ScHoolboy Q- BLUE LIPS

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The record might not have as good endurance as its predecessors, nor does it have the “big hits and singles,” but honestly despite all that I think it’s better off for it. At this point in his career, Q has nothing to prove. This album sounds very different from his previous records and injects his discography with more sonic diversity. Q also seems to have a lot of fun making his records, evident by its length, experimentation, and Q’s projection of comfortability, and that level of genuineness makes up for a lot of its frailties.


Artist: ScHoolboy Q
Title: BLUE LIPS
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
Release Date: March 1st, 2024
Location: Los Angeles, California
Social Media: @groovyq

Written by Tony Le Calvez

Ten years ago, Schoolboy Q bolted his pin into the hip-hop map with the release of his first major label debut, “Oxymoron,” a west-coast gangsta rap opus that weaved together intricate story-telling, witty lyricism, and an undeniable bravado. He followed that up with “Blank Face,” a dense, psychedelic-driven narrative journey that was less explosive, but succeeded in developing Q’s artistic threshold and continued to push the boundaries of his previous style and sound. The sequel, “CrasH Talk,” regressed from story-telling and experimentation, garnering a lukewarm critical reaction, but landed a bunch of great individual hits like, “Chopstix,” “Water,” “Floating.” Most of the tracks lack the endurance to keep my interest across the album’s run-time, but I think the album’s aloofness is fun and undervalued.

Five years later, on March 1st, Q finally released his newest album, “BLUE LIPS.” With an unconventional rollout, Q dropped music videos and “previews,” but primarily hyped it up on his X account, tweeting something like 30 times a day, every day, the entire month of February. Going into this record, I wasn’t sure what the creative direction was going to be. “Oxymoron” was a HARD hitting album, “Blank Face” mellowed out a bit for the sake of creative diversity, and “CrasH Talk” is the closest thing to a pop/rap album Q has ever made. Since then Q has been growing a family, finding sobriety, and playing a lot of golf in addition to touring and recording. My question going into this album was, ‘how is his music going to reflect the stage of life he’s in right now?’ Suffice to say, “BLUE LIPS” is a more mature, reflective, and laid-back album that still has beats and bars that will rattle your teeth, but curates a lot of space to breathe and celebrate the evolution of hip hop over the last decade. On this record Q stays true to his sound with his trademark deliveries and narratively-focused lyrics, but demonstrates that he is very aware of the current state of hip hop, experimenting with old and new influences, which all come together into an album that is deeply informed by hip hop’s tradition and evolving culture.

Q sets the tone for the album right off the bat with the opening track, “Funny Guy.” The retro sampling and airy-daintiness of the production reminds me of former Q collaborator, Tyler the Creator and his album “Igor,” for its jazz-infused, R&B sampling, that, mixed with Q dubbing over ad-libs and vocal rhythms, transports me into a dreamscape of bowlcuts and bucket hats bobbing together. This intro leads us into “Pop” featuring Rico Nasty, a song that isn’t very lyrically dense, but serves as a great hype track, that evokes similar feelings as the opening track of “Blank Face.” The beat and delivery on this track reminds me of Westside Gunn for it’s rhythm and bravado, and the inclusion of Rico Nasty gives the track a booster shot of adrenaline thanks to her unbridled delivery.

The next track sets up a pattern that remains consistent on the record of switching between hard gangsta rap and jazzy samples, which is edited to be a little jarring when it flip flops between the two, but gives the album a lot of intentionality and flow once you get used to it. “Blue Slides,” a tribute to Mac Miller and Q’s friendship, is the peak of Q’s jazz/gangsta rap homogeneity that puts his remarkable storytelling on full display, something that was missing on “CrasH Talk.” The final verse seems to allude to Kanye West, mourning the critical social reaction to West’s mental fragility, and calling out that people should be faster to offer help and support to anyone struggling with their mental health.

“Yeern 101” and “Love Birds” are both fun tracks that give the producers room to stretch their wings and provide beats that slam harder than Fernando Tatis Jr. The latter track reminds me of JID’s song, “Surround Sound,” but with all the production elements cranked to 11. Unfortunately, it’s also here where the album starts to show some of its faults. With the exception of Rico Nasty, most of the features on the record don’t provide a lot of variety or freshness to the project, and they slip between the cracks of Q’s silver-tongued excellence and the production’s vitality. A side effect of which makes the album FEEL long. Even songs that are only three to four minutes begin to feel wearisome and they sort of blend into each other like background music.

The pacing of the album remains stellar, the tracks flow from one to the next appropriately, but things stop standing out as sharply as they did on the first leg of the record. “Movie” has a refrain three quarters of the way through that feels Q-coded, and though the feature by Freddie Gibbs on “Ohio” didn’t make much of an impression on me, Q delivers some of my favorite bars like, “Got an Amex with no limit.” I never thought I would say this, but there’s something about having a good credit score in 2024 that feels very out of reach and kind of gangsta. Good for you Q, show that off.

“Foux” leans back into the psychedelic sounds reminiscent of “Blank Face” without as much character, but the next track, “First,” gives one more boost of excitement. The beat reminds me of the erratic, speaker-breaking production of JPEGMAFIA; this production sounds so good and the bass sounds so heavy, I can clearly picture Bebop and Rocksteady of TMNT blasting this one from their boombox. From there the back half of the album seems to continue on autopilot until the second-to-last track, “Pig Feet,” which is a final celebratory cop-killing anthem that saves the album from falling off in its last leg.

Overall, the record might not have as good endurance as its predecessors, nor does it have the “big hits and singles,” but honestly despite all that I think it’s better off for it. At this point in his career, Q has nothing to prove. This album sounds very different from his previous records and injects his discography with more sonic diversity. Q also seems to have a lot of fun making his records, evident by its length, experimentation, and Q’s projection of comfortability, and that level of genuineness makes up for a lot of its frailties. “BLUE LIPS” might not be his best album, but it’s ability to be both backward and forward thinking makes it an essential record in his catalog and one that seems to effortlessly be one of the best hip hop records of 2024 so far.

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