By: Jack Stein
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Is there anything more rewarding than hearing an artist suddenly make The Leap from good to great? There’s something undeniably uplifting and inspiring about witnessing the meteoric ascent that often occurs for young performers within the span of one album, yet the improvements that California rapper Schoolboy Q made from last year’s solid Setbacks to the masterful Habits & Contradictions that dropped this past week are nothing short of extraordinary. With an impeccable ear for beats that would make A$AP Rocky green with envy (and get Clams Casino back in the studio), undeniably smooth swagger that somehow feels genuine rather than manufactured solely for Twitter, and impressionistic stream-of-consciousness lyricism recalling the non sequiturs of Ghostface’s halcyon days, Schoolboy has officially made The Leap, giving us the finest rap record since XXX in the process.
With apologies to the also excellent (and A$AP-featuring) “Hands on the Wheel”, no single track from Habits better encapsulates Schoolboy’s sudden ascendance than the heart-wrenching “Blessed”, a both harrowing & hopeful rumination on poverty, mortality, and uncertainty amidst a world of economic decay and personal strife. With an angelic, insistently crying beat as his backdrop, Schoolboy launches into his now-trademark frenetic flow from the track’s get-go, lamenting a less fortunate past (“Livin’ out his backpack every night/needin’ a new place to sleep”) while simultaneously turning his eyes to the heavens from which those wounded wails beam down, optimistically looking towards a more hopeful future (“Keep the faith, stay strong.”)
While Schoolboy lacks the lyrical and topical depth of fellow Black Hippy comrade Kendrick Lamar (who slaughters his guest verse in typical fashion, dancing deftly around the track’s narcotic pulse), there’s something undeniably human and empathetic about the former that draws you in a bit closer to Schoolboy than one would dare draw to the aloof, enigmatic Lamar. By deftly synthesizing his collaborator’s zonked-out social perceptiveness, the syrup-addled production of the most sumptuous A$AP tracks, and his own heartfelt, everyman laments on the trials & travails of the hood, Schoolboy is quickly rising in the ranks of independent hip-hop, with this haunting gem serving as his mission statement.