If ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. city’ is a series of vignettes of life in the violent underbelly of Los Angeles, the story of one man who’s seen too many friends succumb to the harshest aspects of modern urbania and struggles to keep from being consumed himself, ‘Oxymoron’ is the converse. Schoolboy Q is the friend that went under – he’s already been consumed, and he revels in it. Q is conscious enough, though, to realize where he fits in to the context of modern alt-rap, and Kendrick, having busted down the doors for the introspective strain of gangsta rap in the mainstream by allowing the listener to observe from afar without getting their hands dirty, paves the way for Q’s immersive experience into drug-addled gang life. As he himself puts it, “this that shit that they want.” Now that mainstream listeners have had a taste of the Black Hippy perspective, they’re hungry for more, and Q is happy to deliver.
The album starts off with a track called “Gangsta,” obviously, which serves to introduce both the confrontational delivery and the dark, abrasive production of the rest of the album. “Los Awesome” keeps the momentum propelled firmly in the direction of your face, amping up the aggression to intentionally ridiculous levels. Although less so here than on tracks like “Hell of a Night” or “What They Want” (which features the incomparable 2 Chainz, no less), “Los Awesome” shows where Q may begin to fall apart – at times, he pushes things past the point of excitingly aggro to downright annoying, especially given the production, which sounds like it decided that all the bells and whistles of Lil Wayne’s early releases were worth giving a brief run-through in the span of 4 minutes. “The Purge” boasts a feature from Tyler The Creator, the king of over-the-top theatrics, and benefits greatly from his learned sense of restraint, which is what tends to make his provocations so successful. Essentially, though it’s less upbeat than the other more teeth-grinding tracks, it feels as though this is what tracks like “Los Awesome” were really going for.
That’s not to say that Q doesn’t know how to pull back at times; just maybe not all in the span of one track. Single “Collard Greens,” which served as the introduction to Q’s music for many, is by far a more accessible approach to what is essentially his bread-and-butter, namely the kind of overtly sexual intensity likely to illicit nervous laughter in newcomers. “Prescription/Oxymoron,” a 7-minute epic about addiction and insecurity, is the centerpiece of the whole album and outlines exactly who Q is as an artist. It gives the rest of the album, from the hardcore grandstanding on “Gangsta” to the mellowed-out “Studio,” a purpose, delivered by someone who feels like he’s got no choice but to be as cartoonish as he is in order to rise up out of obscurity and denigration.
‘Man of the Year’ closes the album, and has all the accessibility of “Collard Greens” without ditching the edge introduced through the course of the rest of the album. Q still sounds agitated, but exercises an impressive amount of restraint, perhaps out of a feeling of wanting more but falling short as much as it is being confident with his accomplishment here. Both sentiments are appropriate. ‘Oxymoron’ is a worthy effort in the Black Hippy canon, and although one has doubts that Schoolboy Q can overcome his cockiness enough to eventually grow out of his boyish shortcomings on future releases, this album establishes an impressive beginning to the artist’s legacy.
Recommended Tracks: Collard Greens, Prescription/Oxymoron, The Purge, Man of the Year