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ScHoolboy Q’s ‘Blue Lips’ Is a Specimen of Evolution, Both Immediate & Gradual

This article was originally published on HipHopDX

"When it comes to music, I don’t look at it as like, ‘Oh, you have to drop every year,'” ScHoolboy Q said during an interview last year. “As an artist, if I bring nothing to the table that comes from my life, I don’t feel I should put it out.”

As luck would have it, a lot has changed in the life of the Los Angeles native of late, and thankfully for the better. The infamous bucket hat, which in hindsight turned out to be emblematic of a lifestyle he has no desire of going back to, has been replaced with a golf cap indefinitely. This real-life metaphor perfectly illustrates the many different roles he currently plays as an artist, borrowing from the past while craftily negotiating his future.

Given the circumstances, it took the Top Dawg Entertainment MC exactly one month to secure his spot back at the center after nearly five years of inactivity. Whereas most succumb to a reset of trends in that amount of time as excess continues to be one of the last remaining formulas to hold the public’s attention, Q announced plans for his next full-length venture on the first day of February 2024 and previewed it two fragments at a time every week until the entire Hip Hop community was staring in his direction.

With one of the most effective rollouts in recent history already in his favor, the 18 tracks that make up Blue Lips unfolded entirely on March 1 to unveil an anatomy that is sustained in equal parts by old habits, contradictions, clarity and discernment. That said, it harbors no regrets, almost as though the rapper’s bygone instability is an impetus for his progress. Golfer Q doesn’t seem to be running away from his demons but instead proactively keeping them at bay — the memories clearly persist, now serving to remind him of his advancement by contrast.

The optimistic and self-assured transparency of the LP is fueled by a controlled dramatism that allows the West Coast barman to sustain the fervor that made him a key figure in the game throughout the 2010s while also giving him the space to look ahead with caution. Despite the absence of a defined theme, the project is held together by a patterned cohesion that distinguishes it from a compilation of singles bundled together and passed off as an album.

The hypnotic and carnivalesque intro “Funny Guy” typifies the dominant side of the package, steered by ruminative lament and awareness. A few cuts down, this trope takes on a more complete shape in the form of the symphonic “Blueslides,” featuring Q contemplating the 2018 passing of Mac Miller and how it nudged him to clean up his act with: “Lost a homeboy to drugs, man, I ain’t trynna go backwards.

Likewise, the record climaxes with another tune on the same wavelength as the 37-year-old shares the lessons he’s learnt in recent years with bars like “Death and beauty all alike” and “First we gotta learn how to fail/ We all seen Hell” on “Lost Times” — sure enough, it was produced by The Alchemist. Other tracks like “Cooties,” “Nunu” and “Germany 86′” add to the whimsical and soul-touching glimmer of the most praiseworthy moments on Blue Lips.

On the flipside, a select few numbers build on the trappy vigor that made ScHoolboy Q one of the brand ambassadors of Hip Hop’s party circuit a decade back. Considering the depths this LP traverses, “Yeern 101,” “Back n Love” and “Pig feet” make for its most avoidable joints even though they aren’t without purpose.

Add to those templates some fizz and soot, and you get “Pop,” which not only boasts one of the most absorbing beats on the record but also a prizewinning feature from Rico Nasty (tied with Ab-Soul a few tracks later). It’s worth noting that her verse only comes on in the last 15 seconds, setting a key precedent for the remainder of the album early on: make sure to see each installment through to the end because rarely any of them remain the same from front to back, and this is precisely what makes the project unputdownable for the duration of its 56-minute runtime.

It is loaded with one curveball after another, such that certain cuts are made up of two or more songs, like mashups that shouldn’t work in theory but still do — “THank god 4 me,” “Love Birds,” “Movie” and “First” all fit this description. Most notably, the Freddie Gibbs-assisted “oHio” has three separate parts that fuse into one another in tandem, transitioning from ’70s porn theme to a quivering bassline to the closing credits of a noir film.

In other cases, the contrast is even broader, yet Q’s flexibility combined with his aptitude for making every word count like Pusha T and continually recharging his voice in a manner reminiscent of Yasiin Bey makes each passage harmonious.

An orderly union of sunshine, overcast, rain and starry skies, Blue Lips switches from bouncy to sedated to lit to pensive with a consistency that prompts an involuntary submission to its charmingly erratic rhythm. The rare instances wherein the production stagnates are compensated for by lyrical matter and vocal merit, with cameos coming from Lance Skiiiwalker, Jozzy, Devin Malik and Childish Major; and vice versa.

Whereas a lot of listeners might be tempted to ask themselves if ScHoolboy Q’s latest offering was worth the wait, his remarkable growth also suggests that years of experience is perhaps what births the richest music, especially in a word-heavy genre like rap.

RELEASE DATE: March 1, 2024

RECORD LABEL: Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope


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