ScHoolboy Q: Giving 'Em What They Want

'Oxymoron' rapper chats to Clash…

“But if you don’t know anything, just know I got some weed,” spat ScHoolboy Q on ‘#BETiGOTSUMWEED’, an early blog favourite from his 2011 independently released debut, ‘Setbacks’. And although a lot has changed for the Top Dawg Entertainment rapper since then, that fact still remains.

As we emerge from the lift at the Manchester hotel that Q is calling home for the night, we are immediately hit with the strong stench of Californian weed. Despite having been informed that Q has only just woken up, when we greet him he is already well under the influence.

Donning a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of circular sunglasses, Q, sat on his bed, occasionally stubbing out a cigar on his bedside table between sips of soda, comes across almost like a classic rock star. But when it comes to talking about his music, the passion, although not apparent in his tone, comes across in his words.

In hip-hop’s ADD generation it seems like interest in an album only lasts a number of weeks – but that Q’s Interscope debut, ‘Oxymoron’ (review), which was released in February, is still one of the most talked about rap records right now is a testament to its quality. While the Hoover Street Crip’s gangbanger past isn’t relatable to the majority of his listeners, Q thinks that his honesty is what is important. 

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I just talk about real topics. Anybody can relate to a real topic. I’m just straight to the point: this is who I am and this is life…

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“I just talk about real topics. Anybody can relate to a real topic, whether it’s talking directly to you or you mixing it. You can relate to something that’s similar to it. I’m not talking mobster movies, ‘Oh, he kissed me on the cheek then he got me whacked,’ that type of rap. More so, I’m just straight to the point: this is who I am and this is life.”

It’s also the way that he cleverly layers the deeper elements into tracks with catchy motifs and infectious beats that helps him to cut through. His single, ‘Man Of The Year’, might initially sound like your usual braggadocio-bursting club hip-hop anthem, with its simple hook: “Bruh I see girls everywhere / Titty, ass, hands in the air, it’s a party over here / Shake it for the man of the year.” But, as Q breaks it down, it reveals a lot more than can be initially understood.

“That’s why I’m the ‘Man Of The Year’,” he explains. “Because I came from ‘Party in the trees / Sunny land of the G’s / Let a n*gga breathe / Tank top, top down for the breeze’ – that’s LA. ‘Home of the paid by the first / Then n*gga going broke by the third’ – you know what I’m saying? That’s where I come from. ‘You be hating and I still hold it down / When I’m round when the girls never lounge’: in the hood that’s all they can do is hate on you, anybody doing good. That’s a party song but it still has meaning, a couple of little jewels here and there about where I come from. Some people just think it’s a party song, but it’s deeper than that.”

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‘Man Of The Year’

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Many of Q’s newer fans may have missed that side of ‘Man Of The Year’, and he believes that those looking for a party album from him may have been left disappointed by ‘Oxymoron’.

“A lot of the new fans didn’t like the album because they were expecting [more songs like] ‘Collard Greens’ and ‘Man Of The Year’. This was for the core fans, but a lot of new people was hoping for [club bangers] all the way through the album, and that’s not what I’d normally be representing.”

This is a common story for rappers’ major-label debuts. With the pressure of charting a single they can wildly depart from the sound that their older fans have come to know them by, resulting in an album that fails to reach commercial success or please those supporting the artist from day one. Not with Q, though.

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I don’t worry about rules and hooks and bridges and what’s catchy. What sounds good to me is what sounds good to me…

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“I do have fun, but this is for the streets. This is for where I come from, and tells my story from my point of view. Because everybody has said the story already, but it’s just from your point of view, and what you see. And that’s what’s going to give me longevity. And yes, I got good reviews all through it, but I noticed that more newer fans were upset than anything.”

And while Q is open about his desire for a number one single, this has never been TDE’s forte. Since Kendrick Lamar’s first independently released album ‘Overly Dedicated’, the label has thrived on well-crafted cohesive full-lengths. Like ‘Oxymoron’, everything that TDE has put out has been carefully chosen and has purpose.

“Every song is like a project,” says Q, taking another puff of his cigar. “And you just gotta capitalise on it. That’s my main thing: I don’t worry about rules and hooks and bridges and what’s catchy. What sounds good to me is what sounds good to me.”

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‘Collard Greens’ feat. Kendrick Lamar

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Unlike many of their peers, you’ll rarely hear random singles or freestyle tracks dropping from TDE artists, and if you do, then be prepared for the bigger picture. It’s this approach that has the word ‘classic’ thrown around by fans discussing the label’s records. The word is used far too commonly, but with regards to albums like Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ it’s justifiable. ‘Oxymoron’ has enjoyed unanimously positive reviews, but the rapper isn’t sure of its classic status yet.

“I honestly don’t believe you can rate an album until after six months. You think because you sat with it a week…” he pauses, reconsidering. “You know how many times I done switched up, loved an album, hated an album, then sat with an album, hated it then loved it, then next thing I know I play this song that I never play? And now I play that over and over again. That’s when you’re supposed to rate the album!”

As a gauge on what a classic album should sound like, Q looks to fellow West Coast rapper Snoop Dogg’s debut. “Something like ‘Doggystyle’, that’s over the years,” he explains. “I still listen to the album and there’s so many cuts on there, it’s a classic. It was ruthless: there was no ‘I’ve made it’ songs, there was no shit strictly for radio – that shit ended up going to the radio anyway. Had a song saying, ‘Ain’t no fun unless the homies can’t have none,’ and that shit was on radio, and it’s talking about a bitch f*cking all the homies. That’s how I wanted ‘Oxymoron’ to be received: a reckless album that people respected and saw the art of it and called it a classic.”

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Words: Grant Brydon
Photos: Hayley Louisa Brown

ScHoolboy Q online. ‘Oxymoron’ is out now, everywhere.

This article also appears in issue 97 of Clash magazine.

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