ScHoolboy Q seems like an unlikely rapper to be positioned as a commercial success. Born Quincy Matthew Hanley, Q's output details a frank portrayal of life as a Crip at 12 years old and a drug dealer by age 14. Juxtapose that with his stint as a promising college athlete, and you'll scratch the surface of Hanley's complexity. This year's Blank Face LP comes on the heels of 2014's platinum-selling Oxymoron. Q's latest release is the transformative result of growing into fatherhood while reflecting on the addiction, depression, inner-city survival, and pressures of success that have marked his life. Musically, it's his most dynamic — flowing between hazy meditations, unveiled lyricism, and funky, west-coast melodies and beats.
ScHoolboy Q and Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ bring the Blank Face Tour to the New Daisy on Saturday, September 24th. To prep, I looked at some of the album's highlights.
"Dope Dealer" feat. E-40
If ScHoolboy Q breathed new life into gangsta rap, he took notes from Three 6 Mafia to do so. "Dope Dealer," the ninth track on Blank Face, samples the Memphis rap collective's "Playa Hataz." Q talks about slinging cocaine and oxycontin ("I got them egg whites and them oxtails for the low / Got them hot wheels gotta push start and it go"), a reality he's experienced. His flow sounds celebratory, but it's a look at the world that shaped him. It's the same imagery that painted Three 6 Mafia's discography. Q's just carrying the torch.
"THat Part" feat. Kanye West
"Me no conversate with the fake," Q raps, opening the first verse of Blank Face's second single with one of the most memorable lines of the year. "THat Part" is a boast, a cheers to lavish success that's allowed Q to drop $250,000 on a McLaren 12C sports car. Q raps "bang this shit in the hood one time" during the hook, an homage to 51st and Figueroa Streets where he grew up in Southern Los Angeles.
Kanye West, the enigma he's become, comes out swinging in the second verse. Riffing on fame and fidelity, West notes that at the peak, people listen more to the echo-chamber of opinions about him and less about what he says. ("You was listening close though / You wouldn't listen to the flow though.")
ScHoolboy Q freestyled every lyric on "JoHn Muir," a track that borrows its name from Hanley's middle school. The stomping grounds where Q started carrying a gun at 13 years old and selling drugs by age 14, Blank Face's 10th track provides context on Hanley as a wide-eyed kid molding an identity. On the chorus, Q raps about "bellin'" through the street — a term coined by West-Coast rapper WC — while a chorus of voices and horns fill out the background. It's smooth, soulful, and an easy track to revisit.
A phone recording from Trayvon Ray Cail, who was facing a first-degree murder charge at the time the song was written, leads the track: "Our experience to where we have parents in our lives that were showing us everything, like didn't nobody walk us ... show love like you do this and don't do that. It wasn't like that coming up in our community."
"Black THougHts" is an autobiographical depiction ("sharing food with roaches / poppa was a bitch / mom's slaving for the rent") of Q's initiation into gang-dom. Later, Q raps "Ain't nothing changed but the change / Let's put our brains away from gangs / Crips and Bloods the old and new slaves."
Here, Q condemns the lifestyle he props up on Dope Dealer. He puts his shame on the table, and it's one of the more memorable, genuine moments on the album.