Oxymoron: Five Years Later

Five years ago, this week, ScHoolboy Q dropped his third studio album, Oxymoron, an album full of grimey, west coast jams. Oxymoron finds ScHoolboy at his best, mixing gritty gangster paraboles with catchy, infectious choruses and melodies on songs like “Collard Greens” and “Man of the Year”. It is his tightest, and most fully realized project, featuring intensely personal moments that touch upon his upbringing on the streets, as well as his struggle with prescription pill addiction.

Oxymoron was released amid an especially fruitful period in hip-hop post-Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which saw a renaissance of internet indie rap. This was the golden age of the internet mixtape, with artists like Kendrick, Action Bronson, Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown making huge waves in the music scene with eclectic, forward thinking hip-hop that pushed the genre forward out of the 2000’s “Bling Era.” ScHoolboy was a part of this wave, and was a close collaborator and friend of Earl Sweatshirt, Mac Miller and the entire TDE crew (Kendrick, Ab Soul, Jay Rock, etc.).

In honor of its five year anniversary, Andrew Hatt, Victor Wszędybył, and Nick Zablocki of The Backyard decided to take a retrospective look at the songs of Oxymoron to discuss how it has held up over the years, and to reflect on their favorite experiences listening to the album when it came out. They listened to Oxymoron countless times back in the day, not only for its strong songwriting and production, but also because it provided a window into life experiences that were much different than their own.

This article is a labor of love, meant to be read while listening to Oxymoron. So break out those bucket hats, turn on the music, and enjoy the foolery that lies ahead:

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Track 1 – Gangsta

Hatt: Damn, what an introduction. First ScHoolboy gets his daughter to co-sign his G-status, then promptly hits you with that bass BUMP and a dizzying array of the perhaps the grimiest ad libs this decade. The energy is undeniable from the start.

Vic: Yeah, this song introduces the grandeur of Schoolboy’s ad lib ability. His “UHHHH” has been compared by some as being on the same level as King Push’s “YEUGHH” which is a testimony towards Quincy’s ad lib talent.

Zablocki: Vic, I was asking you this last night, do you think ScHoolboy hits a fresh take on his ad libs every time he records a song? Or, do you think TDE’s sound engineers have a vault of just Q ad libs?

Vic: I have to say Q’s ad lib game was unmatched at the time of Oxy’s release date but I know these can’t all be stock.

Zablocki: That’s what I think. Q’s so fucking weird the way he plots a verse out. The ad libs are all part of his scheme.

Hatt: I think Q definitely does most of his ad libs fresh, for the culture. At the very least on this album, shit is just too visceral.

Zablocki: I used to not like this song because I associated it with Hatt’s car. Not that I hated Hatt’s car, many a trails were blazed in that Trailblazer; but Hatt used to bump this song egregiously loud while driving around with all his windows down in the winter. So you can see where the negative association comes from. Vic and I used to just be sitting there freezing cold with wind whipping us in our faces and this song blaring. And Hatt is just grooving to it super white in the driver seat; completely unimpeachable in his delight.

Hatt: What a time to be an suburban white kid in high school, with Oxymoron and Good Kid, m.a.a.d. City both dropping around then. Truly the inspiration I needed at that point in my life.

Vic: His old car also had an absurdly loud speaker system with 12 inch subs that made the whole damn car rattle like an earthquake. Shit was fucked up. It still bumped though.

Zablocki: Dude, his car was so fucking disorienting when he did that shit. Plus he’d just be aimlessly driving around a maze-like neighborhood to the point you’d have no sense of your cardinal directions. Hatt, what do you have to say for yourself on this?

Hatt: Shiiiiit, I wasn’t about to pay Q no disrespect by not bumping this at max volume with the windows down. That just wouldn’t sit right on my conscience. Rain or shine, sub zero temperatures or heat wave, had to get that wind whipping in my face and get that energy going. No remorse, it built character.

 

Track 2 – Los Awesome

Hatt: Bruh, this BEAT though from Pharrell. Unreal, especially in hindsight. This is that magical Q shit you can’t find anywhere else. How the hell was I not supposed to bump this at max volume in the whip?? Eardrums be damned.

