Tag Archives: gangsta rap

Review: Blank Face LP

via Rap God
via Rap God

Blank Face LP (2016)

ScHoolboy Q

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.

via Rap Wave
via Rap Wave

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.

via Booska
via Booska

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.”

via Okay Player
via Okay Player

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.

2015 BET Experience - Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock

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Review: Straight Outta Compton

via The Bull 101.7
via The Bull 101.7

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

R / 147 mins.

Biography / Drama / Music

Starring: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

Director: F. Gary Gray


Hip-hop wouldn’t be where it is today without the heavy influence and trailblazing nature of the rap group N.W.A.  It’s a simple fact that’s hard to dispute, no matter how hard you try.  They gave a voice to the people, a voice that people from Compton (and all over the U.S.) could rally behind in the late 80’s.  The ragtag group, consisting of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren, were just looking to make it big in the streets of Compton, but it was there unique message that propelled them into the country’s spotlight.

via Black FIlm
via Black FIlm

Straight Outta Compton is the story of N.W.A.’s rise to fame, directed by F. Gary Gray and produced by Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and widow Tomica Woods-Wright, wife to the late Eazy-E.  With that kind of pedigree off screen, the film already had a lot of things going for it.  This isn’t Gray’s first radio, having directed Friday with Ice Cube back in the day, and having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre producing the movie gave me full confidence that the story of the world’s most dangerous group was going to be handled with finesse and care.  The one big question when it comes to biopics is whether or not the story is worth telling.  It’s the story and the way that it’s told that can make or break a biopic.  N.W.A.’s story has been well documented and publicized up to this point, but Straight Outta Compton dives a little deeper and gives us a look not only at the group’s rise to fame, but their personal stories as well.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this movie is the top notch acting that came from a cast full of lesser-known actors.  Aside from Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his father in the movie and Paul Giamatti’s part as the group’s manager Jerry Heller, the rest of the cast is relatively new to the scene.  Let me break it down: Dr. Dre is played by Corey Hawkins, Eazy-E by Jason Mitchell, DJ Yella by Neil Brown Jr., and MC Ren by Aldis Hodge.  The cast might not be as well known, but they all did a fantastic job at embodying the legends that they were acting as.  Obviously they had mentors in Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, but there was an incredible amount of practice and studying that went into their characters.  Their mannerisms, personalities, and musical styles were all matched pretty realistically.  Two other rappers that garner some screen time are Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marcc Rose), who looks eerily similar to his real life counterpart.  It could have just been Tupac’s hologram, I don’t really know.  (I do know I am excited for Tupac’s standalone movie, where Marcc Rose will reprise his role as Tupac)

via New Pittsburgh Courier Online
via New Pittsburgh Courier Online

Another thing that was sort of surprising is that the movie really wasn’t entirely focused on N.W.A.  The first act detailed the creation of the group and its rise to prominence.  We got to see some of the situations that the guys were coming from and how much this group meant to them.  The movie then began to focus on what happened when a group of street rappers from Compton got a ton of money and a big spotlight.  Ice Cube was in disagreement with his contractual situation and decided to branch of on his own.  Dr. Dre’s vision also propelled him to leave the group and pursue his own musical genius at Death Row Records.  We also got to see Eazy-E’s relationship with the scumbag manager that was Jerry Heller.  The guy was manipulative and started cheating the group of their own money.  The scenes involving Eazy-E and Jerry were fun to watch, but also kind of depressing considering you knew that there close relationship wasn’t going to last forever.  Anybody who knows N.W.A. knew there was a lot of internal conflict between the group’s members and Straight Outta Compton manages to capture their stories with near perfect execution.

This movie couldn’t have been coming out at a better time.  The country has been experiencing a lot of turmoil when it comes to blacks living in America and police brutality.  The movie captures angst and the feelings that guys like Ice Cube and Eazy-E had towards the authorities that were looking to bring them down.  We also start to see the government’s involvement in the group’s message.  It was a scary time for the government.  They were scared that this message, reality rap, could spark a revolution in the country that they wouldn’t be able to handle.  N.W.A.’s influence on the masses was undeniable and pretty large.

via Black Film
via Black Film

I was pleasantly surprised that the movie, which has a pretty long run time, went as far as to cover Eazy-E’s struggle with HIV and his imminent death.  Those last moments with Eazy-E on his death bed and guys like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre coming in to say their goodbyes were heartfelt and, at times, hard to watch.  Straight Outta Compton is a fantastic movie that will most likely take the torch as my favorite movie of the year so far.  It’s a gritty story full of hardship and triumph.  Dr. Dre and Ice Cube have coming a long way from their gangbanging days and their stories, along with the rest of N.W.A, are unresistingly intriguing and fun to watch.  You will probably appreciate this movie more if you are a fan of rap, but don’t let that be your barrier to entry.  Straight Outta Compton is a movie worth watching no matter where your musical tastes lie.

Straight Outta Compton