With the breakout success of 2014’s Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q set the bar high for his second major label album, Blank Face LP, on Interscope Records. It’s not exactly a sophomore effort, since the South Central-based MC has been putting out mixtapes and albums on the independent Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) label since 2009, but with TDE merging with Interscope, his audience base has significantly widened, as evidenced by Oxymoron debuting at number 1 on the Billboard charts.
Blank Face does not disappoint, presenting an ambitious, textured tour of hip-hop styles and sounds. Clocking in at close to 75 minutes, the album never feels long or tedious. Instead, it is something you could play on repeat for a full week without getting bored.
Credit for the far-and-wide sound of Blank Face can be shared by the impressive stable of producers who pitched in. TDE regulars Digi+Phonics continue to reshape the landscape of West Coast hip-hop on the album’s first single, “Groovy Tony.” The record also sees the return of past collaborators Nez and Rio and The Alchemist. Fold in bankable hit makers like Swizz Beatz and Southside, and you’ve got something close to a surefire summer hit.
To be sure, there are some radio-friendly tracks, including “THat Part” featuring a loose, funny Kanye West. The single, released in May, has already gained steady airplay, and should serve to further increase ScHoolboy’s profile. Q has also shown himself adept at taking advantage of all facets of social media, maintaining a popular Twitter account and releasing a video trilogy in anticipation of the new album.
Throughout the record ScHoolboy shows that despite the recent success he hasn’t abandoned the street for the spotlight. Most of his rhymes remain deeply rooted in the ethos of the South Central streets where he grew up. This can occasionally mean relying on cliches from the last 25 years of hip-hop (“Told me we could never get rich/Now watch me ride the Chevy hit the switch”). But ScHoolboy also explores his personal experiences growing up in a place where drug dealing, police violence and gang involvement were the norm. On “JoHn Muir,” (named after his elementary school) he waxes nostalgic about his first exposure to guns, drugs and gangs. With the help of a wistful Delfonics horn sample, he evokes vivid, violent memories of a complicated childhood.
The album’s most interesting rhymes come on the jazz-infused “Black THougHts,” a meandering jam with Kendrick Lamar intoning the refrain, “Black thoughts and marijuana, it’s karma.” It’s appropriate since ScHoolboy drops his most philosophical musings on his upbringing and current state of affairs with lines like “Trying something, new shame while we bang/ But yo, y’all ain’t hearing me/ My Homie facin’ life, told me that my pride was my biggest enemy.”
Although he explores the vicious cycles at work in South Central on “Neva CHange,” with hooky, bouncy tracks around every corner, Blank Face never becomes didactic or bitter. “Big Body” delivers a funkadelic beat to shut up and dance to. And in “Dope Dealer” he delivers the goods with satisfying bass drops and a cameo by the legendary E-40.
With so many hooks, beats and rhymes to savor, expect to hear this album bumping from the rolled-down windows of cars and parties down the block all summer long.