After Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q was done. That’s right, done. He wanted to quit rap for his daughter’s sake. It’s the unfortunate yet common tale, where musicians travel the world and miss out on the important things back home, as Q said in an interview with Hot 97, “everything changes“.
He tried to permanently abstain from rap for a year but found that he couldn’t do it, he was far too passionate about making music. With the fire in his belly, he returned and this time he’s released his greatest album to date, the Blank Face LP.
The Blank Face LP is a grimy, sinful and at times, sinister escapade. Its overarching theme is akin to a horror film’s musical score and combined with Q’s realistic, hard-hitting lyricism, they paint a fantastically dark picture. The two elements amalgamate, creating a visceral experience. Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP is a gloom-ridden rap record that’s brimmed with menace, delivering it en masse with the opening track “TorcH”.
It’s a great introduction to the murky world Q’s about to bury you in, a barrage of voices lead the charge followed by old-school riffing. The guitar work provides the backbone to a boom-bap beat. Instrumentally it’s deep and full sounding, the instruments come together to create a bottomless pit of creepy funk. Before the chorus kicks in, Q snarls “Met the Devil in disguise / Look through my mothaf**kin’ eyes” which sums up the track perfectly.
As the vocals become distorted, chaos ensues; with a demonic rendition beneath Anderson .Paak’s gliding vocals, it’s an audible terror. Once the tone has been set, the album unleashes all Hell one track at a time. Not long after the album kicks off we arrive at its lead single “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” featuring Jadakiss. The first half of the track, “Groovy Tony” is built upon a filthy, gritty beat where the synth howls as the Christine McVie sample juxtaposes a blues rhythm.
After a stellar Jadakiss verse, it flawlessly transitions to part 2, “Eddie Kane”. “Eddie Kane” is a soulful mash-up with raw sultry vocals and boom-bap flavourings, spawning a musical concoction that is downright disgusting. It gradually fades out in a flurry of sounds with whispered lines saying “I only have eyes for you / Your soul is mine / Your soul is mine / Mine, mine, mine“, reinforcing the ominous atmosphere. “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” is the entire LP bottled into one track. It’s also one of his best songs to date.
However, the horror show doesn’t end there as Q delivers two back-to-back showstoppers. The Vince Staples assisted “Ride Out”, is a claustrophobic and smothering ensemble derived from a murky beat. It’s backboned by a stampede of hostile sounding bass that rumbles, intertwining between machine-gun drum patterns, ricocheting hi-hats and a minimalistic, melodious synth. Amongst the dirt comes an effortless, reverb coated chorus, certifying “Ride Out” as a hood anthem.
But wait, there’s more, Vince Staples brings the heat with a sharp and shockingly telling verse portraying violence and gang culture dialled up to a hundred. This track in particular is intense and by the end of it, it feels like your brains have been blown out. “Ride Out” is a juggernaut of extreme violence combined with colossal sound, it ends up being a shock-inducing experience.
It’s a running theme throughout the Blank Face LP, the instrumentals, the lyrics, the entire atmosphere is a deeply affecting experience and that takes a certain level of artistry. Schoolboy Q has outdone himself. There isn’t a moment to spare until the overwhelming nature whips back around with full-force, this time it’s “WHateva U Want”. Schoolboy blends pop with gangsta’ rap seamlessly, “WHateva U Want” is a stylistic change, the beat is lighter and more sugary.
Female vocals from Candice Pillay echo a mournfulness reminiscent of Dido, while mashing up similar melodies from Simply Red’s “Fairground”. During the chorus the synth pulses in a raucous party anthem way while the vocals stutter leading to a chilling musical backdrop. It’s effective, a Devilish seduction if you will. The overall track composition gave me chills, it’s flawless.
As the Blank Face LP progresses, it sustains its tour de force level of momentum. It’s a consistent, cohesive experience. At times, it’s simplistic but catchy, Q’s flow carries moments that others couldn’t with his enthusiasm. His flow is adaptive and versatile, and his cadence is key. He manages to mix it up as the journey progresses, take “JoHn Muir’s” throwback to 90s rap adding another string to Q’s eclectic experience.
Shortly after “JoHn Muir” comes “Str8 Ballin”, demonstrating Schoolboy’s ability to write a killer chorus without compromising artistic integrity in any shape or form. The beat is composed of a looped piano accompanied by thunderous snares and hi-hats as the bass swirls below, like the fires in the cavernous, skull-ridden depths of Hell.
Blank Face LP’s experience is a sum of all its parts, from the production, song composition to Q’s wordplay. Its theme is backboned by introspective lyricism with enough levity to save the atmosphere from being overwhelming. Schoolboy’s sense of direction is clear throughout, the listening experience isn’t jarring nor convoluted. Overall, it’s clear, concise and near faultless.
By the album’s end, it’s a slower, more drab jazz influenced climax, rounding off the album in a menacing fashion, just as the album began. The Blank Face LP is a fully realised body of work that mirrors Schoolboy Q’s mind, body and soul. It’s the embodiment of one mans journey from gang culture, unhinged violence and seedy drug abuse. All those elements end up being the most honest and influential telling of events since Kendrick Lamar’s good kid…
Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP is terror personified and it carries the torch for transparent, uncompromising artistry. If you want to know what it’s like to ‘gang bang’ then click play and if you want to know what it’s like to be sick and tired of people dying, click play again. This is both Schoolboy Q’s finest and darkest hour, and it’s a stroke of artistic brilliance.
Out now on Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope Records, purchase Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP on iTunes here.
Words by Jake Gould