January 31, 2012
Review: Schoolboy Q – ‘Habits & Contradictions’
Hip-hop seems to be going through a purple patch right now; on an upsurge of its perennial seesaw of quality spearheaded by the freshness of its new generation — the syrupy flows of A$AP Rocky and crew; the ‘trap beats’ of his regular collaborator Clams Casino; the golden era boom-bap chef rap of Action Bronson; Das Racist’s knowing tongue-in-cheek satire; the controversy-craving, subversive ways of Odd Future and Lil B.
Throwing his hat into this ring is sometime-Black Hippy associate Schoolboy Q, whose latest effort has as much of a claim to be part of the current rap fabric as LiveLoveA$AP or Drake’s Take Care at the other end of the scale.
‘Sacrilegious’ is a brave opener, its insistent kick drum thud never threatening to derail the track’s skulking disposition, with Q’s unperturbed flow picking up where previous album Setbacks left off.
With a west coast sound far removed from the G-Funk or backpacker styles of the past, Habits & Contradictions has a moody, menacing feel more associated with the New York aesthetic — more smoked-out than gutter rap. ‘Oxy Music’ is snail-paced and ominous, a scratchy drum loop and spare keys line playing host to some demented couplets (“blood on the wall, death in the air / birds on the ground, pistols everywhere”), while the A$AP Rocky collaboration ‘Hands On The Wheel’ is another demonstration of the freewheeling Web 2.0 sampling culture that is now prevalent in contemporary rap — the track contains elements of a YouTube rip of Lissie covering Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’.
The collaborations here are carefully selected from a pool of up-and-comers and contemporaries, never treading on Q’s toes while simultaneously augmenting tracks like ‘2 Raw’ (Jay Rock), the brilliant ‘Blessed’ (Kendrick Lemar) and ‘Sex Drive’ (a sassy turn from singer Jhené Aiko).
‘Raymond 1969’ takes us back to the 36 chambers with some gritty drums and a grimey Hell on Earth-era Mobb Deep mood, while the Genesis-sampling ‘Gangsta In Designer (No Concept)’ sees Q riding military-style beats with some of the album’s tighter flows.
That’s not to say Habits & Contradictions doesn’t have its faults, however. ‘Sexting’ is a throwaway slice of uninspired misogyny, while ‘Nightmare On Figg St.’’s ‘homage’ to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Niggas In Paris’ falls just short of insultingly plagiaristic. ‘Druggys Wit Hoes Again (feat. Ab Soul)’ is irritating, and even a late-night beat from Alchemist can’t save ‘My Homie’’s half-hearted reminiscences.
On the whole, Schoolboy Q has delivered a strong — if sporadic — set, one that doesn’t hold together brilliantly as an album, but whose better tacks certainly benefit from the advantages of the playlist age.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON