ScHoolboy Q "Blue Lips" Review

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With a bit more clarity and ambition, "Blue Lips" is a gratifying listen that encompasses a level of depth that we haven’t heard from ScHoolboy Q before.

ScHoolboy Q is in his Pablo era. He says as much on the Freddie Gibbs-assisted, “oHio” from his latest album, Blue Lips. “Lookin' at my life, think he Pablo/ Y'all poor,” he raps on the hook. Pablo Escobar might be a played-out reference at this point, especially as a hyperbolic benchmark of power and wealth. But ScHoolboy Q has a way of skewing the norm into a distinct portrayal of his growth and by extension, how the world around him has evolved. In this particular instance, it’s less to do with the accumulation of wealth but rather, what it’s afforded him: a sense of tranquility. As a result, ScHoolBoy Q delivers one of his strongest bodies of work with Blue Lips.

The 18-song album contains everything that CrasH Talk lacked – personality, depth, and a sense of purpose. At a time when the music industry was in a major overhaul as streaming continued dominating and platforms like Triller and TikTok directed the algorithm, ScHoolboy Q found himself trying to figure how where he fit into the puzzle. He explained to Zane Lowe that CrasH Talk captured his life after the success.

Fevered Reflections & Realizations

Blue Lips often feels like a volatile journey with unexpected twists and turns, thanks to the excellent sequencing. Beat switches and song transitions can often feel abrupt but the abrasiveness accentuates each moment. Through this, Q’s range takes heed uninterrupted. “THank God 4 Me,” produced by Kal Banx and initially teased during the producer’s Boiler Room set, opens up with a warm, tranquil flute, accented by gentle guitar strings before switching gears entirely into an abrasive banger that surrounds self-love in a way that only Q could deliver. It’s a commonality across the album that initially feels like jumbled concepts thrown into a blender. There’s a method to the chaos that lets the cohesion unfold organically, especially in ScHoolboy’s delivery. Q compartmentalizes each flow into concentrated moments across the album. It makes each sonic shift, each flow hit harder than the last. 

“Love Birds,” for instance, finds Lance Skiiwalker reflecting on the shortcomings of a relationship but Q bursts through with debaucherous brags about a “house full of whores.” Then, there are songs like “Foux” with Ab-Soul. Over fevered jazz percussion, the two deliver another successor to the “Druggies Wit Hoes” series that deviates further from the hedonistic drug-fueled sexcapades that he and Ab-Soul once indulged in. Instead, “Foux” focuses on a void in their lives that can’t be fixed by copious amounts of substances, even with strides in their personal and professional careers.

Finding Hope 

The concept of embracing change appears across the album, largely in juxtaposition with pivotal life moments that shaped him. However, the ultimate takeaway is that his worth was never rooted in material possessions but rather, the purity of his intentions. Even the moments where he’s bragging about Presidential Rolexes or foreign cars aren’t necessarily flexes. They are reminders of where it all began and the strides he’s made. It’s a noticeable shift from his mindset on his early albums which felt clouded by despondence. 

But on Blue Lips, an album that arrives a decade after his major label debut Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q finds a sense of hope that only came as he became more removed from the streets. Songs like “Blue Slides” and “Cooties,” specifically, allow a heightened sense of introspection to thrive within questions of existentialism. The former finds Q ruminating on the inevitable outcome of the streets but also, how the pressures of fame manifest in tragedy, whether it be the loss of Mac Miller or the public’s attitude towards mental health, specifically in the case of Ye.

“Cooties” encompasses the other side of the coin -- Q is awestruck at marijuana-scented mansions in the Hills and his growth from “being trapped from all the things that you build” – yet he's still affected by the same anxieties that the average American face. Though he’s never been one to be overtly political, Blue Lips does shed light on his outlook on governmental bodies, including Kamala Harris’ criminal justice record, and the dire threats to the next generation. “Mass shootings, when will they stop it? Hmm another kid gone for unlimited profits,” he raps on “Cooties.” “Rather keep my kid home, before you fuck up the process.”

ScHoolboy Q Finds Purpose

This consciousness of purpose and self-awareness makes ScHoolboy Q’s latest album such a refreshing entry in his catalog. Sure, the nihilism of gangster rap is pervasive on stand-outs like the hardcore-influenced “Pop” ft. Rico Nasty captures the rugged West Coast skater culture or the militant aggression of “Lost Times” and “Pig feet.” However, there’s a levity to his voice, writing, and attitude toward the world, even when he’s tapped into his most ruthless form. 

While albums like Setbacks and Habits & Contradictions captured the numerous adversities he faced with an aloof tone, Blue Lips looks back at those moments as learning curves. The latter half of the project starts unraveling this album’s theme with more clarity. Songs like “germany ‘86” find Q returning to his birthplace. Through this, he details his mother’s return to Hoover after serving her country, only to be thrown to the wolves. It’s here where Q acknowledges that, despite how the women in his life tried to deter him from the streets, it was an inevitable outcome. The environment in which he grew up, regardless of whether he jumped off the porch, would’ve forced him to grow up far too quickly.

Conclusion

There’s a reason why an artist like ScHoolboy Q could wait five years before releasing another album. It’s a luxury that very few artists are afforded, no matter the medium. Blue Lips stands as ScHoolboy Q’s most ambitious album to date, one that pushes the boundaries that he set for himself. With a bit of clarity and ambition, the follow-up to CrasH Talk is a much more gratifying listen that encompasses a level of depth that we haven’t heard from ScHoolboy Q in the past. He’s at peace with himself but more importantly, comfortable in the mental space that he currently occupies. 

About The Author
Aron A. is a features editor for HotNewHipHop. Beginning his tenure at HotNewHipHop in July 2017, he has comprehensively documented the biggest stories in the culture over the past few years. Throughout his time, Aron’s helped introduce a number of buzzing up-and-coming artists to our audience, identifying regional trends and highlighting hip-hop from across the globe. As a Canadian-based music journalist, he has also made a concerted effort to put spotlights on artists hailing from North of the border as part of Rise & Grind, the weekly interview series that he created and launched in 2021. Aron also broke a number of stories through his extensive interviews with beloved figures in the culture. These include industry vets (Quality Control co-founder Kevin "Coach K" Lee, Wayno Clark), definitive producers (DJ Paul, Hit-Boy, Zaytoven), cultural disruptors (Soulja Boy), lyrical heavyweights (Pusha T, Styles P, Danny Brown), cultural pioneers (Dapper Dan, Big Daddy Kane), and the next generation of stars (Lil Durk, Latto, Fivio Foreign, Denzel Curry). Aron also penned cover stories with the likes of Rick Ross, Central Cee, Moneybagg Yo, Vince Staples, and Bobby Shmurda.