ScHoolboy Q has always struck an intriguing balance between affability and intensity. Away from the studio, his social media presence provides a window into a life that’s typified by day-to-day family duties, a near-obsessive penchant for golf, and an infectious love of ridiculing everything and everyone in his immediate vicinity. But when it comes time to hit the booth, the fun and games recede and the pursuit for a new creative vein begins. During a recent visit to Sean Evans’ renowned internet talk show/culinary torture chamber Hot Ones, Groovy Q explained the impractical but effective refinement process that his music undergoes: 

“My whole thing now with music is making sure that this album don’t sound like that album. That’s why I always do like two albums before I actually finalize an album and they’re always pretty trash. I think it’s the one I get on Twitter or something like ‘album coming soon!” Yeah right, that was the first album… then we go to the second album. Then I finally figure it out and that mother***r be like 3, 2 years later (laughs).”

Afflicted with the self-doubt and crippling indecision that comes with perfectionism, ScHoolboy Q’s career has followed a recurring year-long pattern of hypervisibility that soon transitions into an extended absence from the spotlight – the regeneration period. Save for sporadic features, Q is and always has been a rapper whose primary motivation is to be an album artist. Much like the vast majority of his TDE cohorts, the Figg street native has a keen understanding of why producing fully-realized anthologies is more conducive to a legacy than saturating the marketplace.

If history has taught us anything, the release of April’s CrasH Talk will lead to extensive touring before Q nestles back into the restorative comfort of hibernation for another couple of years. As a result, it’s a fine time to take a stroll back through Q’s tales of dope dealing and deep-seated duality from Los Angeles’ treacherous inner city and rank his albums in order of perennial greatness. In the interest of clarity, this article will look directly at his canon of major releases, and thus mixtapes such as Gangsta & Soul and ScHoolboy Turned Hustla are omitted from examination.

ScHoolboy Q's Albums, Ranked

Rich Fury/Getty Images

5. Setbacks (2011)

Far more than an inconsequential album title, Setbacks is a characterization of Schoolboy Q’s journey from the outset. Whether fostered by his own ill judgment–such as the days where he was slacking on music in favor of veering back into hustling– or the untimely death of his “brutHa” Mac Miller, life has a knack of throwing cumbersome obstacles in the way of the Black Hippy stalwart. In a 2012 interview with Complex, Q explained his need to broach these issues head-on through his music and extricate any lingering self-pity from his psyche: 

““The concept behind Setbacks was [to talk about] all the shit that’s the reason why I can’t rap. The reason I can’t accomplish what I want to accomplish is because I’m doing all this dumb shit. I put it all together on the album. Like, “Druggys With Hoes,” I’m out here drugging and I’m not even trying to fuck with hoes. “Kamikaze,” I’m not even trying to rap—keep going broke. Different shit like that, I sum it up all in one album.”

Prone to bouts of self-destruction but all too aware of the institutionalized traps that he’s falling into, ScHoolboy Q gives audiences the first no-holds-barred account of the mixed messages ravaging his mind. Split between the gripping lucidity of “Cycle”, “Kamikaze” and the K-Dot aided “Birds and The Beez” and the chemically induced escapism of “To THa Beat”, “IBETiGOTSUMWEED” and the inaugural Soulo team-up of “Druggys Wit Hoes,” Setbacks is a vivid portrait of a man stuck in a near-constant stage of confliction. An unhibited romp through the early 10’s hip-hop landscape, Setbacks is anchored by magnetic flashes of the superstar that he’d become in a mere matter of years.

Essential Tracks: Figg Get The Money, Kamikaze, BETiGOTSUMWEED, Druggies Wit Hoes, Cycle, Birds And The Beez

4. CrasH Talk (2019)

Three years can equate to the lifespan of an artist’s entire career. Thankfully for Quincy Hanley, his fanbase’s foundations go deeper than most. Declared as 90-95% done by Top Dawg way back in August of last year, audiences were on tenterhooks as they awaited the fifth batch of Groovy Q’s unflinching hood chronicles. Conceived as a way to “please yourself more than you please others” and dispense with appealing to reviewers, his fifth project is the sound of a contented Q, albeit one teetering a little closer to autopilot than we’ve grown accustomed to. The resulting CrasH Talk isn’t short on the substance or style that he’s so lauded for, but it remains hampered by notable lapses in focus. For those that flock to Q’s projects in search of frank ghetto reportage and dense, skulking production, tracks such as “Gang Gang”, “Tales” and “Die Wit Em” have you covered. Elsewhere, “Dangerous” and “Attention” find the Hoover Crip in contemplative form as he takes stock of his ascent to fame, rationalizing a new life where he’s getting praise from Nas and Jay.  

