The career of Schoolboy Q has been an unpredictable one. After signing to the then-unknown record label Top Dawg Entertainment nearly a decade ago, his rise has been largely overshadowed by peers Kendrick Lamar and SZA. To date, he’s had two number one albums, his biggest being 2014's Oxymoron which housed the breakaway hit “Collard Greens”. The other, 2016’s Blank Face, was a riveting and experimental dredge into psychedelic rap, enlisting heavyweight features such as Anderson Paak., E-40, and Kanye West. From an artistic standpoint he’s in a strange place-despite being widely known and respected, I’ve never met anyone that’s stated Q to be their favorite rapper. And finally, we’ve reached Crash Talk, which serves up a puzzling blend of stylish trap instrumentals and Q being seemingly asleep at the wheel.
The hilariously bad single “Chopstix” that dropped earlier this month should have warned us of the contents of Talk. On the chorus Travis Scott, one of the biggest artists in the world, is enlisted to only say “chopsticks” some 90 times, while Q‘s ambivalent flow saps the song of even more energy. “Dangerous” featuring Kid Cudi follows suit, with the latter somehow packing in filler and contributing next to nothing on a song with a two-and-a-half minute run-time. Despite the noir-like instrumental, “Drunk” is another miss, with R&B star 6lack’s sleepy contribution feeling like a leftover from his last album.
The following song “Lies” is even worse, boasting a repetitive hook from Ty Dolla $ign (“Stop tellin’ lies on me, that sh*t ain’t okay, hey, hey, hey”) and an underwritten verse from YG. Maybe the strongest example of Q’s desire to fit a mainstream sound occurs on “Water” which is accompanied by a cloud-rap beat and crisp snare hits. Q’s laid-back delivery and short verse leads Lil Baby’s feature on the track to be the most exciting part, which is depressing considering his normally unmemorable performances. Sadly, the common thread between all of these weak songs appears to be Q himself, due to the suppression of his normally braggadocios and exciting delivery to fit the album’s radio-friendly instrumentals and guest appearances. It’s not like he can’t ride a trap beat (just look at “That Part” or “Ride Out”), he just doesn’t sound invested here.
Unsurprisingly, the best tracks on the album find Schoolboy Q unencumbered by features. “Gang Gang” and “Tales” serve as excellent one-two punch openers, with the prior toting an earworm hook (“Whip clean, dope boy, ah”) and ice-cold threats; the former utilizes a plucky jazz instrumental and introspective lyricism (“The homies tell me I’m a burden but never threw me a rope, They left me hanging on the corner, my whole life is my stash”). “5200” has my favorite beat on the project by far, sounding like a combination between “Goosebumps” and “Jumpman”. It also houses Q’s most energetic performance on the album, honestly fitting better with the material on Blank Face than this project. Single “Crash” is another highpoint thanks to its smooth hook (“Daughter need new shoes, If I lose, she lose, And I ain’t gettin’ used to losses”) and colorful beat which samples Royce Da 5'9"’s “Boom”. “Numb Numb Juice” and “Black Folk” are also notable listens that provide a break from the mainstream shoe-horning, albeit both tracks feel overly short.
Despite the negative critical reception of Crash Talk expected over the next week, Q is clearly unbothered. Based off his interview with Vulture that dropped on the album’s day of release, his approach to creating Talk favored replay value, compared to Blank Face being a “one-listen album”. I’m positive this project will move plenty of units and be all over RapCaviar for the next few months, but after the impressive depth of Face just a few years ago (as well as Kendrick Lamar’s combination of commercial and critical success on DAMN.), its depressing to see Q’s artistry be exchanged for radio plays.