The main reason why I respect and love TDE as a label (as frustrating as it may be sometimes) is that they take their time with their music like a great home-cooked meal. Very rarely do they miss on their projects from their respective artists and have gone outside of what’s expected in the mainstream sound when it comes to picking their artists to carry on their legacy of making original and inspiring music (Isaiah Rashad, SZA, Lance Skiiiwalker). Since I started listening to Black Hippy in 2011, I’ve been nothing less than inspired and thrilled by the fact that there was music out there that stood out against the top-40 driven industry that was starting to take a toll, and I have the internet to thank for that. Setbacks was and still is one of the most played albums/EPs in my iTunes and the gangsterism that ScHoolboy Q brings to music has an old school flare, but he mixes in his personality that enhances the storytelling and creates a descriptive and imaginative balance between the gutter lifestyle and trying his best to enjoy life. We saw examples of that balance in Habits & Contradictions, which I thought was going to be a foreshadowing to what we heard in Oxymoron, but it felt very commercial, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. That doesn’t take away the fact that it was still a stepping stone for the label, giving them their first #1 album, and placing Q in the discussion of rappers who should be respected out of the West (given that there’s quite a few now). The expectations for Q’s follow up was hard to determine because between being a parent & being a rapper, the hiatus was long enough that there wasn’t a high ceiling that we expected to see him jump for, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have anything up his sleeves. Personally, I was anticipating that the next album would sound closer to Habits based on the Flying Lotus snippets (well – Vines) that came out during the Oxymoron days. I still want those released, by the way. He’s been as consistent as they come, this decade, so here’s to hoping that his sophomore wouldn’t slump, but strive towards excellence.
Torch being the album’s opener was vividly similar to Sacrilegious on HnC with its darker toned Rock style fused into a storytelling that highlighted the devils in his life, namely coming from his place of Origin. His grandmother was the key figure that propelled him into the gangbanger lifestyle outside of his neighbourhood boys, and he always does his part to make note of that, and has been since his mixtape days (also, see: Yay Yay). The thing about TDE projects is that they all invoke an aura of cinematic vibes to them that make them standout in some ways. Depending on what you may think of them as Rap/R&B albums, they have their own unique style that feels different than what seems to be the carbon-copy trend that many artists follow these days for their album formats. Production plays a big part in that, but there’s a different level of intellect that follows suit that enhances the listening experience. Anderson .Paak is a name that you should know by now because he’s literally everywhere. His vocals chime in for a haunting chorus and his own verse to set the tone for what will be a darker sound than what we heard with Oxymoron, and possibly darker than HnC.
“Look at my yard, look at my block
Look at my zipcode
All of these lies, true to my life
Word to my pencil
Take what you want, get what you like
Open that window
Ain’t that simple?”
That carries over into Lord Have Mercy featuring Swizz Beatz (random appearance), and it feels more like an interlude because it’s brief but Q tells you of his past life – before money and fame – and how he wasn’t someone that was doing the right thing, either being there for his daughter or putting gang-banging before all (including music). All it takes is a little word called ‘hope’ to spark a change in someone’s life, and Q highlighted that by contrasting what his life would be like if he kept letting the devils in (shoutout to Rick Ross).
“Top told me keep rappin’, you’ll make it hopefully
And hope was all that I needed, dreamin’ myself to work
This workin’ affair was better than bullet holes in my shirt
The demons hate when you make it and stay alive
They’d rather see me down under than see me fly
Lord have mercy!”
If there was only one thing you took away from the Meek Mill-Drake fiasco, it’s that authenticity matters. Your pencil or pen hold weight and your credibility is your lifeline in any facet in life, but when it comes to Rap, it’s at the utmost importance. Authenticity is what separates whose music to truly have a connection with and who’s really just here for a quick buck and a few minutes of limelight (although some people overstay their welcomes). ScHoolboy Q has always been one to wear his heart on a sleeve, no matter how soft spoken he may appear. The stories of a 50 Crip shaped and molded into fine music is why he stands out, and having the undertone of a religious background, it’s more conscious as it is gangster. This is a brief yet great example of how he converges the two as one, but it would be a recurring theme throughout the album.