CrasH Talk’s stumbling blocks come in the form of an overabundance of guest stars that cloud the record’s vision and leaves Q’s fifth project feeling a little out of whack. Although it’s by no means a bad project, the disappointment that many fans expressed was ultimately born from an overwhelming sense of post-Blank Face expectation that had been placed upon him. By the time he re-emerges again, it’s hard to imagine that there’ll be anything other than an uncontainable fire lit under Schoolboy Q that’ll debunk any accusations of complacency. 

Essential Tracks: Gang Gang, Tales, Numb Numb Juice, Dangerous, Die Wit Em, Water, Attention

3. Habits & Contradictions (2012)

If Setbacks acted as the embryonic variant of the sound that would garner him worldwide acclaim, its spiritual and literal successor Habits & Contradictions is Schoolboy Q’s artistic coming-of-age. A strutting and imposing body of work that presented Q as a force to be reckoned with, it’s an album predestined for classic status when examined through a wide-range lens. Fashioned at the tail end of the cloud-rap boom, the production is a blistering mix of electronica-infused haziness and anthemic, trunk-thumping bangers, collectively sculpted by Mike Will Made It, Lex Luger, The Alchemist and TDE’s in-house team of sonic wizards. Wrought with emotion one moment and drug-induced bravado the next, his pull-no-punches lyricism and engaging delivery shows off a versatility only equaled by his sense of inner turmoil.

Where’d he’d previously been preoccupied with other concerns, Habits & Contradictions is the first time Q was locked in with the level of artistic single-mindedness that would come to evolve and shape his finest work. At over an hour in duration, there are moments where a shrewder outlook could’ve forced him to trim the fat, but the good vastly outweighs the bad. Poised at a crossroads between the music biz fame that he’d coveted and the malevolent allure of the streets, Q’s creativity seems limitless in the opening six-track salvo. Loaded with songs  for the hedonists, the HiiiPowered, and the gang-affiliated, Habits & Contradictions set the pace that Q has been trying his utmost to keep ever since.

Essential Tracks: There He Go, Hands On The Wheel, Oxy Music, Sexting Druggys Wit Hoes Again, Blessed, 2 Raw

2. Oxymoron (2014)

Recorded in the year following Kendrick Lamar’s seminal Good Kid M.A.A.D City, Schoolboy Q freely admitted to HipHopDX that his TDE running mate’s universally acclaimed album forced him to double down and bring his A-game. “It’s competition,” he remarked, “I gotta be better than his shit or just as good. It has to be just as good or better. Kendrick, at the rate he doin and progressin’ in this music, is inspiring. It’s crazy. I’m glad he dropped [good kid, m.A.A.d city]. If he didn’t drop that album, there’s no telling how good my album woulda been.” 

Declared to be a “better” album by none other than Mac Miller, ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron is the crown jewel of his trilogy on human duplexity. Brought to life by the chaotic “Gangsta,” Groovy Q had fans hook line and sinker from the jump, kicking off a record with many of the finest tracks he’s ever committed to tape. Where K-Dot dedicated an entire album to exploring his tempestuous upbringing, Q made his own autobiographical origin story in the sprawling seven-minute epic “Hoover Street,” proving that he could dabble in the same artfully-minded terrain as K-Dot, only with an added level of visceral realism on “Prescription/Oxymoron.” While the album provides us with unabridged memoirs of his descent into addiction and learning morality in a world where crime is seen as the only escape route, that doesn’t mean that he’s taken the foot off the gas when it comes to providing succinct bursts of high-energy gangsta rap. 

