Top Dawg, Black Hippy and South Central LA rapper, Schoolboy Q (Quincy Hanley) has endured five years in the game since releasing his first studio album Setbacks in 2011, and that itself is an accomplishment. Moreover, he just released his fourth, Blank Face LP (July 8, Interscope/Top Dawg), to help bless and celebrate the anniversary/occasion. Considering all areas of judgement and review, it really is good. Q brings aboard some new artists, and he delivers the right useful messages between tracks of adroit gangster rhyme lines, with production that is thoroughly supplementary though not incredibly extraordinary at this juncture. He invites us into the mind of a real ghetto resident for rap’s time-honored simulation experience of authentic though bleak hood living, the empathy machine of the industry, and it does work here, just not as efficiently as it could. Schoolboy Q’s rhyme writing game is sound. The only thing missing is in how he hasn’t branched out into much new vocabulary. Other than that, there’s nothing to complain about in that facet. Going back to the gangsterism aspect, that senior subgenre of hip-hop so prevalent in this LP has seemingly evolved though it can be argued that it has but only slightly in a few small ways and mostly within itself, not into a brand new glorious entity.
For anyone who comes into this project unaware of the fact that Schoolboy Q does eventually get to courageous, progressive and inspiring messages later in the disc, the beginning does sound and feel pretty typical, as Q recites normal, consistent hood raps revisiting common ghetto ideologies and beliefs and flails and spasms about to words on outrageous gangster senselessness and hood craziness. In many of the remaining parts, he’s simply straight gangster all the way, through and through. It’s the album’s main vehicle after all. Through it all though, we see and feel the circumstances and attitudes Schoolboy Q came up around, and his bravery and wisdom in “Neva Change” and “Black Thoughts” truly accomplish his mission by driving home his positive point. In the two cuts, Q criticizes the backwards ways of some of the more unsavory folks in the slums and pleads strongly for an end to violence and gang activity in their midst. These two tracks have been decisively placed between the middle and end of Blank Face, in the thickest, meatiest part of the album.
Except for its heavy reliance on standard gangsta-rap operating procedures plus the less than attractive religious self-capitulation of “Lord Have Mercy,” celebratory depictions of regressive street ways in more than one spot and catchphrase/catchword choruses verging on corniness (“That Part” and “Big Body”), Blank Face
is solid overall. We can see that Schoolboy Q has still kindly taken care of his special rap style, and his guests, a spread of talents including some legends but also unknowns and young-knowns like Traffic, TF, Justine Skye and SZA, give animated expression where there might have been blankness in this Blank
mix. The music likewise provides a cooly invigorating though standard variety of options. Artsy punches like the stuttering voice sound-effects in “Torch” give way to hazy melodics in “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” which themselves clear the floor for a more traditional, more melodically and rhythmically pleasing beat in “Whateva U Want.” The rest and everything in general favors a midlevel hardness of sound rather than either side of the extreme. TDE’s Digi+Phonics of course are there providing audio but also with help from a scattering of other great mixing board masters. Schoolboy Q
has done well, but the time is ripe for something a little more outside the box and unpredictable than what we get in Blank Face
3 out of 5 stars