz undertones, to loud tracks with high bass and blaring drums; the album is able to slow down and cool you off then instantly bring fire. This is where the album runs into some problems. With 17 songs, some of the lyrics tend to get repetitive. For example, in “Str8 Ballin” Schoolboy raps about riding out from a robbery heist, in “Dope Dealer” he spends a verse recounting riding from spot to spot to sell Crack and Oxycontin. Finally, in “Ride Out,” Schoolboy Q hops in with Tyga, YG and Rich Homie Quan to name a few talk about how when their squad is driving round, they always roll deep. Frankly, the album would have been just as successful if three to five songs were scrapped from production. While all three of these songs are catchy and show Schoolboy and others at top form, as a conglomeration they fail to create distinction. What we can commend about the album is its structure. There is never a prolonged period of forgettable songs, making the 17 track album listenable throughout. But again with 17 tracks, the sentimentality behind individual songs at points contradict. From time to time he talks about his love for the game and then later tracks preach about do what you can to get out. Again, while there may be some individual songs that feel defunct within the album as a whole, the production and choice of guests are executed perfectly throughout; this minor fault with the album does not drown out its austerity and aboveboard message.

Overall, Blank Face is a triumph for the traditional and grown gangster rap genre. Although the album does not reach the heights of its paradoxical prelim, Blank Face does not suffer the sophomore slump that many West Coast rappers have experienced. The psychedelic work pairs well with Q’s gritty lyrics and “lampoonish” delivery. Unleashing fluent diatribes and rhythmic melodies, Blank Face comes at you with cautious fire, almost like the album suggests.

 

Grade: B+

 

Best Songs: “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane,” “JoHn Muir,” “Kno Ya Wrong,” “THat Part,”

“Blank Face,” and “Tookie Knows II”