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The case for Schoolboy Q as a top 3 lyricist in 2018

The case for Schoolboy Q as a top 3 lyricist in 2018

by Dan-O

I’m not doing the “he’s no Kool Moe Dee” all time argument with you Fuzzy Kangol Truthers. Save his place in history for later down the line right now we are talking about right now. The other thing to get out of the way is influence is not a factor. I don’t care that Trump did Hotline Bling on Saturday Night Live it doesn’t have anything to do with the power of the pen. Additionally, numbers don’t lie (they absolutely do) but they don’t have any bearing on this argument. That means this is subjective, right? Yes, not impossible.

Qualifying Criteria:

Consistency-People drive me nuts about this. Some MC’s are chasing the big moment and they always end up releasing terrible material eventually. Last year hip hop radio(looking at you Charlemagne) tried pushing the notion that Big Sean is one of the best MC’s in the game. Big Sean has two fabulous albums and two horrible ones. He is all over the place and I listen to everything he does. I like him but consistency matters, forethought matters. How many times you do you get to serve me a full bowl of wack and still be in the conversation?

Schoolboy Q is the opposite. Of his four albums he doesn’t have a disappointing one. All of them have different production identities, themes, and important lead singles that reflect Q at that stage of his career. As nasty and ready to turn on artists as Pitchfork is the last 3 albums scores Q has: 8.3, 7.8, and 8.4. If you are an album guy he consistently has got your back. If you don’t care about albums and just want the hits he feeds you Man of The Year, Studio, That Part, etc.

The four albums that are the core of TDE as an identity are probably: Kendrick- GKMC, Jay Rock-Follow Me Home, Schoolboy-Setbacks, Ab-Soul-Control System. Of those four artists Schoolboy is the only one who has kept pace with Kendrick in terms of albums you need to hear. Consistency isn’t about always working it’s about relentless careful smart work.

Content-John Muir(from Blank Face) has the most sumptuous neo-soul hook packed in against drug dealing at 14, close friends dying, danger closing in from all sides. The song is named after his high school and lasers in on that period. Meaningful content does not have to mean the smartest references or layered wordplay. The reason rappers always refer to their new album or song as a movie is because they want you , as the audience, to follow them through arc of the songs meaning. To the next one. Even  though Schoolboy knows people won’t pay that much attention the juxtaposition of the relaxing chorus and the ever present danger of verses is exactly the dichotomy of palm trees at 77 degrees and shocking violence that West Coast Gangsta Rap was built on. All of this to talk about and that is just one song. Schoolboy has a catalog that as you listen more each song gets deeper and gains meaningf. Q has struggled with addiction and let us hear it and now that he is beyond it (fingers crossed) we get even sharper bars. He builds every song on such a strong foundation he can add levels to it.

Durability-If you are a Schoolboy Q fan play this game with me. What is your favorite song? Pull it up on the tracklist of the album it is on. Is it the full throttle anthemic hip hop takeover Man Of The Year? If you are listening to the deluxe edition what is the next song? It’s the slow jangly mutilated but smooth (thanks to a brilliant hook performance by SZA) His & Her Fiend.  Schoolboy creates Juxtaposition everywhere. He places the crushingly personal John Muir before the bouncy West Coast celebration Big Body. His smoothest song Grooveline (with Dom Kennedy & Curren$y vibing out) comes right before his fire breathing dragon roar of a vocal performance on Gangsta in Designer (No Concept).  The juxtaposition creates tension yes but also dimension and he’s able to create that because he has tapped into the different facets of himself. Not to get too nerdy about this but if you go back to his 2009 mixtape Gangsta & Soul (You know my need to research forced my hand) his flow is totally different it is like listening to pre-Dre Eminem. He built this style and I appreciate his motor in refining it. His best album is his last album Blank Face.  Let’s talk more about this flow though…

Above & Beyond Attributes:

Tyson Flow-A knockout puncher has to make every connect count. Jabs just move the opponent to the right spot, Tyson was not even thinking about points on the scorecard. He was planting his victim in the right place for the right shot.That is how Schoolboy spits and always has. If you listen to the way his voice flings distasteful threats on the first verse of Dope Dealer from his 2016 album Blank Face  it is the same force he exerts on every line of Figg Get Da Money from 2011’s Setbacks.  Schoolboy says every word like a punk rock lead singer hitting their most jagged chorus.

