Schoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions, as interpreted by Christopher Hart (@illLetterC)…
Schoolboy Q Habits & Contradictions
West Coast hip-hop saw a resurgence of sorts in 2011, with major releases from The Game, Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle and Jay Rock, all of which were followed with critical acclaim and fan fare to match. And let’s not forget newcomers Odd Future, lead by enigmatic leader Tyler, the Creator, put a fresh spin on the west coast sound and became the years hottest commodity. To begin 2012, the west again puts a huge stamp on its imminent dominance in the form of ScHoolboy Q’s superlative Habits & Contradictions.
At the forefront of this album is a concept; a look into the mind of ScHoolboy Q as he takes us for a trip, figuratively and literally, through old habits that die hard and the contradictions that make us as a people such a mystery. Any and all subject matter is covered in thorough fashion, as it becomes apparent within the first three songs that Q is wildly self-aware of his inconsistencies. Opening with “Sacrilegious,” ScHoolboy paints a somber picture over echoing snares and electro-acoustic twangs, eschewing the traditional west coast sound for a more trippy, drug-infused haze with his disciplined, steady flow. Reflecting on his past as a street hustler and gang-banger, showing remorse and genuine regret for his actions, ScHoolboy lets the skeletons out of his closet from the start. “Feeling teary eyed, thinking I’ve gone too far. Ask God for forgiveness, shit I doubt he heard me at all. They say clean your hands before you eat, rest your sins with pray. But I’ve done did some things I don’t think I could ever wash away.” From there we cruise through the excellent “There He Go,” and onto one of the many stand-out records, “Hands on the Wheel.” Featuring an assist from Harlem’s A$AP Rocky, this record drips with wood grain appeal and H-town influence compliments of producer Best Kept Secret. A sample from KiD CuDi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” as performed by American folk artist Lissie creates the hypnotic hook, as we ride with our two MCs on the search for women, weed and brews. Life becomes a celebration on this song, as Rocky and Q wax poetic about getting high and drunk, staying high and drunk, and bedding many women along the way, only to do it all again the next day. Couple this with the laid-back contributions from Dom Kennedy and Curren$y on “Grooveline Pt. 1″ and the nearly chopped-n-screwed “How We Feeling,” and you have an album as ready for cruising the block as a summertime house party.
Showcasing the hunger that was on display during his featured verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “The Spiteful Chant,” a verse that absolutely crushed that track, ScHoolboy shows his maniacal side too, sharing his sinister ravings on “Nightmare on Figg St.” and “Raymond 1969.” The latter of these two tracks features Q sounding almost Odd Future-esque, delivering ferocious, over-the-top violence with sadistic vigor while simultaneously claiming “I’m not on my Odd Future tip.” It’s this type of ruminating that makes the trip through ScHoolboy’s mind a joy. The habits developed on the street, the gangster lifestyle that he so regrets and finds vile, is the same lifestyle that he goes back to and celebrates, a comfort zone of sorts that leaves him in a perpetual state of contradiction. Never has an album been so aptly titled.
Among the top of any tracks released in recent memory is “Blessed” with Black Hippy affliliate Kendrick Lamar, a very self-aware and lyrically striking record produced by Dave Free (of Digi+Phonics), with ScHoolboy again contradicting himself. Deviating from the hedonistic anecdotes on “Sex Drive,” “Sexting” and the aforementioned “Hands on the Wheel” to once again reflect on his life, his actions, his choices, and the blessings that God has bestowed upon him along the way. “To all my n—as that’ll never make it out the streets. Fuck it, keep goin’ hard, don’t let ‘em see you weak. To all my n—as first time steppin’ in the pen. Read a book and exercise, keep your spirit in. To all my n—as that’s gon’ fuck around and die today. Take our hats off, bow our heads and let us pray.” There is real pain in the way these lines are delivered, coupled with hope and love, and the sincerity borders on overwhelming. It’s a true redemption for ScHoolboy, a gem of a record, with Kendrick Lamar gifting a championship pedigree verse that is truly something to marvel at.
Top Dawg Entertainment has built an incredible stable of amazing rappers, artists who not only amaze with their lyricism, but the quality of the music as a whole. Habits & Contradictions comes as the latest in their pantheon of successful releases and solidifies a complete resurrection of west coast hip-hop. ScHoolboy Q is definitely an odd duck, mastering flows for any sonic landscape, but also surviving the gangster lifestyle to rise above, only to find himself still secretly in love with it. As West Coast artists continue to change the way we listen to and appreciate the Los Angeles way of life, let’s hope that ScHoolboy Q doesn’t break the newest habit he’s developed; cultivating incredible albums.