The long-awaited major label debut from West Coast rapper Schoolboy Q paints a comprehensive picture of the Los Angeles gang scene, yet the album falls short of meeting its lofty expectations. Oxymoron is the first studio album released by Top Dawg Entertainment since the 2012 release of good kid, m.A.A.d city by labelmate Kendrick Lamar. Schoolboy Q is the logical successor to Lamar, the second-in-command at one of the most in-demand labels in rap. His latest full-length effort falls short of the high standard set by Lamar’s last album, but is a worthwhile listen in its own right.
Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope
Schoolboy Q draws on his own life experiences to weave together a vivid tapestry of street life, with tales of drug dealing and human temptation. Q attempts to balance hood-friendly bangers with more introspective, personal confessions. Oxymoron reaches its highest points when Q turns inward, ruminating on religion, morality and drug use. His narrative-driven songs are interspersed with snippets of his young daughter’s voice, which juxtaposes his criminal lifestyle with his good intentions for his family. It’s a compelling portrait of a conflicted man attempting to find his place in this world.
Q is at his best when he shares his inner psyche over the course of Oxymoron’s 15 tracks. Songs like “Prescription-Oxymoron” and “Blind Threats” are obvious standouts that are thoughtful meditations on life. Creative storytelling strengthens “His and Her Fiend,” which features Q rapping from the perspective of an Oxycontin pill. Other tracks showcase Schoolboy Q’s versatility, as he switches his point of view from that of a drug dealer and pimp to that of a nurturing father.
Oxymoron features industry heavyweights behind the production and as featured guests. A-listers like Lamar, 2 Chainz and Raekwon deliver stellar guest verses, and beats are provided by hitmakers like Pharrell, The Alchemist and Mike Will Made It. Despite this star-studded cast of characters, Oxymoron does not deliver top-shelf results. Schoolboy Q’s rhyme schemes often feel simplistic and border on redundancy in many songs. The Pharrell-produced track, “Los Awesome,” sees Q’s voice overpowered by the beat’s thumping baseline.
Unfortunately, the album has too many lowpoints to make it a consistently rewarding listen. At his best, Schoolboy Q is one of the most entertaining rappers in the game, but Oxymoron has far too many clunkers. Despite energetic bangers like “Break the Bank” and “Man of the Year,” the album is plagued by filler. A tighter track list would dramatically improve the Oxymoron listening experience, as the album loses steam as it goes along. The last two songs are among the weakest on the album; removing those tracks, in addition to the dull “Hoover Street” and the lackluster “Studio,” would make Oxymoron one of the best rap albums of the last several years. As it stands, however, the finished product is still a solid release, just not the modern-day classic Q made it out to be.
It’s not Schoolboy Q’s fault that Oxymoron will draw inevitable comparisons to good kid, m.A.A.d city, which also featured a conflicted young man describing life in Los Angeles. Schoolboy Q has created a very good rap album, but he wants to be considered as one of the best. On “Break the Bank,” Q raps “tell Kendrick move from the throne / I came for it.” Oxymoron won’t convince anyone that Schoolboy Q is a bigger star than Lamar, but it is a promising release from an entertaining rapper, and another worthwhile offering from Top Dawg Entertainment.