Heaven or Hell: Does Schoolboy Q’s “Oxymoron” Live Up to the Hype?

Doc Zeus knows the woopty-woop. Creative burnout is the most common pitfall facing young rappers transitioning from blog fame to the unyielding lights of major label stardom. The combination of...
By    February 25, 2014

"Oxymoron" by Schoolboy QDoc Zeus knows the woopty-woop.

Creative burnout is the most common pitfall facing young rappers transitioning from blog fame to the unyielding lights of major label stardom. The combination of dwindling-to-non-existent resources for artist development, a democratization of DYI self-recording processes and the Internet’s revolutionary free distribution model spawned a glut of thirsty, talented, unsigned artists vying for an audience. For an unknown artist, it created an environment where it seems like a young rapper has to drop a damn-near classic record simply to get any attention at all.

While Internet mixtape culture is great for fans—as they get a chance to listen to great music without the ethical obligation of paying for it—it creates a logical problem where an artist is often unable to capitalize on their music. Simply put, they often lack the resources of an entertainment conglomerate to properly reach a wide audience. You can become a critically acclaimed blog star, get the cover of The Fader, and be the toast of Twitter, before you have any real following in your hometown.

Internet buzz might attract the attention of the major labels, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will attract a large following. The NahRight archives are littered with ZShare links of promising rappers who never could translate the hype into a sustainable career. After pouring your soul into mixtapes just to get a rep, it’s deeply ironic to find an artist creatively burning out when it’s time to drop their “debut” album. They essentially peak too soon.

After the critical acclaim of his 2012 breakthrough mixtape, Habits & Contradictions, ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron drops this week to perhaps the most fanfare for a debut album since his label mate Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. Despite being positioned as TDE’s next-artist-to-blow, Q has seen consistent setbacks for the release of Oxymoron for the last year. After two early singles “Yay Yay” and “Collard Greens” struggled to catch on, rumors began to surface that ScHoolboy had relapsed with prescription drugs and cough syrup addiction – a rumor confirmed by his recent interview with Hot 97’s Angie Martinez where he coughed up to a lean addiction. All of this led to an uncertainty surrounding the release of his new album.

While certainly not a complete disappointment, it seems as if Oxymoron is unable to match the bright promise of Habits & Contradictions. His breakthrough mixtape was able to strike a seamless balance of snarling, ravenous street rap with an evolving pop-focused sensibility that seemed primed to bridge the gap towards mainstream acclaim. Songs like “Hands On The Wheel” and “There He Go” sampled indie pop acts in clever yet subtle ways that indicated Q had an ability to write songs that could go on the radio, clubs and hipster dive bars. When combined with his caustic gangster bonafides, this placed Q at the bleeding edge of modern street rap. Where Habits & Contradictions was bold and confident in its artistic direction, Oxymoron feels decidedly unsure of itself. Songs such as “Man Of The Year,” “Los Awesome” and “Hell Of A Night” feel like half-hearted attempts at appeasing Interscope executives desperate to capitalize on the massive success of TDE’s flagship artist, Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, the record also lacks the snarling bark of songs like “Raymond 1969” and “Nightmare On Figg Street” from his mixtape days.

Despite the album’s missteps, there is also a lot to like on Oxymoron. “Prescription/Oxymoron” is a breathtaking, personal story song that details both Q’s struggles with addiction and his early life as oxycontin drug dealer in South Central. The album’s early promotional singles “Collard Greens” and “Yay Yay” still show up on the record and are easily some of the best work of Q’s career. Both songs sounding as exciting as they did when you first heard them, despite the near year-long delay of the album. Meanwhile, O.G. gorilla pimp overlord Suga Free shows up for some smooth gangster funk on “Grooveline, Pt. 2,” stealing the whole damn show in the process. These records indicate that Q is still one of the most promising young artists even if Oxymoron doesn’t always deliver.

Ultimately, it seems pretty telling that in ScHoolboy Q’s recent revelations he believes that the drugs have had a negative affect on his music. Q told Angie Martinez that he thought his music has sucked since his relapse and you can almost sense that Q knows that Oxymoron isn’t as good as the albums that catapulted him to attention. It would be a shame if he becomes yet another artist whose best material was essentially found in his “demo” and thus, never reached his true potential. But there’s hope that you can draw in ScHoolboy Q’s candor about his problems. If admission of the problem is a step in the right direction, Q might soon find himself in full recovery.

Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron (Left-Click)

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