ScHoolboy Q: Blank Face (take 2)

ScHoolboy Q's new album is an improvement on all fronts for the young Californian rapper.
ScHoolboy Q
Blank Face

On “Lord Have Mercy”, the second track on ScHoolboy Q’s latest album, the Californian bluntly states, “I’m a gangbanger, deadbeat father and drug dealer”, and it nicely sums up his career up to this point. His previous albums and mixtapes followed in the same vein, with unapologetic lyrics depicting the horrific nature of inner city crime in his hometown of Los Angeles. While that has proven to be his quintessential style, each successive project of his has added to his straight-and-to-the-point mystique by developing grand concepts, elevating his flows, and experimenting with hip-hop’s darker side, and Blank Face is no exception.

Even though this album covers topics that Q has already addressed previously, he is at his most articulate and sophisticated here. The last single to drop prior to the album’s release, “Tookie Know II”, exemplifies this development in the rapper, where he goes from exclaiming “Motherfucker I’m gangbanging” over a piano beat that’s as unnerving as it is exhilarating to saying “We might die for this shit” mere seconds afterward. He makes a similar transition between the maniacal hook “Straight ballin’ like a bitch” on “Str8 Ballin” to the dark, depressing “Black thoughts and marijuana, it’s karma” that serves as the chorus for “Black THougHts”. More than ever before, ScHoolboy is examining his past life as a drug dealer and questioning whether or not it was the right decision to make, weighing both the obvious advantages and pitfalls of his adolescent lifestyle. This, coupled with this blunt lyricism, makes these songs enjoyable both as societal statements and as colorful bangers.

One of the reasons that Q is one of the most well loved emcees of today is not just because he never minces words, but also because his wordplay and verses continually improve with each new album. Lance Skiiwalker, the alter ego of fellow California rapper Jay Rock, proves yet again why Top Dawg Entertainment sits atop the hip-hop throne with the hilarious couplet “Girl jump in my bank account so I can deposit you/I’m going through withdrawals and I can’t afford to lose” on “Kno Ya Wrong”. However, Q himself also proves his worth by going toe-to-toe with a slew of rap legends such as Jadakiss, Tha Dogg Pound, E-40, Vince Staples and Kanye West, and holding his own in the process. In fact, some of ScHoolboy’s best verses to date are on songs with features, such as “Ride Out” with Vince Staples, “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” with Jadakiss, and “Big Body” with Tha Dogg Pound. There’s a reason why Q’s considered the best-featured rapper in TDE—and hip-hop currently—according to Complex Magazine, and he protects that title across the album’s entirety.

Granted, a lot of what makes Blank Face a fantastic record is due to the list of talented producers across all seventeen tracks. Staples such as the Alchemist, Swizz Beatz, DJ Dahi and Metro Boomin fail to disappoint, as well as TDE’s own Sounwave and Nez & Rio, who produced ScHoolboy’s highly successful single “Man of the Year” from his previous album. Each instrumental on Blank Face LP is just dark enough to fit in with the rest of the album and just unique enough to make it unlike anything else on the album. They combine the unnerving tension of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the groovy, banger beats that have recently taken the hip-hop world by storm, and the fact that each song retains its own flavor while still preserving the album’s maniacal atmosphere is a testament to both ScHoolboy Q and the variety of talent that he enlisted.

Still, in an album that’s 74 minutes long, there will be bumps in the road along the way. “Overtime”, just like Q’s 2013 track “Studio” off of Oxymoron, is too blunt to be a good love song, and borders on vulgar hilarity whenever Q says “I wanna fuck right now”. ScHoolboy even repeats himself within the same album, since the subject matter remains largely the same with every song, leading to some tracks paling in comparison with others.

Nevertheless, Blank Face is a joyride of a listen, building on Oxymoron’s and foundation. With the arguable exception of Ab-Soul, each member of TDE is improving with each subsequent release, coming ever closer to making the near-perfect classic albums that they are capable of making. The most exciting thing about Blank Face LP isn’t that it’s a conceptual mural comprised of colorful songs, banging instrumentals, and earworm choruses, but that Q is heading full-throttle into probably the best part of his career with this album. Blank Face LP may be ScHoolboy at his darkest and most demented, but his future is certainly brighter than it has ever been before.

RATING 8 / 10