TDE rapper, “baller futuristic groovy gangsta with an attitude,” and snapchat (hoovaq) happy father ScHoolboy Q brings us his anticipated follow-up to the radio friendly Oxymoron. His newest project Blank Face, strays from the radio bounce and instead puts up a grit reminiscent of his previous projects.
Blank Face is an exercise in menacing tones, versatility, and a fresh creative freedom for ScHoolboy Q.
The seventeen track album is not a conceptual album in the traditional sense; it’s not one long poem. However, the album does explore the concept of ScHoolboy Q having a Blank Face, as in he cannot be pinned down to a single mask. That being said, Q does put forth a project that carries a level of cohesion by building a motif across the psychedelic and rock-infused production. The album has a distinct sonic personality, which combats the spaced content. Wailing guitars help to build a sinister atmosphere almost immediately, backed by Anderson .Paak’s own eerie vocals and wailing on the intro track “Torch.”
Q’s grimy voice and inflections carry the first six tracks well, keeps them hard and gripping. He breaks the pounding momentum with “WHateva U Want,” a smooth and romantic cut where Q returns to the poppy flow that was native to Oxymoron. The sequencing of this project is thoughtful as Q plays with the momentum of the LP, easing us back into the pounding West Coast sound with standout track “By Any Means.”
Quoting Malcolm X, Q repurposes the quote to fit the narrative of the song: going to any means necessary to “get yours,” as Kendrick sings ominously in the back of the hook. This track sustains that West Coast bite, with bars about street life despite Q’s holding back his hoarse delivery. The production gives off a sense of muddled grandiosity with the melodic strings and lax percussion. There’s an element of caution to the sound of the song, which only adds to the narrative. Q also lets his personality shine through with charismatic bars like “I’m still that goofy cat.” Mixing the “pimpin’[and] bangin’” with this more mellowed out atmosphere, Q shows off one of his sweet spots in terms of flow.
After hearing “By Any Means,” it’s clear that the rest of the record is begging for more of that easy, almost effortless flow. Even a groovier track, like “Big Body,” which breaks entirely from the production style of the overall album, is missing this element of flavor to keep the album from getting monotonous. At seventeen tracks, putting up a textured project is crucial in keeping a project from sounding like one long song.
Texture aside, Blank Face features some of Q’s best rapping to date. Another standout track, “JoHn Muir” details the very start of his days “bellin’ through the mothafuckin’ streets,” having guns at thirteen, and dealing at fourteen. The storytelling on this track is violently blunt, as you can come to expect from both Q and the West Coast. More than just storytelling, this track showcases Q really upping his quality of wordplay with lines like “Ghetto bird hit a kid like ghetto hoop dreams.” Knowing that this song is also a freestyle really cements the fact that Q can overflow with raw talent if he wants to.
Blank Face also features plenty of well structured political moments. “Neva CHange” is a somber acceptance of how the “world keeps spinnin” despite all the atrocities it’s filled with. On this track, Q also uses the second verse to name everything killing off the black man from the police to child support, and it’s all a “damn shame.” The second verse transitions well into the theme of unity on “Black THoughts,” where Q flips the slogan “All Lives Matter” to mean that both sides of gang-bangers matter, bringing the slogan into the realm of standing for Black Lives Matter.
Perhaps Blank Face, and on a greater level ScHoolboy Q, is a little too multi-faceted for its own good. In an attempt to pack in all sides of him, in an attempt to wear a blank face and not stick to one or two masks, Q ends up watering down the album with tracks like “Overtime” and “Kno Ya Wrong.” While delivering a bloated album is a better than the listener being left feeling like the album didn’t have enough content, at this point in his career, I’m expecting Q to be a little more focused with his music.
That being said, Blank Face sports plenty flashes of maturity and growth for ScHoolboy Q. It genuinely sounds like he had a better time making this record than he did Oxymoron, and it translates into more of his personality being injected into the songs. This is not Q’s best project, nor is it his worst; this is a big 72-minute long step in the right direction. If Q can keep up playing with flows and fully deliver on his endearing personality his best work will be on the horizon.