Dripping in swagger and self-assurance, “Man Of The Year”, “Break The Bank” and the Jay Rock-assisted “Los Awesome” reaffirmed that he’s far more than the iconic adlib that had threatened to define him after GKMC’s release. “Fuck LA” “Blind Threats” and “The Purge” offer up forward-thinking gangsta rap far beyond a re-tread of what his Crip & Blood predecessors had laid out in a bygone era. Although most of the album’s duration finds Schoolboy Q at stratospheric heights of creativity, it is proscribed from the top spot due to the fact that its filler tracks such as “What They Want” & “His & Her Friend” are more listless than anything found on his magnum opus. But that said, most of the record’s tracklist portrays Q as a genuine top contender in the modern hip-hop realm. So, while Oxymoron fulfilled its purpose by any conventional metric, it didn’t quite meet the criteria of equalling what Kendrick accomplished on GKMC. Luckily for Q, his own entry into the pantheon of west coast rap masterpieces would arrive two years later.

Essential Tracks: Gangsta, Los Awesome, Collard Greens, Hoover Street, Prescription/Oxymoron, The Purge, Blind Threats, Break The Bank, Man Of The Year, Fuck LA.

1. Blank Face LP (2016)

Left bedraggled by a year’s worth of living out of airplanes and tour buses, Quincy Hanley found himself questioning his priorities. Fearful that the globe-trotting alter-ego ScHoolboy Q was beginning to seize the controls from the man with real-life responsibilities, he told MTV News that he was on the cusp of calling it quits in favor of a humbler life. “I stepped away from music for a little bit,” he recalled. “I toured a whole year. When I came back, my daughter was doing different things, talking different. I’m at the crucial years of her life — she’s only seven years old, so every time I’m gone for a certain amount of time, I come back, she’s doing something new. I got kind of tired of missing that. I almost quit rap. Almost. It almost happened.” 

Thankfully, Q found it within himself to clamber from the funk and head back into the trenches, yielding the finest project of his career to date. Simply put, 2016’s Blank Face LP is ScHoolboy’s ultimate gangsta rap symphony, and could easily stand alongside the best albums the sub-genre has ever produced. At a time when a new creative purple patch in hip-hop was gathering steam, a former honor student turned drug pusher crafted a conceptual piece free of eye-roll-worthy pretension or needless esoterica. Over the course of 18 tracks, ScHoolboy Q uses his own transgressions as allegories that allowed the audience to see themselves in both his struggles and triumphs. Whether you were raised in Q’s backyard or spent your whole life in the picket-fenced splendor of suburbia, The Blank Face LP took you into the darkest corners of his mind and allowed no-one to leave unscathed or any less than entertained.

While it took his usual thematic underpinning to newfound levels, Q’s directness remains undiluted on cuts such as “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane”, “Tookie Knows Pt 2”, and the mesmerizing “By Any Means.” Backed up by fellow Crip alum Vince Staples on the colossal “Ride Out,” Q’s well-documented belief in humanity’s paradoxical nature allows him to make an earnest cry for a ceasefire on “Black THougHts” without coming across as anything less than sincere. Elsewhere, Q uses the record to build inroads between generations by bringing the Dogg Pound aboard for the Tyler, The Creator produced “Big Body” before himself and the Bay’s E-40 trade slang on “Dope Dealer.” Whilst Kanye’s feature on “THat Part” and the Miguel & Justine Skye team-up of “Overtime” feel like they primarily exist to appease the label’s need for singles, these are small concessions to make when Q is treating the audience to tracks that are as wholly sublime and unfalteringly brilliant as “Str8 Ballin”, “Neva Change” and the sensory bombardment of “JoHn Muir.”

Across 72 captivating minutes, Groovy Q provides us with a sonically and topically diverse showpiece as seminal to the streets as it is to critics of all creeds and denominations. An album that feels as vital today as it did upon first playthrough, Q could spend his whole career without surpassing this project and it wouldn’t feel like a waste.   

Essential Tracks: Lord Have Mercy, Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane, Ride Out, By Any Means, Dope Dealer, JoHN Muir, Big Body, Neva CHange, Str8 Ballin, Black THougHts, Blank Face, Tookie Knows Pt II.

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