UPDATE: “THat Part (Black Hippy Remix)” has been taken off of Soundcloud and put on iTunes for an official release. Yay!
“blank face blank face blANK FACE BLANK FACE BLACK FACE BLACK FACE.” Amongst a 5-hour drive home from San Francisco, I listened to these words as I started my first ever listen to Blank Face LP (and also my first ever entire ScHoolboy Q album).
My friend Narkis told me to listen to the entire album before I decided to rule out ScHoolboy Q of ever being a good rapper. For some reason, every song of his I really hadn’t loved or even liked for that matter. I was never hit by the Oxymoron phase and hated “Collard Greens” (except for Kendrick’s part) so I thought I could make a rational judgment and assume Blank Face was not going to be good either.
I was wrong.
The album opens with “TorcH” which is still one of my favorite tracks on the project. The beat and subject matter are super gritty, the production sounds wonderful, and I love Anderson .Paak (who by the way has had such a success story can we just take a minute to really appreciate that).
The next track, “Lord Have Mercy,” is something I can only describe as pseudo-smooth, in that it feels like it should be a smooth track (especially after that intro track), but somehow goes hard in the paint paint paint paint. This is a great track to lead into what’s next on the album. It’s a short track, so I can’t say much really, but I immediately had warm feelings towards it. That’s a good sign probably.
This just in: “THat Part” is a certified banger. With headphones, there’re parts where the voices alternate between the right and left ears and reminds me that TDE knows what it’s doing in terms of production. It’s an amazing experience. As much as I’d like to hate Kanye’s verse, he got some mad flow I mean he could be talking about Chipotle and I’m like “okay okay okay okay OKAY OKAY.” Still, the track feels too long and should’ve ended earlier in a perfect spot before Kanye verse #2, but I imagine Kanye’s ego was not happy with only one verse.
“Groovy Tony” is the epitome of gritty. Q’s flow is nice and I just love this beat: live drums and instrumentation add to a more authentic feel to the song. Still, so far, I feel he hasn’t talked about anything of real importance like he does on the Black Hippy track. This track feels a lot better than the single version; the extended addition does not seem longer and forced, so it’s much appreciated on my end. Btw, the music video for this song is super good.
Then we get this beat change and sh*********tttt I’m head bobbing so hard. THIS BUMPS! “WHOO” – I said out loud in the car during this Jadakiss feature with Kendrick’s BLEH BLEH BLEH sound. The transition employed here between “Groovy Tony” and “Eddie Kane.” Aaaannnndd (finally) here’s the subject matter that actually has substance. You know it’s happening when you hear Reagan’s name in a song.
We then get hit with a smooth song: “Kno Ya Wrong.” Nothing much to say other than this feels like a breather after such a hard hitting album so far. Lance is a nice addition to TDE and I can’t wait to hear some new stuff from him.
Vince Staples does a really nice job in “Ride Out.” I mean, damn, this goes hard. So hard. Seriously loving the production on this project. It changes just enough to maintain the greatness it initially started but also to make it not boring. It’s clever production on many moments that compliments the vocals and lyrics.
The first time I listened to “Whateva U Want,” I honestly forgot all about it. Seriously, in my notes for this review, I wrote: “whateva u want – don’t remember.” Sorry Q, but I find this song boring. I compare this to “St. Tropez” off of J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive because they are both boring and I just want them to end. I understand having a break in the album from gritty and hard beats 24/7, but Q, not like this. You don’t go from watching an action movie like “Fast and Furious 14” or “Inception” or “The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie” or “DIE HARRRRD” and then saying I feel like a movie that’s not action so you watch something like “The Notebook.” Nah, then you watch something funny like “The Office” or “Zootopia” or Kim Kardashian trying to read or “Parks & Rec.” Not this man.
“By Any Means” is also a certified banger. This is one of the more memorable songs on the album, but I feel it’s really like that mainly because anything with Kendrick is memorable (except for that Chris Brown feature he did… why?).
Warning: Horrible Kendrick Feature Ahead (Starts at 2:17)
UH OH! ERROR ERROR! E-40 IS HERE TO RUIN THIS SONG. I really hate E-40. He sounds like a game show announcer that wants to kill himself and it’s his last day on the job so he’s reading everything really over the top because he hates everyone. I hate him. Sorry. Other than that, the song is pretty good but again, it’s starting to blend in a bit for me. The beat still bumps on “Dope Dealer,” but I need something new to keep me as interested as I was when I started.
And here we go. Harder beat. New flow. Aggressive. “JoHn Muir.” Who is that? Probably a murderer. I like it. You got those jazzy horns in the background that just sounds wonderful with this song. This whole LP flows very well.
Then a moment of silence between song changes. What will come next? OH MY GAWSH IT’S THIS sh*t FUNKY AS HELL OOH BABBBYYYYYY OH YES HIT ME WIT THAT “BIG BODY” OOH! It’s like he heard when I said it was starting to blend in and he did this for me. Thank you, Q.
