Groove Is in the Heart: The Return of Schoolboy Q

After two years off, the TDE bucket hat standard bearer returns with new single, "Groovy Tony."
By    April 11, 2016

A little over two years ago, I rode around South Central in a chauffeured Escalade with Schoolboy Q. He downed two stuffed styrofoam cups before 1 p.m., and was basically a zombie until the drugs took control. This wasn’t at odds with expectations, but it didn’t exactly augur well for his future. You can wear all the psychedelic Hunter Thompson bucket hats that you want, but opiates usually lead to only one ending. No one re-reads anything HST wrote after 1976, and after watching Q attempt to turn his arteries as hard as the jolly ranchers in his cup, I figured his streak could stop faster than you could scream “Figg Side.”

Despite several great songs, Oxymoron partially sank under the weight of its own ambition. It was burdened by the impulse to re-introduce a rapper that most already knew, an official debut that felt too much like an OFFICIAL DEBUT. It showcased the many sides of Quincy Hanley, but lacked cohesion and focus. There was the pseudo-EDM song (“Hell of a Night”), the nightwave drunk-late-on-PCH banger with the Chromatics sample, (“Man of the Year”), the Kendrick song (“Collard Greens,”) the trap song with Mike Will and 2 Chainz, the Pharrell song, the Tyler the Creator song, and the nearly 7-minute woozy narcotic dirge that killed the album’s flow.

When the OG Alchemist version of “Hoover St,” leaked early this year, it confirmed prior suspicions that there was a better version of Oxymoron floating out there somewhere. What we heard was the by-product of savvy label calculation, sample clearance issues, and the need to follow-up Good Kid with something similarly narrative-driven. In short, a modern major label album. And it’s hard to knock it too much when the token for-the-ladies offering to the R&B Gods (“Studio”) cracked the Top 40, dominated Power 106 with Sting levels of tantric stamina, and forced me to hear the sentence, “put my tongue in different places, play a game of Operation” until I needed a Men in Black pen to erase my memory. It was great to see Q and BJ the Chicago Kid get a genuine crossover smash, but we can all agree that no one needed to hear pussy eating equated with this photo.

For the last two years, Q largely avoided the spotlight. He toured, collected the occasional festival check, and presumably worked on his sophomore assault. That seems to be the TDE way. Focus on one artist at a time, lest the others distract from the marketing campaign. There’s no denying the end results. Kendrick Lamar has become arguably the most beloved rap star on earth, but for those who want to hear more Q and Isaiah Rashad, well, To Pimp A Butterfly was in stores now.

Until about a week ago when Q finally dropped the first single, “Groovy Tony.” It arrived with no concrete news of the album. No title or release date. Just the visuals where Q stomps over an apocalyptic wasteland trash heap-meets-Collateral LA, snarling about being a blank-faced killer, snatching souls with a .38.  The AK-47 seen as superfluous.

It’s less grooviness than  a growling cold-blooded Figgside strangulation. There’s always the temptation to go pop for your first single. Call up BJ or maybe wrangle the Weeknd to sing some spoken word poetry inspired by non-alcoholic roofies and the best sex scenes from 50 Shades of Gray. Instead, Q returned with a song that Tony Montana might see it as a little too dark. It’s to our benefit. This is what Q has always done best. Modern hard-boiled West Coast gangsta rap. This is the dude who dedicated a song to founder of the Crips over a Porthishead loop. This one takes its drums from a Christine McVie solo song. 

So we get those visions. Q in bug-eye sunglasses, spitting and shooting the semi-automatic, faceless as a young Tony Starks. Raps about firearms and Figueroa, the safe cracking done before he first discovered the benefits of the studios. This is the dude who enlisted Nas for the “Studio” remix and had Raekwon on the last album. Never a throwback, but someone whose natural instinct is to end his return video with a man hanging.

If there was any fear that Q would succumb to drugs or lack of focus, this is a retort in the form of a rifle to the temple. Mission music. It’s not exactly groovy, but you can call yourself what you want when you carry big guns.

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