“Fuck rap, my daddy a gangsta”. The very first line of the album, spoken by the young and impressionable Joy, Schoolboy Q’s daughter. She acts as our eyes and ears as we are taken down a dark and narrow path that shows little signs of a happy ending for our protagonist. The essence of the album’s title is layered through each song, as the decisions between the lifestyle he follows and what is necessary to survive become more blurred. “We living to die, oxymoron.”
Opening track ‘Gangsta’ leaves nothing to the imagination, this is his mission statement into his sinister lifestyle. “Real niggas don’t die homeboy, we multiply / Shit, come around my town you clown, that’s suicide.” He spits line after line of the antics he became caught up with on Figueroa street. With Q shouting “GANGSTA” twenty four times in the chorus and a heavy use of his “YAWK” ad-lib, this is an album of Schoolboy doing him and he doesn’t always come off as the hero.
Yet this isn’t the point, he’s not a role model, he is a realist. The Pharrell produced ‘Los Awesome’ is a self confessed gang banger anthem that will have even the most timid bouncing along. This glimpse into the life of a gangster shows itself to be quite alluring, and we begin to realise not everything is so black and white. He continues to delve into his past and then touches upon a subject which is still an issue to the present day. ‘Prescription‘ addresses his relationship with drugs. The harrowing synths accompanied by his secluded rambling, expose the self-deprivation mindset that Percocets, Adderall, and Codeine to name a few have trapped him in. “Prescription drugs, show me love.” It hits even harder as little helpless Joy seeks her daddy’s attention. “What’s wrong? You tired? You mad? Okay, I love you, daddy.” It doesn’t stop there as the drugs’ relentless regime takes another turn. In the second part of the song he tells his stories of supplying his fellow helpless addicts. Not only an addict but a dealer, his life is being cornered in from every angle. Continuation is his only instrument for survival.
The dark subject matter continues and the universe of ‘Oxymoron’ becomes quite a claustrophobic one. There are moments where the production reaches out a hand for a moment of variation. ‘Studio’ and ‘Hell Of A Night’ both move away from the unsparing piano keys and instead opt for an eerie, spaced out feel. Tyler the Creator’s signature production is called in for ‘The Purge’, where he also lends a hand with the vocals along with Kurrupt which makes for a menacing trio. Similar themes are revisited on ‘What They Want’ and ‘Blind Threats’. By this point, the message of the album is clear and the reiteration becomes a little tiresome. That being said, when he breaks from the path it doesn’t quite fit. ‘Collard Greens’ is undoubtedly a groovy ride but doesn’t really make sense in this very linear self-assessment. The ongoing ever looming struggle that is carved into the structure of the album might begin to grind, but instead of boredom we are left with a very unassailable sense of unease. The same unease that Schoolboy Q felt riding alongside his every move.
When we reach the end of the album we are greeted with ‘Man Of The Year’. Not exactly a victory lap but more of a book end. Yet this story shouldn’t have a finish, or a definitive finale. If there should be any ending it should come in the form of ‘Break The Bank’- a beautifully imperfect portrayal of the ceaseless road. It becomes very apparent that Schoolboy Q is still running. Whether this is a rational mindset or a scar his past has left on him remains unknown. “Cause one day this rappin’ gon’ pay, cause one day my story gon’ pay.”
Words: Jacob Roy