Vic: “Onion in my pocket like the booty on a midget.” This is the sort of imagery that only the greatest of poets could dream of.

Zablocki: These are all facts. Every song worth its stock has at least one stand out “bar” that is forever anchored in the minds of listeners when they think of that song. This is that “bar” for this song. Before I knew that an “onion” was an ounce, I was very confused by this line and its inherent imagery.

Vic: Q’s known for blowing hella Cali Kush, which he references in almost every song. It’s a good reminder that this album is best enjoyed with some flower on hand.

Zablocki: I remember when this album came out I was confused on who was rapping the hook. I thought it was Pharrell. People told me that it wasn’t, that it was ScHoolboy Q. It didn’t sound like ScHoolboy Q to me. Turns out it was. Also, I thought this song was called “Los Awesomeos” until literally a week and a half ago. I pulled up the whole album to revisit it for this article and saw “Los Awesome” and was like “Is that a typo?” Then I had to be like “Oh yeah, I’ve just been wrong for 5 years. Why would Spotify have it typed wrong?”

Hatt: Can we please take a moment to give some credit to Jay Rock for coming onto this track and absolutely killing it? I’ve never heard Jay Rock wild out like this on any other track, before or after this. This one is on his Mount Rushmore of features in my eyes, right behind “Money Trees”.

 

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Track 3 – Collard Greens

Zablocki: For me this Kendrick verse has not aged well at all. It’s always left me lukewarm and on this recent relisten it especially underwhelmed me. Maybe I’m just butthurt cause I’m not enjoying my Spanish II class right now and Kendrick spitting a few bars in Spanish triggered me.

Vic: While I agree Kendrick’s verse is definitely less interesting after hearing his more recent music in 2019, it still holds up to his level of rapping and charisma. Besides the corny Spanish bit, the verse was an easy listen and had me bumpin in the whip. Kdot and Q are also a TDE dream team, and hearing them together on a song makes it instantly better to me.

Hatt: Ditto with Vic on this one about the Q/Kdot dream team at full force here. This definitely isn’t an all-time-great Kendrick verse, but I think he services the stoner foolery that they seem to be going for well. He comes back in hard on the last eight bars of his verse, which really makes it for me.

Zablocki: Let’s be clear, there are bars and then there are bars, and Q’s “Baller futuristic, groovy gangsta with an attitude” is a textbook example of the latter. This song is so fucking colorful to me. Like just blues and greens and purples. Q’s second verse is one of my favorite verses from him ever.

Hatt: Preach, the second Q verse is way too nice. For me, it’s really all about the beat on this one at the end of the day. It might be one of the most vibrant beats Q has ever rapped over, there’s just so much going on. That hook don’t sleep either, shit just screams rager.

Vic: All time party banger.

 

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Track 4 – What They Want

Zablocki: As soon as Oxymoron dropped I told Hatt that this song was an instant stand out and he was not having it at all. A week later he comes back to me saying it was an instant stand out. It was very unlike 2014 Nick to point out a stand out song before 2014 Hatt. I’m very happy to always have this one up on him.

Hatt: Man, this one crept up on me real hard. I think the very low-key opening verse from Q threw me off at first, especially right after the energy of the opening three tracks. Then 2 Chainz comes in with, “If I stand on my bankroll, I be scared of heights,” and much more on a fire verse. I didn’t know 2 Chainz had this type of shit in him. And then Q’s second verse, goddaaaaamn! Favorite Q verse ever right here. His flow is just stupid good here, and I love how he builds the energy and gets so angry by the end of it with the double tracked vocals. “Just don’t grab on my hat, this that shit that’s Iraq”- I see you Q, taking shots at Dick Cheney and the boys. 

Vic: Couldn’t agree more. His energy and anger go hard as fuck on this joint. His flow and Hoover Crip attitude definitely shine through. The incredibly foolish 2Chainz bars and the groovin beat help solidify this track as a banger. All the great things about this song cement it a spot in my roto.