“Neva CHange” is a nice track. I love SZA. The beat is nice; I love a beat with a smooth downbeat (if that makes any sense whatsoever). Q is super deep here talking about #BlackLivesMatter. It’s also super clear he cares about his daughter. I like this song a lot; it’s not my favorite, but I like it in the context of this album.
Once the grammatical perfectionist within me gets over the spelling of the title (“Str8 Ballin”… should be spelled “StraigHt Ballin’.” Much better), this song goes hard but sounds about the same as songs before it. Nothing bad, just hard to differentiate after a while. I like the occasionally switches in his flow, which keeps this song interesting and compliments the simplistically hard beat. I think from one look at the album and the man in the bottom right corner, it’s clear this album is going to be the sh*t you listen to right before a robbery or something. I mean, this goes hard unapologetically.
“Black THougHts” is one of the deepest and thought-provoking tracks on the album. Just to be clear, he is talking about Bloods and Crips lives and not just all lives.
BLOODS & CRIPS!!! Reason I said botH side at da end https://t.co/DoY3Tf46uL
— ScHoolboy Q (@ScHoolBoyQ) July 8, 2016
It’s clear in this song especially that Q has a lot to say. I love the faded out drums, the hook, and the ecstatic piano in the background. But nothing is better than Q telling it how it is. In short: gangs are bad. Guns are bad. Killing = no. Drugs = good.
Then the title track, the track of them all, “Blank Face,” of which I believed we heard most of in the intro track, since, for some reason, it failed to feature Anderson .Paak there. The track starts. Anderson steals the show. Then Q comes in and I’m like “oh wait what.” Then Anderson comes back in and I’m like “oh we bout to have a little ruckus going on” then Q comes in and I’m like “oh sh*t waddup” and then that frog comes in on his unicycle and he is like “ribbitty ribbitty bibbity boop this sh*t goes hard in the coop” and then the piano is like “yeah man how’s it going” and Anderson is like “whoooooooo” and I’m like “wait what just happened” and my cat is like “idk man” and then it’s all blank face and I wake up in the middle of Bumf*ck, New Mexico having no idea what just happened to me. I think I liked it.
“Overtime.” At this point, I feel like “Black ThougHts” followed by “Blank Face” would have been a perfect ending to the album, but I suppose Q didn’t think so too. Damn, I think Miguel wants to f*ck right now but I’m not too sure. Wait. Q wants to f*ck too. Oh, this is a sex song. Ah. I see.
Then it’s two minutes later and wait, hold up here, who is this singing. Justine? I guess her name is Justine Syke and it really sounds like I’ve heard of her before. Oh whale. In any case, she sounds like the human equivalent of a Facebook like.
Last song: “Tookie Knows II.” Nevermind about my earlier comment: this feels like a perfect ending: hard af. The kind of hard where even as a white boy I’m curling my lip and flaring my nostrils while bumping this sh*t with the windows down and then looking at people with my sunglasses at a red light and saying something cool like “the name’s Nathan don’t wear it out” or something cool like that. Features on this and the whole project are really solid and sound like they deserve to be there. Nothing feels out of place. Q works excellently with these beats and features and I truly am surprised that I love this album considering I never really liked Q. I still wish “THat Part Black Hippy Remix” was on here as a bonus track or at least makes it on a deluxe version if we ever get to see it. That song is truly is amazing. I love me some Jay Rock, Kendrick, and Q (am I forgetting someone? Oh yeah, the weakest verse on this song. Why Soul? Talk about something other than making your album because I don’t really care for that long. I’d rather read a tweet about it and hear a verse as good as “Vice City”).
So I guess this is it. Color me pink and call me Shirley because I really am impressed with this entire project. I feel like it can easily be one of the year’s best hip-hop records, but I feel like a few of the songs on the album are ones I won’t listen to ever again. There are some songs that are bangers and some songs that are not, but the non-bangers don’t feel deep enough or entrancing enough to keep me in the long term. This feels like an album you have to listen to from start to finish to fully feel the effects of, but when you get to the end, the payoff doesn’t feel as rewarding as something like To Pimp a Butterfly or Run the Jewels (one or two) or good kid, m.A.A.d city or Acid Rap or something where the end feels like the end of a movie in that it pays the audience for listening with something truly amazing. This feels like Q takes a lot of shots and most hit the target, but I can’t help feeling like a few must have been blanks (get it).
“Wow, does he hate it?” Not in the slightest. I still get excited to listen to this album. I can tell it was thought out and the production was amazing, I just want a little more from Q in the long run. It’s hard to put it in words, but the feeling is there.
I plan on listening to this album solely for the next few weeks. It was an amazingly enjoyable project and to anyone who enjoys gritty hip-hop music, really, really listen to this project. You won’t be sorry. If you hate hip-hop, this is not the project to start with. If you like country music, I hate you.
I guess this can only mean one thing: Oxymoron, here I come.
Rating: 8 blanks / 10 faces
Rating: 8 THats / 10 parts