With the first highly anticipated hip-hop album of 2014 being rapper Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron, listeners jilted by the Grammys’ Kendrick Lamar snub at the Grammys last month can finally get their fix of non-radio-playable, platinum-worthy material through the California rapper’s provocative and matter-of-fact third LP.

Schoolboy was born Quincy Matthew Hanley in 1986 near Wiesbaden, Germany. While moving around multiple times as an adolescent, Hanley developed a love for football and would work to maintain his grades in school to stay eligible. While attending Crenshaw High School in South Central Los Angeles, he was known for wearing glasses and keeping reputable grades among his peers, earning him the name “Schoolboy.” Growing up on 51st Street in South Central, he would eventually become a member of the Hoover Crips, which introduced him to the drug-dealing lifestyle that embeds itself in so many of Schoolboy’s lyrics.

Known for his controversial drunk-driving ballad “Hands on the Wheel” and for reminding us that the bucket hat is incredibly awesome, Schoolboy has made a career off of his quirky and incendiary nature. On his new LP, Oxymoron, Schoolboy commands features from fellow Top Dawg Entertainment rappers Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar along with power features from 2 Chainz, Raekwon, Kurupt and Tyler, The Creator.

From top to bottom, the album’s hardbody instrumentals will keep heads bobbing at every drop. Production from Mike WiLL Made It, Alchemist and Pharrell Williams give the album a “cough syrupy,” Southern rap sound that merges with sounds similar to what you might hear on an Eminem album. What the album lacks in platinum singles, it makes up for in sheer content. With the exception of “Collard Greens,” these aren’t tracks you would play at a party, but rather songs you can enjoy working out, studying or just kicking it to.

Much of Oxymoron is based off of the struggle Schoolboy Q had providing for his daughter, who graces the album’s artwork wearing Schoolboy’s signature bucket hat and a solid gold Cuban link chain. She has several spoken cameos on the album during which she speaks about or to her dad. To provide for her, Schoolboy often had to sell drugs, events he details on “Gangsta,” “Prescription/Oxymoron,” “Break the Bank” and “Yay Yay.” All of these tracks mask the seriousness and emotion of Schoolboy’s lyrics with their heavy-hitting beats, but if you listen you can hear the struggle in Schoolboy’s voice.

As many of his fellow L.A. rappers before him have done, Schoolboy also documents the gang lifestyle of Los Angeles so ingrained in the culture of inner-city citizens. With references to drive-bys, his neighborhood and the trouble that comes with it, Schoolboy adds to the genre of gangsta rap with as much tenacity as a young Ice Cube. The repeated onomatopoeia of guns cracking conveys an almost PTSD-level of familiarity with battles in the streets.

Despite the raw, dark nature of Oxymoron, the album still has pieces of love, hope and accomplishment. While “What They Want” speaks on Schoolboy’s love for his fans, songs like “Studio,” “Hell of a Night,” “Man of the Year,” “His & Her Friend” and “Grooveline Pt. 2” delve into Schoolboy’s difficult understanding of romantic relationships, love and hate relationship with narcotics and triumph over the dark places he knew as a hustler.

From the first line of the album to the last, the listener is taken through a journey of pain, confusion, darkness, struggle, drug culture, triumph, success, sex and relationships, making Oxymoron a complete album in a hip-hop context. Oxymoron can be so personal and so impersonal at the same time, making it the perfect listen for a college student fighting between the party culture, hopes for the future, love interests and doubts compounded by successes.

Oxymoron takes Schoolboy Q from “Kendrick Lamar’s sidekick” to a serious player in the hierarchy of hip-hop. If this album isn’t nominated for a Grammy, it will be a testament to the award show’s flaws in regards to rap music. 2014 is Schoolboy Q’s year.

4 out of 5 stars

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