There will be those that disagree, but Schoolboy Q is a rap savant. Exhibit A being Habits & Contradictions. In January of 2012, a 25-year-old Quincy Hanley dropped his sophomore studio effort and in just 18 recordings, introduced what would soon be considered an imminent takeover of the game. Pitchfork praised his “better paced”, “rap-Hamlet charisma”. The staff at XXL Mag underlined his “lyrical dexterity and versatile delivery”. Even Chicago’s The A.V. Club marveled at his “unusual sense of exploration” – which in a “no fucks given” mindset, concentrated on an unrestrained threesome of indulgences (sex, money, and drugs) and evoked an unsettling yet iconic weed-rap album cover.
Q wasn’t exactly new on the scene considering his 2011 debut featured a familiar, selective cast (Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Jhene Aiko), but Habits flashed his competitive edge. Oxymoron on the other hand pushes Q’s originality. The full-length endured bumps and bruises on the way to its release, but in a year that many argue was less than extraordinary for hip-hop, the eclectic influence of Oxymoron stands apart and above its peers, and in its own way. When it comes to guests, even Wu-wheeler Raekwon maintains Q’s relentless attitude through his own grit and behind the board, Pharrell manages to strike an upbeat balance on “Los Awesome”, an ode to the groovy type gang-bangers. They compliment the history Q gives glimpses of in heavier doses (“Hoover Street”, “Prescription/Oxymoron”) and when you least expect it, go on to portray memories such as the rough and wounded uncle who borrowed his piss and introduced him to the ways of the hood – a picture that is painted with nostalgic misery.
The intersection of storylines and the juxtaposition of past and present helped to illustrate a progressive body of work and a literal sense of “re-growth”. Oxymoron doesn’t necessarily glamorize the truths of gangster rap, but it does show the greener pastures of another side – another way of living. It’s a perspective that invokes familiarity for today’s younger generation and from the outside looking in at last month’s gig at Toronto’s Sound Academy, it came as no surprise that Schoolboy Q is more apt to connect with a “Day One” fan than an industry exec. that’s looking for an Instagram follow.
Once a high profile media outlet packed up and dissipated due to the noise of the night’s opening set, friends and acquaintances replaced them and lifted the venue’s green room with positivity. A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba” is cranked up to drown out the bass coming from the stage and Schoolboy vibes out as he dances, partakes in a few Snapchats, and warmly laughs at the various personalities that have made their way backstage. Q eventually shifts his attention towards me and smirks. He turns away, but keeps me within earshot as he smugly states “When I drop my next album, 2015 will be my year!”. He looks over, laughs, and inhales the smoke rising from in between his fingers. I return the smile and nod. Not solely of courtesy, but also knowing his assurance persuades me to believe 2014 was merely just a taste of something better. Something we didn’t see coming at all.
Throughout most of 2014, the release of Oxymoron has subsequently placed you at the front of hip-hop. How has the success altered the way you approach your career?
I wouldn’t say it’s put me in front of hip-hop. I appreciate it, but I still got work to do and I just do me no matter what, you know? If I’m in a music video and we’re doing some dumb shit I don’t want to do, I’m just gonna be like, “Nah, nah, let’s do this instead”. I just try to be me 100 per cent. No offense to you, but I hate interviews. I hate going out because people don’t let you be. You try to be humbled and down-to-earth, but they make you a certain type of way, you know what I’m saying? I want to go out and be able to like walk around, be in a crowd and chill. I don’t mind people coming up and being like “Schoolboy… what up, what up”. That’s love.
Has the success made you more aware of your sound and what you’re capable of?
Yeah, I mean… man, I’ve always felt like I was successful since 2011 when people barely knew who I was. Just being able to do a show in front of 30 people… I felt like I made it then. To be able to go outside of Los Angeles and 30 people want to get up and stop doing what they’re doing to pay somebody to come see me… I thought I made it then. So making it was never really like something that I was about, like, “Ahh, I finally made it”. Speaking to the people and seeing the people fuck with me on a different level was more so my pleasure.
Is it satisfying to know that people look at your album as a full body of work?
That’s what I always tell people to do. If I ever see somebody doing the Nae Nae to my music, I’m gonna be so mad I made one of those fucking songs. I want my shit to stay creative. I mean there is a time and place for that. Like I wasn’t listening to my shit before the show – I was listening to most of the shit you could do the Nae Nae to. But me personally, I don’t want nobody doing that. I don’t make that type of music. I put my real thoughts into it. When I do a party song, whether it’s “Hell Of A Night” or “Druggys Wit Hoes” or Collard Greens”, the stuff I’m saying in these songs is real life. It may sound like a fun track, but I’m really talking about an experience I had or a night I had.
Oxymoron itself plays host to many guests like Raekwon, 2 Chainz and Tyler, The Creator. What was it like to work with the artists and producers that appear on the album and what were the biggest things you took from the recording process?
