The Breakdown: Blank Face, by Schoolboy Q

Henry: Blank Face is hard to read. Schoolboy Q’s latest release has me staring, trying to read its expression. The problem with being on TDE is that the Kendrick comparisons are inevitable, and although he still isn’t winning those, Q has clearly been in the classroom, honing his craft alongside some of the best rappers in the game right now. His vocal delivery here is solid, varied, laid back yet energetic, and complimented by a host of producers who maintain a steady energy throughout. What the album lacks is a clear statement. The series of videos released for Blank Face tell a story of Q getting caught up in a robbery with his homies, but the songs only loosely correspond to the narrative in the visuals. Given just the music, it’s hard to discern any particular focus. Maybe this unreadability is the meaning of the title, an inscrutable facade, empty as a blank page.  Then again, maybe I’m reading too far into it…

Micah: I was extremely curious about how this new ScHoolboy Q album would sound. I enjoyed the majority of Oxymoron and his place on the Top Dawg roster keeps me checking for his new verses and interviews. Since putting out an album full of bangers with catchy hooks and music videos on islands with thick women ScHoolboy has slowed down quite a bit. Instead of being on tour in the thick of the rap life, he’s spent time at home with his family, improved his diet, started exercising, and I’m sure detoxed a bit. ScHoolboy has matured and the music on this new album is the proof.

  1. TorcH (featuring Anderson .Paak)

Produced by Nez & Rio

Henry: This is exactly what an intro should be, building slowly but deliberately into a slow banger that gets me salivating for the rest of the album. Love the bass and the wailing guitar in the background, and the almost acapella verse before the drums drop is a surefire way to get the listener’s attention.

Micah: This song begins with a lot of air, disorganized chanting and airy instrumentation. I love that this album’s first line is delivered by .Paak before Schoolboy’s verse really gets things going. The production on this song and the entire album is very meticulous and intentional, which leads me to believe that Ali had a lot to do with the sound of this album even though I can’t find him in the production credits. The vocals are stacked and stuttered and the beat is grimey as hell. .Paak’s signature raspy delivery works really well next to Schoolboy’s rapping. Although most of this album took awhile to grow on me, this song grabbed me right away. It’s perfect as an opener to the album.

2. Lord Have Mercy (featuring Swizz Beatz)

Produced by Swizz Beatz

Micah: I can’t decide if this is a kind of interlude or just a short song. Either way, ‘Lord Have Mercy’ doesn’t stand well on it’s own, but it’s a perfect way to string together the intro and the big single.

Henry: Agreed. Blank Face shines in its arrangement, maintaining the energy between songs with a flow that feels really natural. Every time I’ve listened to this album so far, it’s been all the way through, which speaks to the strength of the placement of all these tracks together.

3. THat Part (featuring Kanye West)

Produced by Yung Exclusive, Kanye West, Cubeatz & Cardo

Micah: To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of this song when I first heard it. I didn’t get the instrumental or the hook, and Kanye’s contributions seemed like a joke. However, after listening to this album on repeat I started to really enjoy the hook and I can’t get enough of Kanye’s Okay okayy okay okay okay OKAY flow. ‘THat Part’ strikes a balance between gritty raps and accessibility better than almost every other song on the album and Kanye’s verse is a huge part of that. Also, be sure not to sleep on the Black Hippie and Big K.R.I.T. remixes.

Henry: Beggars can’t be choosers, bitch this ain’t chipotle…I love the goofiness of this line as a one-off, but the fact that it gets repeated kinda kills it for me. I like the mournful emptiness of this beat, but I’m not a huge fan of the super-distorted Yeezy change-up, and I find I prefer both remixes to the original here.

4. Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane

Produced by Dem Jointz & Tae Beast

Henry: These drums bang. Another technically simple beat that works well to accentuate the verses from Q and Jadakiss, which are some of my favorite on the album.

5. Kno Ya Wrong (featuring Lance Skiiwalker)

Produced by The Alchemist

Henry: Once again, I love the placement of this track as a laid-back respite from the last two more intense songs. This might be my favorite beat on the album, both pre and post switch-up. Is that Terrace Martin I hear on the horns?

