ScHoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions

Well, we certainly didn't have to wait long for the Best Rap Album of the Year conversation to get started.

ScHoolboy Q

Habits & Contradictions

Label: Top Dawg
US Release Date: 2012-01-13
UK Release Date: 2012-01-13

If you were a hip-hop fan in the Southern California region, 2011 proved to be a very exciting year. After an entire decade spent being held at arm's length by most major outlets, the ever-increasing influence of bloggers, mixtape aggregators, and Tumblr obsessives finally broke open the gates for the West's newest crop of rappers to get on the field with everyone else. Odd Future and Lil' B became the zeitgeists through which Los Angeles and its neighboring cities both became rather weird and rather relaxed, offering us vaudeville performances from Kreayshawn and her White Girl Mob, stoned beach-jams from Dom Kennedy and El Prez, and the ever-challenging roster of instrumental artists drifting through the Low End Theory.

But Odd Future was the collective that achieved an abundance of media attention largely through their antics, tweets, shockingly quick ascension to something like mainstream acceptance, and the resultant backlash post-Goblin. Meanwhile, it was another California crew, the long-gestating Top Dawg Entertainment, that really seemed to capture the longing for something that meant something felt by 20-something hip-hop listeners across the country. While all four of the rappers under their umbrella released full-length iTunes-only projects last year, it was really only the Dr. Dre-cosigned Kendrick Lamar who earned a spotlight though anyone who heard Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and ScHoolboy Q's offerings would tell you those guys really weren't that far behind Lamar.

But 2012 looks to be the year in which those guys prove it's not "Kendrick Lamar's crew", and ScHoolboy Q is first out the gates with an album that quite honestly, despite its release date, might be starting the conversation for hip-hop album of the year. His 2011 debut, Setbacks, was certainly a confident mixtape/street album, but it felt mostly like a collection of decent-to-great songs, not necessarily a statement of character. Habits & Contradictions certainly isn't that, as everything from the way ScHoolboy Q raps to the beats he selects to the subject matter he tackles comes from a much more conflicted place than he was a year ago. The roles at Top Dawg had always been pretty clearly defined coming into 2012: Kendrick and Ab-Soul addressed the issues of the street from the stoop, while ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock would stop by to share a blunt and long for the stoop from the street.

But Habits & Contradictions is the inevitable result of the label's artists coming into their own as both people and performers; it's an album about grey areas and, well, contradictions, rather than clearly drawn white lines and transparent motives. As a character, Q feels like someone who was in the audience of Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 narrator and is now aware of the many mistakes he makes each day. He has sex with women and deals drugs with a sort of vitriolic anger and righteous indignation that's intensely unsettling. At his best, such as the certifiably creepy "My Hatin' Joint" and acidic "Nightmare on Figg St.", he's as disturbing as vintage Eminem or Three 6 Mafia, all psychotic id and impulsive self-destruction.

But as ScHoolboy Q has found ways to expand his in-studio character, and he's also expanded himself as a performer. There is a lot of Kendrick's abstract, awkwardly creative deliveries in ScHoolboy's performance here, and his balancing of a religiously conflicted, socially conscious gangster with his surprising growth as a rapper has challenged the TDE production roster to brew up some of their most inspired production yet. "My Homie" sits comfortably in the jazzy, laid back vibe they established for most of Lamar's Section.80, but "There He Go"'s sampling of Menomena's "Wet and Rusting" is intoxicatingly creative, while Mike Will's "My Hatin' Joint" finds the Atlanta producer going drastically left of his center to craft a sort of evil twin to Young Jeezy's "Way Too Gone".

"Hands on the Wheel" twists a sampling of Lissie's live "Pursuit of Happyness" cover into a sort of sanity-retention anthem, while "Blessed" uses Main Attrakionz-style repetitious moans to refer back to "Sacrilegious"' opening brooding. Two of the album's most divergent tracks are also its most daring: "Grooveline", featuring one of Curren$y's most minutely detailed and lethargic verses yet ("Too high to find the remote, fell asleep to a infomercial / Woke up in her mouth, reruns of Full House, followed by some Urkel"), is so lurching its almost not there, an odd mist of relaxation drifting over a sea of despair. The curiously stylized and titled "NiggaHs.Already.Know.Davers.Flow" juxtaposes later on with a menacingly simple joint that, like Rick Ross' "Fuck 'Em", teeters on the edge of engaging hip-hop's curious prodding of the dubstep beast without outright embracing it.

Habits & Contradictions looks like a bit of an endurance run on paper, and it might be that kind of experience initially. ScHoolboy Q isn't the most easily approachable rapper in the crew anymore, and his angry inversion of Kendrick Lamar's style makes for a guy who's initially very hard to sympathize with. But as repeated listens begin to reveal the ways he constantly plays his spiritual beliefs and positive habits against the contradiction of his anarchic environment and negative reactions, and as the lush, downright gorgeous production begins to familiarize itself and reveal how creatively ScHoolboy Q plays off of it, Habits & Contradictions becomes 2012's first great surprise of the year.

Saying the guy's put out an album that's in many ways Section.80's sinister equal wouldn't be much of a stretch -- some might even consider it slightly better, or at least more assured. How much of a dent the Top Dawg camp can make on the world of sales and marketing this year remains to be seen, but if their rate of growth as artists is any indication...well, it's only February, and it's already hard to imagine that anyone, California or otherwise, is going to be messing with these young men from an artistic perspective. Habits & Contradictions is a total must-listen.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.