See, I don’t record with nobody. Every feature is like, “Here I’m gonna send you this record”; It’s a “I’ll come through, listen to it, work on it, and I know you want it, but come back later” type thing. That’s because I’m a real personal type dude. When I write music, I like the lights off and I like my shoes off. I’m weird with the way I record – I watch TV in the middle of writing a verse. I feel like some people may feel disrespected if they’re in the studio with me because we’ll be in the studio chilling and I may just stop and turn on the TV. They’ll probably think, “Ahh man, he’s not fucking with us”, but I am fucking with them. The way I do it is just something I do.
Yeah, it’s just your personal process.
It’s just an OCD thing. I gotta move, walk out, stop the beat, laugh at something on YouTube, and turn it back on. It’s a lot to go through when it comes to me making music, so I usually don’t have people come to the studio with me and work because like I said, I’m weird, man.
Is there anyone you’re still interested in collaborating with?
Shit, I want to collaborate with myself when I’m… I wanna know how tight I’m going to be when I’m 33-years-old. If I can collab with myself at the age of 33 even though I look 38…
She said “yeah” (laughs). If I could record with 33-year-old self right now, that would be tight. But besides that, I want to work with Kid Cudi. I want him on a hook, like doing some vocals on a record. I think he would compliment me on a record. It would be pretty dope.
Well, Oxymoron was vivid in the sense that it told various storylines throughout and presented a side of you that fans wanted to hear. Has it helped you find a balance between your past and the present?
My past is way in my past. I’m not even… that’s not even part of my life no more. It’s just more stories. When I’m rapping and I wanna talk about something it would be like an “oh yeah, this happened”. Like “Blind Threats” and “Hoover Street” – those are all real stories, but they were all “oh yeah” situations that I remembered when I was writing. I definitely found myself as a grown man and as an artist, and with what I want to do with every record. I’m very comfortable with making my shit. You know like “oh yeah”, I’m dope (laughs). Straight up.
You’ve definitely gained a great amount of popularity through promotional videos for the NBA. Is there a reason why the NFL hasn’t used your tracks yet?
Well, yeah, but the NFL is like the big bread winner. They don’t really mess with rap. If you notice, with them it’s straight pop and country music. I respect it because they’re at the top of the top of sports, you know what I mean. How many leagues have 90,000 people from one city go to one game? Like that’s a lot of people in one city to come see one game. Football is doing it so why wouldn’t you get Taylor Swift or Katy Perry or whoever out at the Super Bowl? I’m not mad at it.
Have the San Francisco 49ers at least given you one of their bucket hats?
Oh yeah, I got all of that! I’ve been out on the field. I’m a die-hard Niners fan. I don’t pay for tickets no more, they come through for me.
Going back to your crew, how has the dynamic shifted within TDE as you, Kendrick, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, SZA, and Isaiah Rashad have all found success as individual artists?
We don’t kick it as much anymore because we’re all so busy. We busy touring when we’re not working on our albums and when we’re not touring we’re working. So we all in our own space now. Back in the day, we used to work out of one studio – all four artists in one room waiting for our turn to record. Poor Ali; our engineer used to go through hell, like hours and hours of having to record each artist with no sleep. Now we all on different pages, like Kendrick is doing his thing, I’m doing my thing, Soul is in his zone, Jay Rock is in his zone. We added Rashad and SZA. Everybody is just doing their own thing and life is awesome like that. The homies don’t have to call me and I don’t have to call them for help on a record to be successful. Like I don’t need a song with Kendrick, Kendrick doesn’t need a song with me, Soul don’t need a song with Kendrick – we can do whatever we want, you know what I mean? But it’s lovely to know that we got our own fans.
What would you say separates you from other current hip-hop/rap artists?
I’m original. Everybody sound like somebody to me – using the same producers, the same formulas, and the same artists. That’s why remixes are so weak now. It’s like why would I do a remix with new Kendrick on it? He’s my homie and that’s not really a remix. That’s just an example of how watered down music is now. People are just doing remixes and using the same person they put on the last remix or using the same person from the last song for the new remix… it’s just too much.
With this year behind you, what are you personally hoping to achieve in 2015?
Just drop my next album.
You’re already working on it?
Of course. But you know, this year ain’t up yet so Oxymoron, buy that. I’m not really promoting my next album or anything like that, but my next goal is to drop my second album. Simple as that. Drop my second one, have people love it, tour again, and meet the fans that I meet when I’m walking through the mall solo. Like be able to run across each other and have time when I can actually talk to them and say “what up” and they can tell me they like something. I live for that type of shit. When I go to the store and I walk in and there’s that one kid that just dropped his chips or something – staring at you and too scared to get a picture – you take the picture with him. People like him will just talk about a record in detail and not just a single on the radio. He’ll be like, “Yo such and such, blah blah blah, it related to me”. Like that’s dope to do that and meet people like that. I’d like to keep doing that. So that’s my goal: drop my next album and have a fan do that.