Any lingering notion that ScHoolboy Q is the No. 2 of Top Dawg Entertainment should be quashed with the Blank Face LP. He may not be a knotty, once-in-a-decade lyrical philosopher like Kendrick Lamar, but while Kendrick is wrestling with the ills of society and the meaning of being black in an especially dangerous and contentious era, Q is busy basking in his fame, reflecting on his trying upbringings, and inhaling drugs like a camel preparing for a desert trek.
Blank Face is a clear upgrade from ScHoolboy’s major label debut, Oxymoron. While the latter had plenty of quality tracks it was also lengthy and at times sonically redundant. This new project, even at 17 songs, feels lean and meticulously sequenced. It’s the kind of record where you put on one cut and wind up listening to the next three without even realizing.
Production here is primarily handled by TDE mainstays like Tae Beast, Sounwave, and Willie B, but the big names who do work behind the boards also show a fundamental understanding of how to empower Q on the mic. He isn’t a terrifically technical MC, but he has a stellar ear for beats and macabre samples that imply the negatives of his rock star lifestyle even if he never explicitly states them.
“Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” is a slasher flick of a song, with leery keys and menacing bars. Jadakiss and Q are a perfect pair, their gruff, raspy baritones compliment each other perfectly and Jada sounds particularly energized over the ski mask beat.
“Running with the rebels, it’s a three-man weave, with the Lord and the Devil/Really all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel”, he barks in one highlight couplet.
What sets Schoolboy apart from a lot of similar rappers is the underlying nihilism of his lyrics. Sure, he enjoys sex and drugs and money and clothes, but it’s all brazenly temporary. “You can fuck my bitch/You can have my ho”, he genially offers on the chorus of “By Any Means”, a phenomenal shadowy hustler’s anthem that stands as one of his best track’s ever. Its accompanying short film is also impressive.
While it would be fascinating to hear a report from Q’s conscience, like Habits & Contradictions’ “Sacrilegious”, he finds a way to make his troubled past seem both brutal and breezy. He claims to have freestyled all the lyrics to “John Muir”, a track named after his middle school in California, and while it’s a bit unfocused it’s also an absolute riot.
The sung hook on “Str8 Ballin” is cheesy and ScHoolboy’s childhood friends Traffic and TF show that they still haven’t quite mastered this whole rapping thing on “Tookie Knows II”, but the missteps on Blank Face are few and far between.
Q is as distinct and powerful a voice in hip-hop as Kendrick, and he manages to bring the likes of Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Anderson .Paak, and Vince Staples to Figg St. on one of the year’s best rap albums thus far. The only real dissonance here comes on Miguel collaboration “Overtime”, but we’ll leave the explanation of that to Q.