At the risk of adding a whole-nother tent to the circus, I admit a thorough disdain for most popular media watchdogs. It stems from an irony I’m not sure even the best of them, let’s say Media Matters, can escape. In exposing corporate news’ startling tendencies to (1) privilege inoffensive, too-frequently sponsored (omg selfie!) human interest stories over substance and (2) instigate fights with competing outlets, watchdogs accidentally metastasize the existing chimera of self-referential non-reportage. Reporting about not reporting? Just another layer - another step away from the actual happening.
Which is why I shouldn’t be pitching any tents: watchdoging watchdogs is, like, too much even for my standards - and I’m studying English at Brown, where the world is your glass onion.
Anyway, that’s enough. Just know it’s in spite of myself that I play watchdog today.
You’ll never hear it anyplace else, but among the more disturbing, uh, moments in the recent history of pop culture is the way in which Schoolboy Q’s major debut, Oxymoron, was received by the critical community. If in any of the significant reviews you find a moral equivocation - trace amidst comparisons to early Nas and calls for more consistency - it’s certain to target opiate use. “Blah blah, a father and grown man on oxy, etc.”
In response to this, I regretfully skip the double-standard of whitey paternalism (like how we presuppose on artistic grounds the permissible hard stuff in the the Beatles, Rolling Stones, father Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the Clash, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and [pick your own famous caucasian]) and instead address Oxymoron’s women problem.
Let’s start with Schoolboy’s TDE bandmate, the now-ubiquitous and first-name-only Kendrick. Back in 2012, he earned himself the Eminem label. No, I don’t mean Interscope. What I mean is: despite shadowing arch-gyno Dr Dre, this newbie’s good bedside manner (and, I stress, flair for the literary) placed him just beyond reproach. In much the same way that acute masculine psychosis justifies the nightmare “Kim,” Kendrick’s wrong-place-wrong-time persona allows all of good kid, M.A.A.D. city to be a celebration - and not merely an objectification - of the through-cited Sherane.
Admittedly, she “had the credentials of strippers in Atlanta,” and her “ass came with a hump from the jump, she was a camel,” and Kendrick wanted to “ride like Arabians.” But note how the young man responds when he gets a chance: “…her body got that ass that a ruler couldn’t measure / And it make me come fast, but I never get embarrassed.” Go find me another pop megastar willing to admit he can’t hold it because she’s too pretty.
There’s none of the good kid aambiguity in Oxymoron, in large part because this bonafide Sir Lucious Left Coast ain’t got the right Andre to calm his gangsta ass down. Lyrics hard as “And see now your bitch, she gon’ work on that corner / I don’t care if that ho got pneumonia,” can’t exactly be ironic when you’re the guy reviving west coast rap idolatry, for the ones who long ago got themselves killed or started selling me Pepsi. Same goes for “Push my penis in between her lap / Put my semen all down her throat,” and the incessant “Will you sell that pussy for me?” hook in the deluxe edition’s “Grooveline Pt. 2.”
I’m not sure we’ve encountered this heinous a mainstream woman-hater since, well, before Dre started selling me headphones.
None of this is made any easier, excuse me, to swallow by the fact that Oxymoron is the year’s best sounding album. See, despite the vicious misogyny or even because of it, Schoolboy Q succeeds. Without much metaphor, it’s obvious to us what he’s after: a nasty, dirty, vile, regrettable vision of the streets we all forgot after six years of Clinton. One numbed and clouded by oxy. That’s exactly what we have.
Whatever slime he might get away with dumping, Q flows with an arresting violence - one curtailed by self-control I’ve never heard in an emcee before. Think Killer Mike if only he could stop over-stressing the scary black man thing with every. single. word. I’m intimidated by this human, but in a manner that draws me irresistibly to him - like Walter White or Mike Tyson.
Pair with this a narrative of parental neglect way more involving than Kendrick’s cinéma-vérité Dominos commercial, and the best producer in the game without a Wikipedia page - and you’re on Oxymoron: a brutal tune-out that out-atmospheres even Chance’s kaleidoscope acid trip. “Gangsta” ups your heart rate; “Los Awesome” will force your white ass to dance; “Collard Greens” is the first time I’ve ever heard Kendrick shown up; “What They Want” gives you chills; “Prescriptions/Oxymoron” might make you cry; and “Man of the Year” is the year’s best four hooks arrayed together back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
Listen, please, but not too close. Maybe like this.