That being said, Q is still Groovy Q as an alternative figure, and that’s where the hits come in. THat Part is one of the 2 previously released singles to generate buzz, and initially I did not care for it. Mainly because Kanye’s verse that did nothing to enhance the song, but when you hear it more, and certainly in a club environment, it helps. Plus how could you not love the hook? I just want the paaaaaaaaaper being sung at full lung capacity is what it was meant for, so I appreciate that wholeheartedly. The remix though? My goodness. Taking away Ab-Soul’s verse (so disappointing), Black Hippy bodied it, and Q didn’t stray away from controversy when he brought the Alton Sterling death into play.
“When Alton Sterling gettin’ killed for nothin’
Two cowards in the car, they’re just there to film
Sayin’ #BlackLivesMatter should’ve died with him
Wrong nigga in your hood, you gon’ ride on him
White nigga with a badge, you gon’ let that slide?
Tell me how they sent that footage off and slept that night”
As they always say, you have to hear both sides, and this is definitely one where you do have to look at it like this: on one hand, you have the police who are unjustly killing unarmed Black Men, Women, and members of the LGBTQ community. Having them filmed should (in a perfect world) be evidence enough to convict police officers and have them serve the same crimes that people like to pin on Black-on-Black crime (which isn’t a thing – crime is crime regardless of race, period). On the other hand, having seen what happens to these police officers that get away (no conviction or paid leaves) with committing such crimes when they’re being filmed, whether by dashcam, civilians’ phones or Body cameras (that always seem to be ‘faulty’ when incidents happen), there is this point where enough is enough and you don’t want to watch another person being killed haplessly from the sidelines. So I get what people were saying against Q, but I also understand why Q said it. He’s also addressed it in interviews, so if you need more of an understanding, there’s that as well. Controversial line or not, this is a party song that got stuck in my head and certainly ran its course through the summer at this point.
The 1st single that was dropped was Groovy Tony, which happens to be the next song (I guess just to get them out of the way early), and this is the hard hitting gangster Q that many were wanting to hear (especially with the video being as dope as it is). The idea of a “blank face” changed as I listened to this album over and over, but one definition could be like you’re looking at someone who is faceless regardless of which walk of life, and you take them for as they are, like a blank canvas in art. It’s what they do that shapes the picture and gives off your perception of the subject. In this case, you would paint the picture of ScHoolboy Q being a cold hearted killer who will anything to get the C.R.E.A.M by any means necessary.
“Blank Face, clear everything out the safe
Crack the pig bank, robbin’ your kids too
My heart an igloo, the devil in all blue, huh
Die now go to heaven or bring ’em through
Lot of brown ’round here, got that white girl for you
And she swimming in fire water, could be double digits”
Given that his previous album had his references of selling Oxycotin, it’s not too farfetched of an idea to believe that he sold crack as well. I mean, when you’re already in the business of dealing, then why not. I think some of the scenery is sensationalized, but for the most part, that atmosphere of gloom & doom is a very real reality for people in various corners of the world where they have little or nothing to live for, so they do what they do to get by, ditching all forms of morals & ethics. I enjoyed Jadakiss’ appearance because as someone who’s been in the game for 10+ years, he has the experience to lay down bars in this field of expertise. He’s like the ‘Big Homie’ on the song that tells his tales of the streets and the devils that consumed him to do the things that he did.
“Running with the rebels, it’s a three-man weave
With the Lord and the devil
Really all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel
If I can’t proceed then I resort to the metal”
The best part of the song by far is the transition to Eddie Kane, because as it was so unexpected, just how seamless it was, was incredible. It gave me that same feeling when it happened on Kendrick’s m.A.A.D City. I could have pointed to Oxymoron’s Prescription/Oxymoron, but this one was more direct and it punched you without warning. My guess is that Eddie Kane is yet another alter ego that Q has amongst his many, but I’m thinking in this case, it’s like Harvey Dent/Two Face, whereas Groovy Tony would be the Blank Face, and then Eddie would be the ‘good one,’ while still sharing a common demon. There’s a similar goal into getting money, it’s just about the ways in which each part of Q gets it.