Zablocki: So, most of the lyrics on Oxymoron are not relatable to me, obviously. But from the release date “Expensive whips, we hotbox/Spent 2 bills on my socks” connected with me on a cellular and spiritual level. 2014 was both the peak of my willingness to hotbox a vehicle and the peak of my silly sock obsession. I felt like these lines were speaking on my personal truths. Of course my Dodge Stratus wasn’t an expensive whip, but I was still hotboxing it. Of course I wasn’t spending racks on my silly socks, but I was spending more than I should’ve been on ‘em.

Hatt: This shit should have won a Grammy, straight up.

 

Track 5 – Hoover Street

Vic: This is the part of the album where the we take a break from the bangers and take a look at the darker side of Crip life. So, being the Michigan suburban white boy that I am, I couldn’t relate to most of the bars on this track. Nothing about this song really stands out to me but the entire track is a continuous narrative of Q’s introduction to gang bangin’ which paints a detailed picture of his life growing up in the hood. Not a track I bump often but still a nice one nonetheless.

Hatt: To be honest, this track didn’t really click with me for a long time when the album first dropped, but over time it’s become one of my favorite ‘non-banger’ tracks on the album. The key for me is the beat switch after the intro, when the track really feels like it gets going. The story Q tells about his uncle stealing from his Grandma to feed his drug addiction is honestly some pretty powerful shit. It sheds a lot of light on the environment Q grew up in, and how it connects with his own addiction issues that he was dealing with during the creation of this album. ScHoolboy really paints a dark picture about how his own family played a role in getting him into the gangster lifestyle.

Zablocki: The intro details his experience and wisdom on the streets, as seen in lyrics like “Meet me by the Acura, cause the cops like/To get help from the store camera, they always in my cornea/But it’s cool, I’ve been catching on to they formula.” He then takes us back in time to his youth to see what factors came together to cause him to end up in this Hoover Crip lifestyle. The line “Gangbanging was a ritual and Grandma would help/She should’ve never left her gun on the shelf.” is particularly poignant for me. Both of my grandmothers had plenty of useless knick-knacks lying around their homes, but neither of them had a gun lying around. Maybe I could try gangbanging armed with a mason jar full of miscellaneous buttons, because that’s the most formidable weapon I ever encountered at either one of their homes.

 

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Track 6 – Studio

Vic: I’m not usually big on sex tracks but this one manages to fit in with the rest of the project. The high pitched singing in the background of the chorus mixed with Q’s thirsty lyrics makes it both hilarious and satisfying. Also the straightforward pussy eating lines are relatable because just like Q, I skip all the bullshit.

Zablocki: Wow, I always assumed we called you Big Dick Vic for good reason. Anyway,  I deadass forgot this song existed. I saw it on the track listing and was like “I really don’t think I’ve heard this song since 2015.” Q definitely skips all the bullshit saying, “No metaphors, nothing like that/I’m keeping it straight to the point with you/So, I’mma put this dick up all in-side-of-you.” It’s always funny to me when rappers make a radio single song, and then they say a bunch of lines that aren’t playable on the radio. It just seems counter intuitive to make a radio single type song and then say “I’mma put this dick up all in-side-of-you.” that’s all I’m saying.

Hatt: I won’t lie, I always had a soft spot for this track. Like Vic, I’m usually not big on sex tracks, but I thought the BJ the Chicago Kid hook was deadly, and that the beat was butter. I still think it’s really cool how he uses a super laid back flow with simple rhymes on the first verse, then comes into the second much faster and more aggressive. On a re-listen though… the appeal of listening to a grown ass man croon about wanting to “put this dick all up inside of you,” has really worn off over the years, even if it IS my boy Q. I don’t know man, it was a moment, high school was a weird time, and that’s all I can really say at this point. Thank god there isn’t a sex skit involved here though. Props to Q for that one for sure.

 

Track 7 – Prescription/Oxymoron

Vic: I like that this track brings up another perspective of drug addiction and how it takes over someone’s life. Q was always the goofy outgoing gangsta of TDE, to me, so hearing him rap about his drug addiction made me wonder about how much of his persona is just masking his personal problems.

