The South Los Angeles rapper ScHoolboy Q has dropped his fifth solo album with Top Dawg Entertainment, “CrasH Talk,” marking eight years since the release of his debut. Minus a few guest appearances here and there, Q had been relatively off the grid for three years since the release of his highly praised fourth album, “Blank Face LP.”
He has undoubtedly returned to full form for his 2019 project, adapting to the current rap music environment with a blend of bubbly jams and full-fledged bangers. Q also produces narrative tracks, a style that shines in his previous works, and he maintains a signature twist on things as he adapts to what’s popular today.
His ability to traverse the shifting paradigms of the genre while remaining loyal to his core qualities through five projects and nine years is astounding, and well worth rap-legend status. The tenured artist handedly defends his legacy and upper-echelon status on his latest release, “CrasH Talk.”
Vocals and Bars
Q delivers his bars with variety, a quality that has enhanced his music throughout his career. Sometimes listeners get a casually delivered strew of one-liners that jives nicely over instrumentals, but also pinches with crafty wordplay and impactful images.
Then, Q can also provide an extra level of aggression in his verses over banger production with a grimy voice and an assortment of supporting ad-libs. On top of these two styles, which can at times bleed into his third, is Q’s ability to write dense, narrative-styled songs where he surgically picks apart instrumentals with swift bars.
Although narratives are always bright spots in Q’s work, it comes in a small dose on “CrasH Talk.” “Tales,” “Drunk,” “Black Folk” and “Attention” demonstrate his storytelling skills with heavy verses that encapsulate shocking images and self-reflection on a life of struggle and crime.
The rapper is surely one of the more ambitious lyricists in the genre today, articulating harsh recollections with a poetic use of language. On “Tales” he spits couplets,
“I watch a n*** lose his life right in front of his kids / We keep the cycle back and forth, the demons smother our gifts” and “And the b*** I call my girl, she done found my dope / I sent her in a deep depression ’til her post went ghost.”
The stirring personal reflections from Q are unfiltered and contribute to the potency of his music. He holds little back in his gangster rap, providing spine-tingling stories that briskly ride both bright (“Black Folk”) and murky (“Drunk”) beats in the form of astute rhymes.
Aside from Q’s tactful bars in more serious tracks, the West Coast rapper roars on a collection of forceful bangers that make up almost half of the album. Introducing “CrasH Talk” with the volcanic “Gang Gang” previewed the gangster-rap aggression listeners would see in later tracks “Numb Numb Juice,” “5200,” “Floating,” “Water” and “Die Wit Em.”
Although some of these bangers are coupled with repetitive hooks, rich instrumentation and engaging background vocals more than make up for them. Q also layers these tracks with quality verses that outweigh their, at times, unambitious choruses. However, sometimes the repetition of “Whip clean, dope boy” (“Gang Gang”) and “I got that water, yeah, I got that water” (“Water”) act as effective unifying chants in a blistering concoction.
While ScHoolboy Q kills his performances on “CrasH Talk,” his fifth album’s features do not shine. A guest list composed of Lil Baby, 21 Savage, Travis Scott, 6lack, Ty Dolla $ign and YG seemed primed for success. Nonetheless many of the album’s guest appearances are lackadaisical, forgettable and brief.
From Travis Scott incessantly repeating “chopsticks” on the three-track’s chorus, to Dolla $ign’s laughable “Stop tellin’ lies on me, that shit ain’t okay, hey, hey, hey” on “Lies,” “CrasH Talk” suffers from sorely unexecuted features. However, Q dazzles in the project’s spotlight and carries the weight of “CrasH Talk” just fine himself, aside from missed opportunities at guest appearances on mainstream jams.
The project’s production is mostly footed by DJ Dahi, a California producer signed to Def Jam Records and Sounwave, an in-house producer for Top Dawg Entertainment and a member of the production team Digi+Phonics. While these two contributed to the bulk of the project, producers Nez & Rio — who produced Q’s hit “Man of the Year” back in 2014 — were behind the intense, rushing instrumentation on both the promotional single “Numb Numb Juice” and the outro “Attention.” The massively successful Boi-1da also produced the mellow title track, “CrasH.”
“CrasH Talk” is layered with animate beats that evolve throughout Q’s performances. For instance, the banger “5200” is centered around a circus-horn type sample that loops over a bassline that builds after each chorus, until triggering a sudden morphing soundscape that swallows the beat.
The producers’ keen eye toward rich backgrounds is very apparent in this collection of instrumentals. The track list is finely weaved as well, offering a supreme mix of highs and lows sorted side by side to carry listeners through a balanced experience. Q’s hardest cuts are followed by his playful joints, which not only offer a level of relief from both an instrumental and content standpoint, but an artistically pleasing, sonic discordance.
The album is structured into three takes as a beep and a phoned-in voice will appear saying, “CrasH Talk, Take” 1, 2 or 3. The rendition appears at the beginning of the first track, “Gang Gang,” the tail end of the fourth track, “Numb Numb Juice,” and the end of “Dangerous.” Each phase is equipped with several bangers, at least one chiller song (Phase 2 having more than the 1 or 3), and “Tales,” “Black Folk” and “Attention” are distributed in each phase as the “conscious” rap songs of the whole.
The structural decision would be more aesthetically pleasing if it had a greater function in “CrasH Talk,” bringing a greater level of significance to its experience. However, the sound of the project is organized fluently and packs a dense assortment of flaming hip-hop production into a fulfilling play through.
A few metrics come to mind when determining the legend status of a rapper, such as distinctness of voice and flows, sound innovation, long and decorated career, a balance between platinum hits and fan-favorite deep cuts, persona and position in the game. From world famous icons like 2Pac or Jay-Z to less widely known veterans MF Doom or Tech N9ne, rap legends can emerge from both commercial popularity and underground acclaim.
ScHoolboy Q is a rapper who has seen both sides of the fence, beginning his career alongside Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul at the independent label Top Dawg Entertainment, which they all remained part of and built to become the most well-respected label in the modern rap game.
I remember hearing Q’s feature on “Spiteful Chant” off Lamar’s “Section.80” project and then scurrying over to his debut “Setbacks,” which was released in the same year and packed with numerous unforgettable tracks. A year later, he dropped “Habits & Contradictions,” which was released before TDE was ignited by Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” in 2013.
Staple tracks on his sophomore project like “Hands on the Wheel (feat. A$AP Rocky)” and “Blessed (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” drew the masses even closer, and Q’s next album “Oxymoron” went platinum. His fourth project “Blank Face LP” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and “CrasH Talk” is projected to be Top 5 on the Billboard chart this year.
Throughout Q’s road to success, he has adapted to trending styles in the game but still produces raw and captivating raps. Q continues to impress as the right-hand man of a label headed by the most esteemed rapper in the modern era.
Q’s voice and style is undeniably recognizable and innovative. His achievements and location in the genre speak for themselves; anyone remotely interested rap knows ScHoolboy Q and could spot his voice on a track in seconds. His five-project discography is assembled with modern rap classics that contain lucid instrumentation and quotable rhymes.
Although I think Q has yet to craft his defining masterpiece, the consistent quality of his outputs in comparison to the rest of the genre’s current acts keep hip-hop fans marking their calendars for his releases. “CrasH Talk” reaffirms how ScHoolboy Q should undoubtedly be deemed a rap legend.