Where most people may be a little swayed away from the album to this point is that it’s not the hard-hitting gangster production & lyrics that people anticipated. It doesn’t feel as rugged, but it feels like there’s an elegance to the presentation. Know Ya Wrong certainly holds true to that, and I thought this whole track was a freestyle because the beginning was just off-kilter and laid back, thanks to the score delivered by The Alchemist. The first part of the song has the same storyline of YG’s Gimmie Got Shot where you have the people in your circle looking for handouts at any opportune moment because they feel entitled to some small change, but when you need something, they’re nowhere to be found. Life is funny that way.
“Rappin’ my ass off, nigga
You’re tryna blur my picture
Want me down there with you
Tryna blow my high
You wanna steer my drive
You askin’ more than my moms
Try corruptin’ my mind
Let’s do some work with them rhymes
When I was broke, you was gone”
Nice nod to Section.80 with the “blow my high” line (it’s a damn classic, that’s why), and more emphasis of people acting like they’re always down to ride for you, but then it’s a different story when you’re down on your luck or going through hard times. Part 2 of the song makes you want to pour up an expensive bottle of wine or other form of alcohol and do a light sway in your living room, because it’s smooth and serves as an appropriate loving profession to a person of interest. I might have to steal some of these lyrics and test it out. This set of line sin particular:
“Say girl jump in my bank account
So I can deposit you
I’m goin’ through withdrawals
And I can’t afford to lose”
Lance Skiiiwalker, the newest signee to TDE, has a vibe that is infectious, and through listening to his song Could It Be for an entire day (literally my commute to work, at work, and commute home), not only does the production compliment him, but he is dope within his own right and I can’t wait to see what he drops in full when his time is up. We need the rest of the roster to drop first (Isaiah, please).
The first time I heard Ride Out (much like most people, unless you went to a listening session) was as a snippet in one of the 3 short films that Q released prior to the album dropping. It was thunderous and I just knew that it was going to be disgusting. Well, the full song came to be, and that’s exactly what was delivered. Unparalleled and filthy beat to accompany the Crippery that was brought to the ears by Vince & Q. Vince arguably has the best guest verse on the album, and if you don’t know of him or listened to his music, certainly you’ll want to give Summertime ’06 a listen, because it was one of the best in 2015.
The one thing about this song is that it’ll make you just want to pull out your nearest ski mask, your hoodie with the eyes and mouth cut off, and then get into a dusty old car and do something illegal (I’m not advocating that). It’s likely that one song that people are going to want more of on this album, but I’ll spare you the wait and tell you that there aren’t more like this one. It’s a certified banger, that’s for damn sure. Hit that repeat one time.
Remember where I said that Groovy Q was here and he would make his presence even more felt? I probably didn’t say all of that, but he certainly has tracks on here that people may skip because they’re too much on the happier bouncy side, but they are dope vibes regardless. WHateva U Want, Dope Dealer (E-40’s verse could not ruin a dope ass Metro Boomin beat for me), and Big Body are party tracks most definitely because of their flavour, and really I see them as filler although they do serve as paint strokes on the blank (face) canvas that is presented. It’s making up what we view Q as. He’s a lover, a fighter, and gangster, a drug dealer, but overall he’s a human being. That’s really the essence of the album, and what it’s getting to. I can tell that he only put so many tracks on the album because he probably won’t release anything again for another 2 years (you know, fatherhood and all), and it’s just something that we have to live with as much as it’s an inconvenience to music lovers.
