Since the release of his first mixtape, ScHoolboy Turned Hustla, ScHoolboy Q has been aiming to break the mold of the typical rapper.
Hailing from South Central Los Angeles, Q's style is not easily defined, and he doesn't sound at all like you might expect an LA emcee to sound. Q has managed to sidestep all of the tropes of West Coast rap by carving out a diverse repertoire of unique flows and cadences; selecting beats that are imaginative, energized, and often atmospheric; and frequently switching up subject matter from one song to the next. In fact, Q lists primarily East Coast rappers as his major influences. While certain West Coast legends like Kurupt and 2Pac have no doubt been pivotal for Q, the 32-year-old rapper cites New York's hip-hop elite—Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Biggie, and Nas—as having the largest influence on him. This mixture of unexpected influences is probably one of the reasons there isn't anyone else out there who sounds like Q. He's got LA in his veins and a New York State of mind. The result is a distinctively fresh style.
On his latest release, CrasH Talk, his fifth studio album and the follow-up to 2016's critically acclaimed Blank Face LP, Q continues to hone his signature sound. Released on April 26th, CrasH Talk sees Q continue to showcase his ability to command just about any beat, find new flows, and take on a breadth of topics and moods that few rappers manage to cover in a single album. This is what fans love about Q: he keeps you on your toes.
You get a different version of the emcee on every track: sometimes you'll get gangsta Q, as you do on the album's explosive opener, "Gang Gang," in which listeners are offered a quick glimpse into Q's younger days as a Hoover Street Crip: "Long cash, dope sales, ayy / AK's, head wraps, ayy / Beat case, did that, yeah / Third Benz, still black." Other times, you'll hear Q wax braggadocious, as he does on the banger "5200," with bars like "Dare one try, who frontin' on me? / Ain't no smut, no chatter on me / Money on me, hundred on me / Both got rocks, look better on me / Spaceship parked, no landin' on me / Wrecked my Lam', don't need it on E." Also, for all of you Easter egg hunters out there, if you listen closely to the intro of "5200," you might hear a familiar voice—longtime Q collaborator, Top Dawg Entertainment label mate, and the only rapper thus far to win a Pulitzer Prize—Kendrick Lamar can be heard helping Q hype up the track, even though he isn't listed as a feature on it.
Rhymes about gang life and being dope, though, are not the only versions of himself that Q presents on CrasH Talk.
You'll hear a couple radio-friendly chart-aimers on here as well. Songs like "Lies," featuring Ty Dolla $ign & YG, "CHopstix," with Travis Scott, and the LP's lead single, "Numb Numb Juice," would all feel right at home in rotation on top 40 radio stations. But these are probably the most forgettable moments on the album. "Lies," for one, is little more than a watered-down pop tune about dishonesty—Q shadowboxes on the first verse, rhyming about how real he is compared to some composite faker, while YG spits about a lying woman.
CrasH Talk also showcases a side of ScHoolboy Q that fans may be relatively unfamiliar with. Songs like "Tales," "Black Folk," "Dangerous" (featuring Kid Cudi), "CrasH," and the album's closing track, "Attention," all see Q more introspective and self-aware than on previous releases. On "CrasH," for example, Q spits lucid bars over a Boi-1da beat that samples Royce Da 5'9's classic "Boom." Addressing his daughter, Q spits, "Way too blessed to be normal / Upper echelon, but we stand that / So, girl, be proud that your skin black / And be happy, girl, that your hair napped / 'Cause the school system won't teach that / Where your father been, you gon' reach that." These are the real standout moments on CrasH Talk.
Q is at his best, it seems, when he focuses more on his pen game than on crafting an interesting flow or hyping up a hardcore vibe. He rivals his NYC heroes when he rhymes from the heart—serving up thoughtful bars and riding the beats with ease— he really opens up on these tracks, giving us songs that are honest, powerful, and that could only have been written by him.
CrasH Talk has a its ups and downs, no doubt, but it really seems to come into its own about halfway through (from "5200" to the end). Overall, it is a comprehensive rap album, with a little something for everyone, from the hardcore hip-hop purist to the casual top 40 listener. Fans can expect to hear every version of ScHoolboy Q that they already know and love, as well as become acquainted with a more mature and nuanced emcee who is clearly not afraid to grow and evolve as an artist.
Dustin DiPaulo is a writer and musician from Rochester, New York. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University and can most likely be found at a local concert, dive bar, or comedy club (if he's not getting lost somewhere in the woods).
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