“Super groups” are becoming an unintentional trend in the world of hip-hop as of late. Slaughterhouse comes to mind first, under Eminem’s Shady label, consisting of veteran heavyweights Royce da 5’9”, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz. It’s no secret anymore, but Top Dawg Entertainment has forged the path to their own super group, starting with the well-established captain Kendrick Lamar and also including Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q.
Together, both groups make very well-rounded, complete, solid tracks and albums. The struggle seems to come from their individual projects, where TDE trumps Slaughterhouse despite my original favorite being the latter. After Lamar’s second album good kid, m.A.A.d. city took the world by storm with renewed story-telling, language and production, Schoolboy Q announced he was left no other choice than to make a classic album as good, if not better than his teammate. Now, Lamar’s position and success remains on a completely different level than his peers, but Q took a decent swing at greatness with his most recent album Oxymoron.
Featuring his daughter Joy on many of the tracks, Schoolboy said that the album was titled for her, representing all of the wrong he’s had to do in the world just to support himself and his daughter. Not only on tracks, but on the cover of the standard edition of the record, Joy is seen wearing a bucket hat (something Schoolboy Q has become notorious for) and scowling, intending to juxtapose her image of innocence with harsh reality. Having said that, the album definitely does this central concept justice with its variety and solidity.
“Collard Greens” featuring Kendrick Lamar
This is the first real “let loose and get down” song on the track list. Made by THC, an in-house producer for TDE, this beat is hands-down one of the best and most memorable. You’ve more than likely heard it already as it was one of the singles that dropped pre-album, but that doesn’t detract from the desire to play it over and over again. What sounds like a child jumping on the springs of a mattress makes for a great base in an instrumental that also adds in an addicting bass line and beat changes that I can only describe as drops of water falling from the ceiling of a cave and plunking into little puddles. Obviously one of the top tracks on the album, Q’s flow and “groovy” swagger make this a very fun, bouncy song that forces visions of California parties. Plus, Lamar has yet another incredible verse in which he even sprinkles a little bit of eyebrow-raisingly fluent Spanish. Not often do you see that kind of fire, especially from someone that’s featured.
“Break the Bank”
As of right now, this is my favorite joint in the bunch. A much more serious, not over-the-top cut, Schoolboy discusses his desire to bring home the bacon through rap and lets Kendrick know he better move, because he’s coming for the throne; an acknowledgement to their friendly competition. The beat is perfect. A mixture of light, airy synths, string-plucking, percussion powered by creative cymbal sounds, and a mesmerizing piano sampled from a portion of Man’s “Something is Happening” come together beautifully as one of the album’s top instrumentals. The highlight here for me is the sample. Q’s flow and content is great, but the piano is clutch, and it makes it a lot cooler that Man’s 1976 album Welsh Connection was tapped into and utilized so well in an extremely modern sound.
“Man of the Year”
Sample work remains strong in the last track on the record as Sounwave, a member of another TDE in-house production group Digi+Phonics, comes up with the perfect track to kick your feet up and relax to. The basis for the entire beat was taken from Chromatics’ “Cherry,” but giving credit where it’s due, the hardest part to get out of your head is the added percussion. The rapid hi-hat and bass will surely rattle in the ears long after you listen. No new topics are touched upon, but this clearly sounds like an anthem reminiscent of “There He Go” from Q’s last album Habits & Contradictions. The video is entertaining as well, where we see Schoolboy lounging on a beach with gorgeous women and standing at the top of a waterfall dropping rhymes.
“The Purge” featuring Tyler, The Creator & Kurupt
My second favorite collaboration on the album (you just can’t vote against Kendrick Lamar) stems from a clash of new and old school rappers over a beat created by Tyler, The Creator. Two verses from Schoolboy and one from the OG (original gangster) Kurupt makes this a tough, gang track that veers straight into the depths of each contributor’s dark side. Usually, I’m opposed to featuring artists solely on the chorus of track because it seems kind of weak when I’m expecting a full verse. Although Tyler only goes in on the chorus, his iconic voice works perfectly and producing the beat gets him off the hook – no pun intended.