The deeper cuts on this album are some of his best works as an artist to date and they give you an expanded idea as to what makes up Q and what are some of the current events (going back to the THat Part remix verse) that have him questioning his surroundings, and also dip back into his adolescence as we discover more of his background and the experiences that shaped him as a current man. By Any Means was one of them that came about in terms of showing off his vulnerable state and baring it all for the world to see that he’s been in this game for a while and struggled with the good and bad of the things he did, but only saw it as a means to get by and make something of himself. I love that the 2nd verse has the same flow as Fuck LA from Oxy, because I absolutely love the shit out of it.
“50 Crip, contraband for chips, sold all kinda shit
You know we on, turned that white to stone, just don’t call my phone
From scrub to boss, shit my necklace gloss, plus my Bentley cost
You poppin’ pills, shit we sellin’ pills, pussy sell in heels”
The videos that have released for this album certainly did their part in enhancing the overall experience of the album, and I feel like as much as the audio component is important, visuals can do their absolute best in telling the story in order to get a better understanding of what’s happening in the song. Concrete context is key. JoHn Muir is probably the perfect example of this because not only is it one of my favourite songs on the album, but the video is also one of the best of this year, and the best he’s dropped as an artist. Production quality is a major key (I promised I wouldn’t use that damn phrase) and it excels on each medium. It sticks within the age range of the young adolescence where his first signs of gang-banging were evident. It’s as if this is where the story picks up where Hoover Street left off on Oxy. I like that the albums both have a connection. I didn’t think it would happen that way, but here I am putting pieces together that at least make sense to me.
“Gang injunction tell me where we can’t go
Shoot me in my back because my afro
Heard I got a stripe on my record then it’s true
Cops effin’ at my record, never told ’em what I knew
I was in my nigga car garage, yeah, I’m tryna shoot
I was out here sellin’ dope at 14, what it do?
I was out here fuckin’ hoes at 14, what it do?”
That’s really around the age where getting into the life of a gang-banger happens, given that I’ve lived through that, but not on the same scale as some other locations, but every hood has their degree of struggle that they deal with. This song is just perfect though. I had this one on repeat for a while too. There’s a lot of those on this album, and it’s shaping out to be a clear standout in his young catalogue.
There are certainly things within a community of struggle that appear will Neva CHange and the smooth vibe that is cast underneath Q’s lengthy verses certain highlights them. From broken homes to abusive police officers to overall lack of opportunities, it’s a bad cycle that many people never get out of and hence why the ‘hood won’t ever prosper, and the reason why so many fall victim to its toxic environment.
“Still our motive be commas
And still my life isn’t promised
Still nervous as drivers
You see them lights get behind us
They pull me out for my priors
Won’t let me freeze ‘fore they fire
You say that footage a liar”
“Shit, no wonder we riot
Niggas still killin’ niggas
Child support killin’ niggas
Cops enslavin’ us niggas
Little girls killin’ mothers
They treat their kid like a brotha
Fathers stuck with them lifers
Kept it real with his niggas
But left his kid for the sucks, shit no wonder we bang
Damn shame, mane, some things will never change”
It’s hard to be Black anywhere in the world, but in North America especially (and if we’re being more specific, the United States) it’s as if you have to just pray before you leave the house or anywhere just to be able to live to see another day. I mean, you should be grateful regardless, but no one has to walk around in life with the same paranoia that a police officer or another brother or sister can end your life for no reason. It’s a sad reality for most, and I liked that Q brought it up, because he’s not always outwardly conscious on his raps unless there’s a focus on him (not calling him selfish, but so more introspective).
I love Str8 Ballin because it’s the anthem that should play out when people who came from the bottom achieve great success in their lives when people said that they wouldn’t amount to shit. It’s victory music and it’s something that I can hear in a movie trailer or something. It has that powerful sound behind it where you just feel great about yourself. Even if you work a minimum wage job and you get a nice check, you puff out your chest a little bit before the humbling returns to your life.
