Top Dawg Entertainment’s roster has been quietly going about their business for a while now. It’s no hidden secret that New York hip-hop has been enjoying a purple patch of late, but the Black Hippy crew has slowly been shifting the gaze back towards the West Coast this year with new recruit Isaiah Rashad’s Cilivia Demo and now, Schoolboy Q’s debut major label album, Oxymoron.
One obvious but lazy comparison with Oxymoron would be Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 classic good kid, m.A.A.d city, especially in light of the recent drama at the Grammy’s, but Q goes in with different intentions. It does share some similar moments of introspection; we are granted the occasional window into Q’s dark formative years in the same maad city on Hoover Street (‘Had roaches in my cereal/ My uncle stole my stereo’) and Prescription/Oxymoron (‘What’s wrong with me? Now the pressure creep/ I’m stressing deep, even in my sleep’).
But predominantly, Q takes more of a gung ho approach to narrating his past life of gang warfare and drugs, and his current life of tending to his daughter and relatives.
He spits fire from first track Gangsta onwards, and is more than aided by the continuously excellent production that is distilled down to its hardest and barest elements. Oxymoron’s list of producers reads like an ambitious statement of intent for a major label debut with Clams Casino, Mike WiLL Made It, Pharrell Williams, Tyler, The Creator and The Alchemist all coming on board.
Album highlights arrive when Q’s guests match his level of rawness. First up is Jay Rock on Los Awesome, which well and truly bangs, and for a fleeting moment transports us into a Chevy riding down Hollywood Boulevard. Following track Collared Greens has been doing the round for a few months but has lost none of its potency. The Purge, featuring Tyler and Kurupt (one of the old guard, most notably heard on The Chronic) is carried by a greyscale beat not too dissimilar to Kanye’s work on Pusha T’s Numbers on the Board, an apt reference point as Q’s menacing brand of coke-fuelled rap shares parallels with that of T.
Q’s gristly delivery can occasionally rile (‘O-X-Y-M-orooooon’) and indeed, some things never change; his well-documented chauvinism remains on Studio and Grooveline Pt 2, albeit to a lesser extent than on Habits & Contradictions. But these are only small caveats on an album that drips with an undeniable swagger and toughness (the last line of the record is ‘Bitch I am LA’), and competently straddles that fine line between commercial accessibility with party tracks Man of the Year and Hell of a Night and the more complex cuts deep into the second half of the album that will appease his core fans.
With Oxymoron projected to reach the number 1 spot of the Billboard 200 album list and four more releases scheduled to come from the TDE stable this year, 2014 looks all set to be the year of the Dawg.
Words: Lev Harris