Blank Face LP (2016)
Rap / Hip-Hop
Interscope / Top Dawg
When you glance at ScHoolboy Q’s album cover for his latest release Blank Face LP, it’s immediately apparent that this album might be a bit dark. On what looks like a movie ticket, we see an image of branching tree limbs and fiery clouds. In the bottom corner we see a mysterious looking man, presumably ScHoolboy Q himself, who has a mask covering his face. I understand the fact that “Blank Face” has a deeper meaning, but calling the album Blank Face LP is perhaps doing this album a disservice. This album is anything but blank, as ScHoolboy Q hones in on everything from his childhood to his current life. With a smattering of psychedelically bizarre production, we get an album that’s honest and poignant, and perhaps Q’s best album yet.
Unlike his previous pieces of work, like Habits and Contradictions and Oxymoron which focused on his drug addictions, Blank Face LP is a broader canvas that covers a lot more than simply just his past drug addictions. He has overcome those addictions and has moved on to a broader view of the world. This might welcome criticism that the album isn’t focused and too broad, but Q manages to bring everything into a precise and focused picture. There are some songs that don’t necessarily fit in the picture, but the vast majority of the album works well in harmony. The song “TorcH,” which serves as the album’s intro, does a pretty good job at giving you a taste of what you’re going to get.
The album has a bigger focus on ScHoolboy Q’s gang banging lifestyle that he has been a part of in the past. “JoHn Muir” is a song named after his former middle school in Los Angeles, which fits pretty well since middle school marked the time that Q began his gang lifestyle. Other songs like the unnerving “Dope Dealer,” featuring E-40, and “Str8 Ballin” also go pretty in depth into his lifestyle. He seems to want to move on however, as “Lord Have Mercy” is a darkish plea to God for mercy for his sinful lifestyle. There’s a lot of earnest emotion here, laced over some seriously good production from Swizz Beatz.
Another thing I couldn’t help but notice is the similarities this album has to fellow label mate Kendrick Lamar’s last album To Pimp A Butterfly. “Groovy Tony / Eddie Kane,” featuring Jadakiss, is a well-written song that has the type of storytelling that could be found on Kendrick’s album. Kendrick, obviously, goes a little deeper and gets more metaphorical, but his influence on ScHoolboy Q is apparent. Other songs like the erratic “Kno Ya Wrong” and the heavy cut “Ride Out” featuring Vince Staples have the type of flow and production that I could easily see on a To Pimp A Butterfly B-side.
Some other songs worth mentioning include “Neva Change” and “Black THoughts.” “Neva Change” has some sweet and melodic production with a wonderful hook from R&B singer SZA while “Black THoughts” is a little darker. The thing that these two songs have in common is their relevance, especially in the past couple of weeks with all the horrible violence that has been taking place in our country. “Black THoughts” is a commentary on the current state of the black community and its culture, which has been facing a lot of hardships the past couple of weeks. The sad part is, ScHoolboy Q acknowledges that he wrote these songs a year ago and they are still relevant and important today. I guess things “Neva Change.”
As I mentioned before, ScHoolboy Q does a bang-up job at taking us through the many facets of his life, both past and present, through the majority of his songs. Unfortunately, some songs don’t fit in with the bigger picture. “Big Body,” a funky cut featuring Tha Dogg Pound and produced by Tyler the Creator, is a fun song that ultimately feels out of place compared with the dark and heavy beats that we have seen elsewhere on the album. There’s also “Overtime,” a song that clearly panders to the label in hopes of getting some radio airplay. It’s a radio ready song that loses it’s luster in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience. The one redeeming quality of this song is Justine Skye’s smooth contribution to the track.
There’s some songs that I have failed to mention, like Q’s collaboration with Kanye West “THat Part,” the sequel to Habits and Contradictions’ interlude “Tookie Knows II,” and the T.I. “Whatever You Like” inspired electronic jam “WHatever You Want,” featuring Candice Pillay. These are all good songs that deserve some attention. The whole album deserves attention. There’s some songs that could be cut and some tracks that could be made tighter, but the overall package is a brilliant snapshot of ScHoolboy Q’s life as well as his ability to put together raps. As I mentioned with his previous release Oxymoron, Blank Face LP might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly ScHoolboy Q’s best piece of work to this day. I think Kendrick Lamar has been a good influence on the guy.