Before Kendrick Lamar even released an album, his longtime rap companion Schoolboy Q had begun work on what Twenty months in the making, “Oxymoron” has finally surfaced, and the hard work of the Compton MC shines throughout in spite of some lyrical shortcomings. The album’s cover, which pictures Schoolboy Q wearing a bonnet and ski mask, strikes a nerve with is blend of menace and playfulness. This juxtaposition is emphasized in the album’s opening track “Gangsta,” in which the sound of tlaking young children precedes the rapper snarling the song’s title multiple times during the refrain. The verses that follow would sound at home on an N.W.A. record: Schoolboy Q offers listeners a look into the gritty side of urban Los Angeles. “Real n—-s don’t die, homie, we multiply,” he raps, quoting the group that placed his native Compton on the musical landscape right around the time he was born. “Oxymoron” is devoted to lyrical ground that has been well-trodden over the quarter-century since gangsta rap first emerged. “So many ladies wanna share my tongue,” Schoolboy Q raps on “Hell of a Night,” and continues with many less PG-friendly variants of the same theme throughout the record. His musings on sex get especially risque? in tracks like “Grooveline, Pt. 2” and “What They Want,” as does his gun talk on “F–k LA” and “Hoover Street” and his odes to drugs on “Prescription/Oxymoron.”
While there’s nothing wrong with sticking to one’s roots – all of this was part of the world the rapper knew dur- ing his past affiliation with L.A.’s Crips gang – this record would have likely been improved with more thematic variety, not to mention a more thorough treatment of the topic of father- hood, which Schoolboy Q regrettably only brushes at here.
On a brighter note, the guest appear- ances on “Oxymoron” are uniformly high-quality and never feel out of place. “Collard Greens” is arguably the album’s high point, as Lamar adds another spectacular acrobatic verse to his ever-grow- ing repertoire, while also showing off his comic side by rapping a few bars in Spanish. “Blind Threats” serves as a classic case of old meets new, as Schoolboy Q teams up with Raekwon, one of hip-hop’s most admired veterans, who impressively rhymes “suitcase king” with “screwed-face grin” and stays consistenly threatening in standard Wu-Tang Clan style. Plenty of the other invitiees, especially Tyler the Creator on “The Purge” and BJ the Chicago Kid on “Studio,” knowck their verses out of the park. The production team’s contributions to the album merit just as much praise. The infectious beat on “Man of the Year” – crafted by Schoolboy Q’s frequent collaborators, Nez & Rio, and backed by a sample of “Cherry” (2012) by syn- thpop group Chromatics – arguably make this song the most radio-ready cut on the album. Other high-profile record producers do great work on vari- ous songs, with DJ Dahi on “Hell of a Night,” the Alchemist on “Break the Bank” and Pharrell Williams on “Los Awesome” delivering especially impres- sive numbers. The prolonged recording process has molded “Oxymoron” into an all-around impressive sonic achieve- ment.
Ever since 50 Cent and G-Unit slipped into irrelevancy about six years ago, gangsta rap has been widely viewed as passe? within the hip-hop community. “Oxymoron” ought to change that impres- sion now that Schoolboy Q has provided the genre with one of its most consis- tently thrilling and engaging entries in recent memory. This album will serve as a launching pad for a promising main- stream career, which will hopefully allow the rapper to temper the slight overload of lyrical cliche?s which harms his otherwise stellar debut.