After what has seemed like numerous delays, ScHoolboy Q’s 4th album Blank Face LP is finally here. The Top Dawg Entertainment rapper has slowly but surely risen from labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s second-in-command to stand alone, established MC. 2014’s Oxymoron was most people’s initial glimpse at what Q could do, and he didn’t disappoint, delivering a dynamic first impression with hits such as “Man of the Year” and “Collard Greens,” which featured the aforementioned Lamar. Now, two years later, Groovy Q is back, and while it may not have the type of party-ready anthems from Oxymoron, what it does offer is an ominous, gritty insight into life where Q comes from.
The album starts with “TorcH,” a sinister track that has Q detailing his come up in the hoods of Los Angeles. A noted member of the city’s Crips gang, Q has always been about that life, but with this song his conviction is amplified by the menacing beat producers Nez and Rio provide. “Who needs a mothafuckin’ friend?/You see them mothafuckin’ rims?” he asks. This sense of success no matter the cost is applied throughout the album, most plainly on 8th track “By Any Means.” “I’ma shoot my gun, I’ma free my locc/I’ma sell her tongue, I’ma tan that coke…by any means.”
The gang life is something that Q is unabashed of. On “Tookie Knows II” Q alludes to joining the Crips before he was even 10 years old (N*ggas said cuz in the first grade). “John Muir” has him further affirming his street cred, where he says he’s been carrying a gun since 13 and selling dope at 14. “Ride Out” has fellow Crip Vince Staples join Q as the two trade bars coloring a vivid, violent picture of the lifestyle. “You know the gang we represent/Specialize in pistol grips/Shootin’ out my momma’s whip/Always got an empty clip,” Q aggressively attests behind another sinister beat, this time courtesy of TDE in-house producer Sounwave.
Though he certainly has no problem with living the street life, he’s just as happy now that he’s elevated to star rapper status. “Str8 Ballin” navigates this change perfectly. “Told me we could never get rich/Now watch me ride the chevy hit the switch/Straight ballin’ like a beeeeeeeeitch,” he says emphatically, cackling out that last word like only he can. He can now spoil his lover with endless anythings, as evident on “WHatever U Want.” Second single “THat Part” has Q and guest Kanye West flaunting their success, with the latter doling out a classic Yeezy tongue-in-cheek verse. Get Top on the phone!
The album’s haunting atmosphere plays into the theme of the album. Having a “blank face” can refer to wearing a mask while you do what you must to get by (previously alluded to on the Oxymoron coverart) and losing your identity once you join the street life. It can also refer to seeing the world as the corrupt, desolute place it can be and having a blank face towards it all, knowing that there’s nothing you can do. Q addresses some of these issues on “Black THougHts,” where he begs for the gang violence and injustice against African Americans to stop. On “Neva Change” he bleakly comes to the conclusion that the as long as the world is spinning, it’s sadly always going to be rough in the hood.
Whereas Oxymoron was the raunchy, late-night lit-fest, Blank Face is the contained, gritty street album that breathes West Coast. Q’s charisma and delivery on the mic however didn’t go anywhere. The record does have its misses though. E-40’s verse on “Dope Dealer” was pure laughable, and “Overtime” doesn’t belong on the album at all (Q himself said he didn’t want it on the record; his label made him). While Oxymoron may be more immediately satisfying, it’s Blank Face where Q truly shows us what he can do behind the mic. Kendrick may have to watch his back.