ScHoolboy Q's fifth album plays it safe, but never sorry.
Five albums deep, ScHoolboy Q has amassed a reputation as one of hip-hop’s most reliable acts. The prestige of TDE would not be so lofty were it not for his presence in the mix, which speaks to his quiet status as a visionary. Albums like Oxymoron and Blank Face showcased the depth of his artistry, though they ultimately raised the dreaded bar of expectation. Such is often the curse, revealing a bittersweet reality: delivering strong work can ultimately have diminishing returns. In hip-hop, fortune tends to favor the tortured, with many an opus coming from a place of personal turmoil and depression. What then might happen when an artist reaches a well-earned peace of mind?
The product of two scrapped efforts, ScHoolboy Q’s CrasH Talk feels unapologetic in a sense. Unabashedly designed as the album he intended to make in his heart of hearts, a sense of comfort becomes evident within the opening tandem of “Gang Gang” and “Tales.” A veteran in the game, Q’s technical prowess keeps his new music compelling, if occasionally underdeveloped from a structural perspective. A consistent adherence to brevity highlights his brilliant ear for sonic transitions, but it presents a small window for his ideas to fully gestate. Despite that, Q’s reflections on past experiences never feel dull, a testament to his prowess as a storyteller and penchant for vivid imagery. “The pigs been on us, my heart been skipping, I lost religion, my nine ain't perfect,” he raps on “Tales.” “A star is born, sometimes a drive-by needed.” There’s a lack of urgency to his tone, softened by the presence of hindsight; it’s not unlike revisiting a suspense film in which your favorite character emerges unscathed. He’s survived the struggle, bounced back from a crippling depression, and gained a newfound perspective.
Unfortunately, the project does swerve on occasion, beginning with the early single “Chopstix.” While inoffensive and enjoyable enough for a few listens, there’s something off-putting about the inclusion of Travis Scott, who turns in a lazy performance even by his minimalist standards. Regardless of intentionality, the move feels like an attempt to capitalize on the current musical climate, which Q does not need to do at this stage in his career. The YG and Ty Dolla $ign assisted “Lies” finds Q in a similar pocket; it’s easy to imagine this one going up in a weed-heavy studio setting, though in the context of the album’s tone it feels like a deviation. Luckily, Q wastes little time in setting the compass aright, putting forth a slew of strong midway selections, sonically pleasing and technically sound, if a little underdeveloped. It’s hard to dismiss the ominous spunk of “Floating,” where Q effortlessly asserts a horror-tinged persona, a callback to his “Blank Face” avatar. “Dangerous” finds Q exploring new melodic structure, proving that while he doesn’t always choose to, he can indeed flip a switch or two.
The climactic quarter of CrasH Talk brings forth the titular track, where thematic resonance is thickest. Perhaps it’s telling that Q and Boi 1da drew from the vault for this one, conjuring a sample from Royce Da 5’9 and DJ Premier’s iconic “Boom.” The evocation of a late-nineties classic cements Q’s pedigree as a scholar of the game, a journeyman unafraid to spotlight his influences past and present. It’s not by happenstance that “Chance” is one of CrasH Talk’s strongest selections, providing a deeper glimpse into Q’s current mindset. “Gotta hit the golf course to get a peace of mind,” admits Q, allowing himself a moment to vent. “Family, friends want a piece of mine.”
Given his choice to play things relatively close to the chest this time around (he’s described the project as “the first he’s written while happy”), “CrasH” allows plenty of room for inference into what actually makes him tick. Dually so for what drives him, as evidenced on the compelling closer “Attention.” “Front row at the Grammys I’m getting praises from Jay,” he raps, in the opening stanzas. While ScHoolboy’s confidence suggests he no longer cares for validation from anyone other than himself, his words reveal a man still deriving pleasure from the acceptance of those he respects. With co-signs from Jay, Nas, Dr. Dre, and Alchemist as fuel, it's clear that Q doesn't need to craft consistent masterpieces to further his ascension in the ranks. For now, it's better to have him happy, healthy, and enjoying the little things. CrasH Talk need not reinvent the wheel to bring you from point A to point B. With a guide like Q, even the occasional detour feels like time well spent.