Album Review – Blank Face LP by ScHoolboy Q

Los Angeles rapper ScHoolboy Q hails from a large pantheon of West Coast gangsta rappers, himself a part of TDE’s Black Hippy along with Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar. Thus, comparisons to his predecessors and contemporaries can be apt or far-reaching, but they are always constant. With his fourth studio album, Blank Face LP, Q renders most comparisons moot. His default mode is and always was one rooted in hardened gangsta rap, despite what his comic personality and ridiculous ad-libs would have you believe. While some of the fat could have been trimmed from its 72-plus minutes spread out over 17 tracks, Blank Face LP represents Q at his most multifaceted.

As likely to fondly reminisce on his drug-dealing and gangbanging days as he is to decry the violence of it, often within the same bar, Q’s lyrical flexibility is on full display here. Whether he is introspective regarding his own failings on Lord Have Mercy, inviting somber reflection on the freestyling JoHn Muir or offering plenty of drugs and women for his friends on songs like By Any Means, he retains his compelling ability to craft a bittersweet portrait of his reality. His storytelling abilities are bolstered by his seamless flows, whether it be the modern sing-song style or his sinister double time. Here the album’s length becomes a problem once again, as the subject matter becomes repetitive over this long of an album. However, this is bolstered somewhat depending on your appreciation of the guests, like Kanye West with a hilarious cameo, Vince Staples’ dark humour, or E-40’s unconventional delivery. Singers like SZA and Candice Pillay lend their silky and sultry vocals to the overall West Coast vibe, but special mention must go to Anderson .Paak who’s continuing his scene-stealing year here with two appearances.

Like the guests, the production fits at home with the West Coast style of rap that started in the 90’s. Largely handled by TDE’s in-house producers like Digi-Phonics and Tae Beast, as well as Sounwave, Q still brings in a number of big production names like Metro Boomin for another trap beat out of his endless pocket, or others like Swizz Beats, DJ Dahi, the Alchemist, or Dem Jointz. The only real sour note in the album is Sounwave’s Ride Out, whose grimy beat overextends into white noise and is only truly saved by the inventive verses and hauntingly maximalist chorus. Particular standouts include Tyler the Creator’s funk-inspired “Big Body” and the double punch of Tae Beast and Dem Jointz on “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane”. The production here is ambitious without overreaching, cohesive yet not monotonous.

While 2012’s “Habits and Contradictions”, remains ScHoolboy Q’s most complete and unified project¸ Blank Face LP is still an achievement for a rapper who managed to stand out and excel amidst the towering persona of labelmate Kendrick Lamar. It is Q at his most comfortable, wherein he is given full rein to make the album he wants, damn the sales, and equally regale and horrify listeners with tales of life as a Hoover Street Crip.

3.5/5

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