Schoolboy Q can rattle some nerves. He comes out of the gate on the first track of Oxymoron, "Gangsta," with a throat-shattering chorus composed more or less of the song's title repeated ad-nauseum and slapped over a slow, contemplative, rather obnoxious beat. Yes, it's kind of awful, but that's exactly what Q's trying to give off: a sloppy, nihilistic persona that'll fuck you up just as quick as it'll kick back on the couch and invite you to smoke copious amounts of chronic.
Q sticks to this attitude dutifully throughout the 70-plus minutes of his major-label debut as he recounts his depraved youth in and around South Central L.A.'s Hoover Street neighborhood while reflecting on the person it's created.
He lays out the genesis to all of this on aptly-titled "Hoover Street," where he pulls back the shades on his early life and recounts ominous tales of everything from robbing an ice cream truck to pissing in drug-test cups to cover for his junkie uncle, whose slow decline to addiction progresses throughout the song. The chorus, "Had roaches in my cereal / My uncle stole my stereo / my grandma can't control him" teems with grit as Q forgoes the typical preach-redemption route, opting instead to draw you in ever deeper to his early woes.
"Blind Threats" is another dark, attention-grabbing yet low-key track made for the smoking lounge, with Q juxtaposing questions about faith and the depravity of L.A. street life before the legendary Raekwon jumps in to spit 16 grimly vivid bars that end way too soon. "What They Want" is cut from the same cloth. That is, until 2 Chainz drops a hilariously terrible but all-the-more-entertaining verse, deeming his Versace belt buckle a "mistletoe" (get it?) and somehow managing to rhyme "police" with "no lights."
Oxymoron's not all doom and gloom, but when Q does go wild, the results get a little more murky. His barbed delivery tends to override the easy, lush instrumentals of the Alchemist-produced "Break the Bank," which would've fared better with a more low-key emcee like Curren$y. Other times, it works too well, mainly on the second hard-as-nails-half of "Prescription-Oxymoron," where Q's crazy-banshee delivery works with its whole heavy-banger vibe.
Other tracks toe the line nicely between these two spectrums. "Collared Greens" is a wholly-palatable, instantly-recognizable track tailor made for the college radio/bathing-suited festival crowd. Kendrick Lamar's nimble guest spot is easily the best on the album as the prolific emcee dances around the verse with machine gun-fire wordplay that's just as fun as it is impressive. "Man of the Year" serves as a club banger fine wine with a thumping pulse that just gets better with every listen.
It's not hard to understand what Q's doing on Oxymoron and, even if it can get grating at times, it's encouraging to hear a young emcee with the resolve to make a debut as multi-dimensional and wholly honest as this one.
Critics Rating: 3.5 out 5 stars