Micah: This song really stands out from the rest of the album sonically with a slower and jazzier sound that gives the album some breathing room. There is a fantastic beat switch halfway through that adds a bassline that reeks of Thundercat, but it could just be Alchemist doing his thing.

6. Ride Out (featuring Vince Staples)

Produced by Sounwave

Henry: Back to the bangers. This one goes hard. Vince delivers a solid feature, and I love the image of Q crippin’ on his mini bike.

Micah: I was so ready to love this song. ScHoolboy’s labelmate, Sounwave, is one of the most underrated producers in the game and Vince Staples in on a hot streak. With that mix of talent and a title like ‘Ride Out,’ I was so excited to play this at a volume that my car stereo is uncomfortable with. I tried and tried to “get it”, but it never happened. I have reservations saying that I don’t like this song, because the vast majority of this album took time to grow on me. For now, I’ll just say I’m not feeling it, yet.

7. WHateva U Want (featuring Candice Pillay)

Produced by Tae Beast

Henry: I’m a fan of the groove on this one. It’s like they took an uptempo EDM rhythm and slowed it down just enough to give it a more G-Funky feel. It’s definitely a club-oriented track, especially with the synths that build and drop, but I think it fits into the album better than these kinds of songs often do. Not a song I’ll seek out on its own, but not one I find myself skipping either.

Micah: I love this song. It might be my favorite on the album. The incredibly accessible instrumental and the catchy hook have stuck this song in my head since I first heard it. This is a great song for the gym or rolling around with the windows down. It may not be the toughest song on the album, but maybe that’s why it stands out to me.

8. By Any Means

Produced by Cardo

Henry: As one of the tracks released with a visual accompaniment before this album dropped, I’ve already had this one stuck in my head for weeks. It’s one of those ignorant hooks that I don’t really like, but still find myself singing at odd hours of the day and night. Not my favorite, but it has that ineffable earworm quality to it.

Micah: To be honest, this is a low point on the album for me. I don’t mess with the hook and the beat is forgettable. Outside of the first few listens, I usually find myself skipping this song when it comes on.

9. Dope Dealer (featuring E-40)

Produced by Southside & Metro Boomin

Henry: Metro Boomin has been all over recently, and this beat is yet another feather in his cap, barebones in a driving way. E-40 might have my favorite verse on the album, managing to be absolutely hilarious and menacing at the same time.

Micah: I don’t have a problem with this song, but I can’t see myself revisiting it outside the context of the album. While the beat bangs and E-40’s verse is great, the song didn’t connect for me. I’m not sure if it was the forgettable chorus or something else, but I’m not really messing with this one.

10. JoHn Muir

Produced by Adrian Younge & Sounwave

Henry: Love the drums on this one, and the way the hook slips into a really nice harmonized melody after the simple but catchy verse section. Q’s verses are passable but not really memorable.

Micah: I didn’t get this song until the music video came out. I thought ScHoolboy’s flow was uninspired and lazy, but I’ve completely turned around. This song is the epitome of West Coast sound, centered around a fat drum loop and some great keyboards and saxophone on the hook, setting a softer musicality in contrast with the thugged out verses. While I’m not crazy about ScHoolboy on this song as a lyricist, his delivery adds to the dynamic change from verse to chorus. This song took a long time to “get”, but I got it now.

11. Big Body (featuring Tha Dogg Pound)

Produced by Tyler, The Creator

Henry: I’d never guess that this was a Tyler beat, but knowing that he produced it I can totally see him getting weird in the studio to this. This song has a weirdly catchy late 80’s feel and I actually like it a lot.

Micah: Man, I really wanted to like this song. Tyler doing his best Pharrell impression, ScHoolboy and the legendary Dogg Pound working together, but this song was a major disappointment. I tried to put it into rotation, but I didn’t find anything about it that stuck with me. This song is way better in theory than execution.

