The initials T.D.E. may sound alien to the majority, but anyone who’s had their ear to the new, exciting sounds cooking in the West would be familiar of the works of Top Dawg Entertainment. The home to 2011’s breakout star Kendrick Lamar, TDE also offers LA rapper ScHoolBoy Q – an artist whose life scars, grim experiences and hyper-hedonistic living preferences were documented quite impressively on last year’s much lauded independent release, Setbacks. Returning with another label-free project entitled Habits & Contradictions, the ScHoolBoy welcomes old fans and newcomers to a passionate exploration of the dark, surroundings he springs from.
Grasping ScHoolBoy’s appeal will depend on one’s ability to look beyond the coarseness of his verses; immersed in bleak, engulfing productions courtesy of THC, Digi and Phonics and more, Top Dawg’s anchor pens down R-rated tales revolving around drugs, women and social disillusionment. The average rapper might speak of these lusts with hints of irony in their voice, but Q’s grainy tones relay this behaviour with such confidence and nonchalance that at times the all-too-real tone sound more documentary-like than entertainment. “There He Go” features this very ‘day in the life’ tone, with the rapper’s boisterous adventures being backed by a thumping production.
Similar worlds merge on the striking “Hands on the Wheel,” as ScHoolBoy Q teams with Harlem’s heralded newcomer A$AP Rocky to cause hedonistic mayhem on the psychadelic score, which excellently samples the relatively unknown Lissie‘s cover of Kid Cudi‘s “Pursuit of Happiness.”
Being part of the rap collective known as Black Hippy (alongside Kendrick, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul), ScHoolBoy Q definitely stands as the most animated of the quartet and H&C really brings to life his attention grabbing, wild styles. From residing in a mellow trance on “My Hatin’ Joint” to breaking into somewhat scary hysterics on “Oxy Music,” ScHoolBoy provides an energetic, eclectic listening experience.
It is performance over punctuation on Habits & Contradictions, as whilst ScHoolBoy Q may not wow listeners with a multitude of adjectives and nouns, his venomous volleying of verses is a consistently engaging highlight. Akin to many of the newer artists from the West Coast, the once distinctive synths and smoky chords of the coast have been neglected for more rougher, unpolished compositions.
Besides the soulful stirrings of Lex Luger‘s ‘Grooveline Pt. 1‘ alongside Curren$y and Dom Kennedy, the rest of H&C is composed of claustrophobic, haunting beats to emphasise Q’s blackened tales. On “Raymond 1969,” ushered by a menacing beat and sampling Portishead’s “Cowboys,” ScHoolBoy’s whirlwind of diabolical thoughts spew sporadically like an abstract poem and manages to encapsulate the same borderline insanity fuelled spirit carried by the likes of Onyx and the Wu-Tang Clan aswell as modern acts Odd Future and Danny Brown.
But just as he exhibited on his previous outing Setbacks, ScHoolBoy Q does produce some room for thought – with the Kendrick Lamar-assisted “Blessed” calling to the street soldiers to remain optimistic even in the darkest days. The two frequent collaborators boast contrasting styles; whilst K Dot’s Section 80 LP explored the various woes of working class America, Habits & Contradictions jumps deep into the underbelly of society and at times bathes unreservedly in the various questionable ethos.
Sounding very much like an underground album where the ‘rules’ are few and far between, ScHoolBoy Q’s second street album is unadulterated material – which at times is raw even to the most sternest of ears. But Habits & Contradictions is a mesmerising listening experience; mixing the anger, exuberance and passionate flow of its protagonist with an eclipsing score, making for yet another staple moment for the small West Coast outfit taking huge strides with each release.