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Schoolboy Q - Habits & Contradictions

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Artist: Schoolboy Q

Album: Habits & Contradictions

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment

Review date: Apr. 30, 2012

In the time it took us to finally forget about The Game, Black Hippy went from a couple of friends joking around to an official group to a movement we’re told is delivering on the promise of a West Coast hip-hop revival. The rising posse comprises Kendrick Lamar, the one you already know about; Jay Rock, the “street” one; Ab-Soul, the suburban Eazy-E; and Schoolboy Q, the jokester. Lamar got the ball rolling in earnest with last year’s focused Section.80. Q’s official debut, Habits & Contradictions, is nothing of the kind.

The first point to be made is that, like the truth behind A$AP Mob’s Harlem revival, this doesn’t sound particularly faithful to the West Coast sound at all. There are the occasional laid-back guitar samples (“Grooveline Pt. 1” featuring Curren$y, naturally, and closer “2 Raw”), but production takes strong cues both from Houston (“How We Feeling”) and, perhaps most surprisingly, mid-1990s East Coast grit (“Oxy Music”). Every bit is rich with production flourishes — I mean that both in terms of lushness and in terms of how expensive they sound. It’s also worth noting that, unlike Section.80, not one of them feels awkwardly out of place. It’s probably too long and the beats don’t always flow, but despite the stylistic differences, all 18 songs feel like they’re on the same album.

The same can’t be said for Schoolboy, who sounds like a younger, more aggressive Kurupt when he’s on and an anonymous posse member lost behind the mic when he’s not. “Sex Drive” is a throwaway performance redeemed by Jhene Aiko’s strange aptitude for disinterested deliveries. Contrast that with what follows on “Oxy Music,” where his “craayyyzaaayyyyy” hook sounds genuinely unsettling. The same thing happens later with the aforementioned “Grooveline Pt. 1” and the militant “Gangsta in Designer (No Concept),” the title of which may as well be Q’s motto. The space between these two poles is unnaturally significant.

Habits & Contradictions is less like a label-released full-length and more like an amateurish mixtape, a work in progress. Q still sounds like he’s sorting out who he wants to be and I’d believe it if this album wasn’t his idea. The abundance of swag and trash-talking sounds like masked insecurity after a few listens, which makes a lot of sense — Q didn’t even think he was capable of a full song when he first started out and originally came up with the idea for Black Hippy so he could jump in on his friends’ songs for guest verses. He’s got a distinctive delivery and he’s got the beats. He’d be better if he made a habit out of reconciling his contradictions.

By Patrick Masterson

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