“So easy how I make a mill’ flip
Snoop ain’t the only rich crip, nigga
From sleepin’ on Top’s couch to multiple bank accounts
To havin’ me a mall for house
They tried to slim my chances as kid though
They always said I’d never make it big though”
People love to try and ruin the dreams of people because they didn’t have the strength to get to where they wanted to go in life – well too damn bad, there are people who get their shots at success, take advantage of them, and then some. This is a song for those who didn’t listen to the opposition; who stuck to their whims and got what they were looking for in life. It’s motivation, that’s what this song is.
From motivation to inspiration, Black THoughts can be looked at as one, because not only is it one of the deeper cuts I’ve heard of Q’s since HnC (shit, maybe even Setbacks – Birdz & the Beez), it’s one that sparked a conversation for a couple of reasons. First off, the homie on the phone through a jail conversation giving game on what it was like to grow up in an unstable community creates an imagery that sets us up for truly why the hood is what it is. At the end of the day it comes down to core values, but then there’s the realization that the gang-banging does nothing to uplift, and that’s where Q steps up to the plate and says Guys….stop it.” The 2nd verse is where it hits the most, but it was interesting to hear his ‘thoughts’ about his father since up to this point the only people (family related) he really talked about was his daughter, his grandmother, and mother.
“On gangsta Crip, my poppa was a bitch
Left me where hope just don’t exist
And every neighbor got a fence
With bars on windows, my mom’s slavin’ for the rent”
Something a lot of us can relate to is having fathers that don’t or didn’t do much to help out in our childhoods, and where I’m here thinking that I’m part of the generation of men that’ll do better and really create a system that appreciates the growth of family, I still see too many examples of a past that still pokes at me to this day. There are still good men practicing what they preach in being inclusive & supporting fathers, but we need more (stop locking them up for petty crimes or killing them, there’s a start).
As stated before, the 2nd verse is where Q pulls out the chair at the adult table and has a sit-down with you on a mature level, speaking as the older homie giving game to his peers and the YGs of the neighbourhood. It’s a necessary conversation, and it’s not the first time that it’s been preached by a TDE member or West Coast artist.
“Let’s put the rags down and raise our kids
Let’s put the guns down and blaze a spliff
Let’s do it now, ain’t no buts or ifs
It took a Blood to get me Pringle chips
You can learn to fly or take the ladder
Real nigga shit, all lives matter, both sides”
‘Black Lives Matter’ vs ‘All Lives Matter’ will always be an annoying subject because the people in the ALM clan believe that people who say BLM mean that only BLM. No. But I’m not here to discuss that. What I will say is that this was an interesting line and it was easy for people to take out of context unless they actually paid attention to the whole verse talking about Bloods & Crips (both sides). This is like when Kendrick flipped the militant approach to the opposition at the end of Blacker the Berry to come off as a responsibility politics call to action (when it was revealed that he was just talking about himself and not Black people as a whole). I admire what Q did because it’s an ironic line. The song is called BLACK thoughts and he ended the song with an All Lives Matter line that talks about gangbangers who often happen to be Black. So I get where the confusion may lie, but that’s why you listen over and over to get a sense of what he was talking about. Is it bad that I wish that Black Thought was on this track to lay down some bars? Because he would have killed it. Regardless of it all, the outlook from his perspective includes death & marijuana – there isn’t a whole lot of positivity to go about, so him taking a stand to address the need to change the way of life in the hood, it’s a mature thing of him and very much so appreciated. One of the best songs on here.
The title track, Blank Face, will bless your soul and we have Anderson .Paak to thank for that. His first verse does nothing but make a thug want to shed water from the very eye sockets that are part of the blank canvas that has been painted on throughout this album. If you’re not up on Andy yet, please do yourself a favour and listen to one of the best albums of the year in Malibu. You literally can’t be disappointed. It’s that good, and you know my tagline already, I put my word on that.
