Rapper and LA native Quincy Matthew Hanley, better known as Schoolboy Q, released his fourth studio album early last week, entitled Blank Face LP. The highly anticipated project stands as an impressive return to proper gangster rap for both the artist and the genre.
Following his 2014 project Oxymoron, critics and consumers alike saw Q’s style changing. With tracks like Studio and Man of the Year, the album sold well and became a popular play in party atmospheres, but lacked the character and narrative quality of his previous work.
In stark contrast, the incredibly dense Blank Face project, complete with seventeen individual tracks, retains Schoolboy’s lyrical command and style from top-to-bottom. It is apparent in a few tracks that he has never been as complex nor as strong in his verse structure. Ranging from aggressive flow on advanced production, to dramatic spoken-word verses atop jazz trumpets and chimes. His unique play on the structure of the famous song Coconut in Dope Dealer, featuring E 40, is my personal favorite example of his impressive vocal content. “I put the knife to the coca leaf and turn that crack, I put the nine to your coconut and pull that back,” he rhymes. Outside of his amusing language play, Schoolboy Q provides listeners with a first-hand exploration of his adolescent memories on the streets of South Central, as well as the connection those events have with many of the most currently pressing issues in our society.
Through purposeful and poignant features, Schoolboy Q connects generations of rappers to show the utter lack of progression within America’s inner cities. Trading verses with the likes of rap legend Jadakiss on the two-part track (a staple of TDE releases lately) Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane, fellow LA crip and one of the this year’s hottest rising rappers, Vince Staples on Ride Out, and friends Traffic and T F on the harrowing final track Tookie Knows II, Schoolboy Q is never outshined. Instead, these features breathe life into the twisted, groovy tracks, recapturing listener attention when the work begins to lull.
Despite its inherently gritty, eye-on-street perspective, Blank Face LP contains a variety of beats, many of which are more peppy and up-tempo. Dancy beats on Whateva U Want featuring Candice Pillay, and Big Body featuring Tha Dogg Pound each provide vital breaks from the powerfully bleak lyricism throughout the rest of the album. The previously released single That Part featuring hip-hop mogul Kanye West, despite carrying a very different feel than most of the other tracks, somehow fits well and is sure to inspire much of its commercial success.
Taking on topics such as gun violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, and current gang relations in Los Angeles, Schoolboy Q navigates the grime of today’s cluttered social landscape with passion and grace. His snarling, raspy vocals blend with the golden crooning of showstopper Anderson Paak on both Torch, the album’s opener, and its title track. TDE’s golden child and rap-revivalist Kendrick Lamar provides vocals on By Any Means, establishing an undeniable parallel to his own street-centered concept album Section.80 with similar dungeon-deep background vocals, as well as the highly political Black THoughHts. He is also included on Overtime, a sex song featuring Miguel, which stands as the only track that feels entirely out of place on the dynamic project, if only for its vibe rather than its quality.
Schoolboy Q has been hailed as TDE’s second-in-command. After Lamar’s release of the explosive To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, many wondered if any member of the label could possibly replicate such enormous success. His name will not carry the social weight that Lamar captured with Blank Face LP, but Schoolboy Q has regained his position in the label and in the industry by providing a pure, consciously created gangster rap album driven by its lyricism and complementary production, standing as arguably his most artistically impressive work to date.
Written By: Aaron Nelson