12. Neva CHange (featuring SZA)

Produced by DJ Dahi

Henry: Another well placed track, undercutting the silliness of Big Body with a mournful instrumental, a reminiscent verse, and a nice hook from SZA. I love the bass on this track, and the way the drums drop gives it a great feel. This is one of the tracks I can see myself coming back to as a standalone piece.

  1. Str8 Ballin

Produced by Nez & Rio

Henry: I love the way the sample is chopped on this one. It’s like a trapped-out version of Flashing Lights. Not crazy about the hook though, and the verses don’t seem to do too much that’s new or unexpected.

Micah: This is a good song, but not a standout on the album. I like the Snoop ain’t the only rich crip, but I think this album as a whole would have been much stronger if it was cut down to twelve songs instead of seventeen. I don’t mind having the other songs. They would work great as bonus tracks, but there is too much filler that takes away from the even harder hitting impact this album could have.

  1. Black THougHts (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

Produced by Willie B

Henry: This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, the way the meditative beat echoes around what might be Q’s strongest verse on the album, one that stands out to me as being really sincere and also calculated, not wasting words but using every line to make a point.

Micah: Ya’ll ain’t hearin’ me / My homie facin’ life told me that my pride my biggest enemy / But you keep your eyes in that dark / Your mind, it greys your heart.

Out of all the songs on this album, this one best captures ScHoolboy’s storytelling, and I have to admit I’m thoroughly impressed by what I hear. His first verse tell of his fatherless upbringing on pissy sofas where every neighbor got a fence and how it pushed him to find brotherhood and security in gang society. He flips it in the second verse, arguing that gangbanging doesn’t actually make you safer, but only perpetuates a cycle of blue killing red and red killing blue when both lives matter. Without mentioning some of the best boom-bap production on the album, I love this song simply for the lyricism in ScHoolboy’s writing and the musicianship in his delivery.

  1. Blank Face (featuring Anderson .Paak)

Produced by T Russell & Sounwave

Henry: Everything .Paak touches right now is fire, and this song is no exception. Love the soul riffing of the guitar and the bass, and the way he and Q go back-and-forth over the increasingly frantic instrumentation that builds and then dissolves again, leaving us waiting for drums that never sound.

Micah: I spent the first few times listening to this song waiting for the beat to drop, but it never happened. Instead of the smooth and soulful sound I was expecting from an Anderson .Paak feature, I got a series of strange psychedelic rushes propelled by a busy bassline, Chili Peppers-inspired guitar, rich background vocals,and orchestral sections. This song is hypnotic and unsettling, and I like it.

  1. Overtime (featuring Justine Skye & Miguel)

Produced by Kendrick Lamar & Cardo

Henry: Q himself has said that this song is the outlier for him, and I agree. The hook is exceedingly cringey, and the verses don’t help either. If I skip any track on the album, it’s this one, and it’s too bad that the incredible build-up of ‘Blank Face’ is wasted here. If the album was to try and make some sort of statement, this would be the place to put it, but instead we get a really awkward, unnecessarly explicit attempt at a club anthem that’s guaranteed to kill the mood.

Micah: This song is the bastardized spiritual successor to Studio off Oxymoron. Not good.

  1. Tookie Knows II (featuring TF & Traffic)

Produced by Nez & Rio

Henry: This is another one of the tracks that came out as part of the pre-release visual series, and probably my favorite of those tracks. I’m a sucker for simple piano samples, and this one does the job, providing just enough of a back-drop for some great vocal performances. Traffic’s verse is one of my favorites on the album–his voice dripping with emotion in what comes across as an unforgettably raw delivery. I find myself playing this one twice just to forget that the last track ever happened.

Micah: You have to give ScHoolboy credit for starting strong and ending strong on this album. On an already gloomy and dark album, this track stands out as the gloomiest and the darkest. This is the kind of song I like to listen to when I’m driving around at night. I have no idea who the featured artists are but they are captivating, compelling and a little bit frightening. This is the perfect way to end this album.

Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Micah Roehlkepartain