“Smokers and dope fiends, Hookers and playas
Dope in the vein, young and servin’ the meds
Run from the police, jump from the ledge
Be what you wanna be as long as you get the money right
Niggas don’t understand until you leap over 25
Dancin’ witH devils, never knew How to treat your woman right”
For those who were still wondering what the meaning behind the album’s title is, this song answers some of those questions in this first verse and it’s ironic that it doesn’t even come from Q. It talks about being who you want to be and trying to accomplish what you want without being boxed in a particular group. There’s a great line from The Italian Job that’ll always stick with me, “I trust everyone. It’s the Devil inside them I don’t trust.” That line seems to hold up its relevance daily and it can be very much suited to explaining the theme of the album. As for Q, this is a continuation from Black THoughts as he looks at his life, his responsibilities, and realizes that he’s come from a long way when he wasn’t expected to.
“Told me stay in school, my dream was just a small percentage
Said a million wasn’t realistic
Last year I spent it, what’s the laws of physics?
Move pounds or move down to Section 8 livin’
Grew up around Crippin’, Woo business”
It’s the guitar and Anderson .Paak that elevate this song for me and if the album were to end right now, I’d be perfectly fine with that because it takes the album out on a good note and brings closure to this movie.
I found it funny when Q said at a listening party that Overtime was only put on the album because of the label (of course), but it’s actually not that bad. I look at it like Studio but just a lot better. My theory is that this is Q still in the studio and he can’t wait to put in overtime with the misses. What do you think about them apples huh? This is a sexy song through and through, and with the vocal assistance provided by Miguel, there’s no denying that. I don’t even mind it, even after all the heavier content that was just consumed previously. It’s necessary for healthy balance.
The finishing song, Tookie Knows II is what I was really excited about when I saw the tracklist, because the first Tookie Knows interlude on HnC messed with me because I wish it was a full song. This is that crip shit that brings on the likes of Traffic & TF (who is actually dope in his own right). Again, the video for this that was in the mini-movie-series, adds context to the song, but from the perspectives of 3 gang members, it’s a hard hitting song that just re-energizes the notion that where gang-banging is a lifestyle, you really might could die from it, but c’est la vie.
“It was cool ’til that gang sweep
Now I’m in back of a van
And my wrists got a band
Got a number for a name
No name on the visit, no call get accepted
Now I’m forced to a man”
I got a bit of a vibe from My Homie in terms of the storytelling aspect looking from the inside out, being that it was someone close to him that put him in a position to fail. But it also gives more detail to his crip history, which is always appreciated. Traffic and TF brought their own styles and they fit perfectly – Traffic being the more hype, TF being the laid back one, and Q being the hybrid of the two. The hook will definitely get stuck in your head by the end of the song.
Truly (in my Joanne Prada voice) this album met my expectations and in some ways exceeded them. Where I did think that there would have been more hard hitting tracks on the aggressive end, rather than on the more vivid and calm side of the spectrum, it’s the improved penmanship of Q’s that I appreciated about this work of art. A concept as simple (or not really that simple, but easy enough) as a Blank Face, you could interpret that in so many ways, but it’s what you do with the time granted to you on Earth that shape your own persona. It’s also a way how we should perceive people, by looking at people as equal because there are people who are just trying to get to a point in their lives where they can have the same opportunities to live a positive life. Most people fall victim to the environment they live in because of circumstance, but it’s not a death sentence. Not many make it out, but few do. Q is one of those few who can take a step back and appreciation and in some ways educate others as to how they can go about their lives for their own betterment and eventually the betterment of his community. That’s really what it’s all about. Life will always happen, but there will always be a brain sparked to capture the idea that they can change their own outlook on life by going away from a situation that won’t benefit them. If this is the last bit of music we get from Q until 2018, then it will not be taken for granted, because there are stories here that will still hold true to their relevance (I feel) to last that long and then some. It’s great that as much as Oxymoron was commercial for the most part, Q didn’t drift away from his personality and who he connects with. He made sure to bring about that vibe in this album and it will truly stick to most. It’s certainly in the conversation for one of the best Rap albums this year, maybe a bit more than that, but that’s left to be seen down the line. Check out the album, because it’s certainly worth your time, but for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX