ScHoolboy Q's current single "Collard Greens" kicks off to the ticking beat of an alternating hi-hat and tom. The longer the beat plays out, the more it feels like heart palpitations, heightening the intensity behind the Los Angeles rapper's low, swift verses of what sudden wealth can afford: "You shopping from the window, play my favorite tempo." His voice sounds muted but his words scream with impatience.
In a home studio in Carson, Calif., Q, born Quincy Matthew Hanley, records with the gritty young rap collective Black Hippy, made up of Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Kendrick Lamar. They're creating some of L.A.'s most promising hip-hop, including its current gold standard, Lamar's platinum-selling good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Q's critically acclaimed 2012 album Habits & Contradictions was full of woozy, smoked-out rap and references to his past affiliations with L.A.'s Hoover Crip street gang. It had tales of violence, betrayal, and poverty, but never sounded despairing. He's eager to follow that up.
The day of our phone interview leading up to the annual Atlanta hip-hop conference A3C, Q had just returned from performing at London's iTunes Festival. He'd opened for Lamar, performing songs off 2012's Habits & Contradictions, but felt ready to perform his forthcoming album Oxymoron. He had just turned it in to independent label Top Dawg Entertainment, though Oxymoron will be his release on a joint deal with Interscope. The album's release date? "We'll see," he says.
Do you remember your first-ever live gig?
My first headlining show was a sold-out show at [West Hollywood's] Key Club. That was pretty fun, and that was the first little jump into touring and into becoming who I am today.
How did it feel to see your name on the poster?
It gave me a, "Damn, I'm really a rapper" type of feeling. Then it gave me a cocky feeling. Then it gave me a humble feeling. There was just so much that went through my head when I was headlining my first show, like "Man, there's so much more because this is the first step. There's so much more that can happen, and there's so much that won't happen," all these ultimatums and consequences and endless situations that enter your head when you're backstage.
Fast-forward to today: You were just in London for iTunes. How did that feel?
I would honestly say I'm over the shock now. Right now I'm real interested in hearing and performing my new music. So no matter where I'm performing right now, I'm going through the motions. I'm kind of ready to perform my new album so I can take it to the next level. I'm humbled — I'm just ready for the new shit right now.
Let's talk about Oxymoron then. You've said that it felt difficult to turn it in to your label — why?
Well, that shit's personal. You worked so hard on it, and then you sit with it for so long. You listen to it so much to the point where you heard it a million times. So you may start to second-guess yourself. Sometimes you need to hear somebody say, "Yeah, it's done," for you to feel comfortable turning it in. I didn't want to turn it in yet because I was nervous. I basically had to stop being a little bitch and turn it in. The album's hard though, my best work. I'm very confident in it.
It's heavy, like this could make or break me. A bunch of bad reviews could go horribly wrong for me. Most rappers, 90 percent of rappers, fight for good reviews. Most of them want to be great. They don't really care about the money. They care about the reviews. They want to break out.
Why is Oxymoron your best work?
Let me say that every artist is going to say their newest album is their best work, at least most of what I heard. But I just grew. You can hear it, from my singles to my ad-libs to my voice that I've changed every year. I started rapping late in my career, and so I'm still growing. I hear it in my music, and I'm impressed. And if I can impress myself, I know I'm doing something right.
You keep mentioning your daughter's shoes in your new single. What type of shoes does she like or do you get for her?
Jordans. That's all she says that she wants. She'd be like, "Give me Jordans. Are these Jordans?" I think that's all she knows. I bring up my daughter's shoes a lot on the album; that's one lyric I'm not scared to keep saying over and over again, slipping into the lyrics. My daughter loves it. Every time I ask her, "What's your favorite song from Daddy?" she's like, "My daughter needs some shoes." I'ma just keep that lyric until she gets older and outgrows it. Or until I outgrow it, I guess.
What's the biggest difference that fans are gonna hear between Oxymoron and your previous two releases?
I'm growing older. I'm more of a father, more of a man, more of a real man. I've seen a lot of things, and I've done a lot of things, and I'm finally and fully into the mode where I'm not scared to say anything. I don't do funny shit, loud or whatever. I've decided that I'm gonna be a rapper, and this is it. I'm also not scared to make this type of song or go too far. I've given up that mentality that, "Oh, I'm this type of rapper." I feel comfortable just making music and not trying to be a type.
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