Throw down mentality-The features on a Schoolboy Q album can get pretty interesting. Oxymoron Deluxe Edition(the only edition you should own) has Kendrick, 2 Chainz, Raekwon, Kurupt,SZA, Suga Free, Jay Rock, BJ The Chicago Kid, Tyler The Creator all along for the ride. Name another album that has 2 Chainz, Raekwon, and Suga Free spitting? The fearlessness in his flow has paid off to the point that Schoolboy fears none. This is where we say things like “being part of the best crew has given him the opportunity to be better as a lyricist,” I reject this. Ask Jae Millz how great his career growth has been behind Wayne, Dreezel Stillskin and the rest. It is HARD standing next to the dude who is considered the gold standard for bars. Q’s been doing it for ten years and gunning to a draw at the very least (I think he took Kendrick on Collard Greens) but he will throw bars with anyone and has. On Groovy Tony Jadakiss scorched the track so hard that Q added a whole other song behind the verse. He cares about the standard he has employed which is way more important than winning the song.

My conclusion is simple. I am not writing this because he has a new album coming and that could vault him into the “best in the game conversation” I hoped that this rant will prove he’s already there and this album will just be another leg of that journey.

 

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#BandcampGold-Stuck by Nickelus F

#BandcampGold-Stuck by Nickelus F

by Dan-O

On the first real song(Sleazie Wonder) of his new album STUCK, Nickelus F says “Shoulda got a mixtape award but peace to Justo.” He’s absolutely right. In 2013 he released one of my favorite mixtapes of all time (Vices). I listened to it constantly and scoured the internet looking for who produced it, no way this dude with twisted up tissues jammed in his nose created these beats! I’ve never lost the name Nickelus F since the day I realized Vices was him head to toe.

When STUCK came out I had that Nickelus F back. The texture of the music is mid-tempo with gorgeous samples twisted and planted in perfect spots. The songs ring of the nihilism Weeknd traffics with the controlled additive bounce of peak Paul Wall. I told people in my office his story, starting with the old days blowing Drake off tracks and just grinding, being that guy who cares as much about the melody as he does the lyrical content.

Yea Aight is probably the most succinct proof of my previous statement. The hook is gorgeous over piano keys and savagely rolling bass, stitched in samples, and this dude does not have anything my mom would consider a great voice. Nickelus F sounds like a lifetime cigarette smoker with the worst nasal congestion you can imagine.  He has the kind of voice I wouldn’t want for speaking let alone singing but he is a solid gold genius who can throw it all over the field of play. On That’s Fact he sticks the landing on every short choppy line of trap cadence only to switch up and stretch out on the next track (On Our Own).

STUCK has definite high points. The second half is amazing. The people in my office who I forced into listening to it came out genuinely surprised and enriched.  Hands is one of the very best songs released in 2018 by anyone. The perfect mix of a warped soul sample an ill chorus and bars that mean business by a guy who  owned the mic at 106 & Park for 7 weeks(Freestyle Friday hall of fame). Horace Hardbody The Statue is inarguably the best lyrical performance. This dude said “Cigarettes burn and tap ashes like congas.” All this being said STUCK isn’t a performative soap opera narrative or politically uplifting or autobiographical balling. It doesn’t have take over the world singles. It is about the light continual malaise of living in this world. On Horace Hardbody he says “If you’re like me likely you don’t sleep.”  STUCK is an oddball’s celebration of the chaos left where peace could have been. It is the single best second listen in 2018 hip hop for me because everything I missed the first time was there and richly defined.

I love that he does all this himself. I love that he has been lacing verses about subtle misery without shaving off the hard edges WAY before anyone else and is now better at it than ninety percent of the game (If you think I’m nuts listen to The Darkie). I want everyone who loves Drake to know STUCK and know that below the top tier of blockbuster pop rap is the real interesting stuff; a whole world of people taking chances without anyone to stop them or force them into bad guest features or big name producers.  People who have so much nasal blockage we should probably set up a way to donate so we can help…but are absolute wizards in every regard of music and they don’t toil in obscurity. Not for me. To me they are giants. To me Nickelus F in 2018(like he was in 2013) is a giant.

Stream or BUY STUCK below:

https://nickelusf.bandcamp.com/album/stuck