Zablocki: Somehow this track, a fully realized two part track, has never done much for me. I have no real qualms with this song. Maybe it’s just the song length, but this one has gotten skipped a lot over the years.

Hatt: Part of me has always wished that this was two separate cuts back to back, but it makes a lot of sense why it isn’t. This really feels like the heart and soul of the album, pulling the ‘oxymoron and drug addiction themes altogether in one track. The first part sees Q getting the most personal with his struggles with drug addiction, while the later half is a total cracked-out and zanny banger.

Vic: This track does a great job of echoing the title of the album and showing the two sides of the trap game; the dealers living life and thuggin on the streets, while the addicts keep fiending for more as the world around them starts to crumble. I fucking love the chorus of the second part, even though I’ve never sold crack. A hot trap banger through and through made more interesting in context with the first half of the song.

Hatt: “How could they say feeling good is an addiction? / But the world is full of shit, so I don’t listen / In fact “We living to die” is a contradiction / So trapping in a Nissan, O-X-Y, I keep ’em, O-X-Y, you need one,” was always the key part of this track for me. ScHoolboy encapsulates the entire theme of the album in four bars.

Zablocki: I do like that Q was “trapping in a Nissan.” That’s affordable. I had to ghost a Nissan dealership once cause they wouldn’t stop calling me….

 

Track 8 – The Purge

Zablocki: This song kinda doesn’t make sense on paper. Like, I see how ScHoolboy Q and Tyler, The Creator come together, and I see how ScHoolboy Q and Kurupt come together, but the fusion of the three feels like it’s doomed to fail. But it doesn’t. It’s the right amount of Tyler; he sounds perfect on the hook and his production is gripping. The siren noise that just keeps “wurring” on and on in the recesses of this beat is haunting. This beat kinda feels like Tyler’s take on some of the production on Clipse’s iconic Hell Hath No Fury.

Vic: I used to always skip this track just because the beat and flow of the song felt really off and choppy. Tyler fit seamlessly on the hook but Q just sounded so unnatural on the beat. But after this relisten, it definitely grew on me. That siren and pair of keys at the end of a verse always sounded so intentionally bad to me that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the song. But as you said, they keep haunting the vocals and make the whole track sound scary, in a good way.

Zablocki: Also, HOLY FUCK, this Kurupt verse has aged phenomenally for me. I used to not like it very much. But now, I fucking love it. He approaches and rides this beat in such an off kilter way. And obviously “Walk inside, pistols popping, top is popping off/Papadopoulos neighborhood, rolling 60 balls/Ghetto tribalist, squeezing pussies like octopuses” are some of the most arresting and bewildering bars I’ve ever heard. I love it. Hatt never did. He has nothing to say here. That’s okay, this article is long enough as it is.

Track 9 – Blind Threats

Hatt: I love the violins on here as much as the next person, but this track always felt like cardboard to me. Just kinda there, nothing too exciting. Pack it up.

Zablocki: As soon as Raekwon said “Ayo, tuna fish sandwiches bread, dry and stinking/Black Lincoln, burgundy Mac, I clap a king-pin” I knew we were getting the best version of Raekwon.

Vic: Hatt might have different feelings, but to me, Q and Raekwon were a perfect match on this track. Not to mention the incredible beat behind them. It has a West Coast sound with a mafioso drug cartel vibe that fits the duo perfectly. When I hear Q’s La-La’s on the hook, I imagine him looking like a black Pablo Escobar casually laughing at the bodies he dropped while this beat plays in the background like an intro to Narcos. Q and Pablo were both religious at one point and are just hustlers trying to survive. Wherever God can’t help them, their guns will.

 

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Track 10 – Hell Of A Night

Zablocki: Hatt fucking hates this song.

Hatt: Ugh, this track. I skipped this track like it was my job back in the day, and I can’t say relistening to it made me want to come back to it anymore. This is the antithesis of a ‘bump in the whip track’ (shouts out to Feefo from Dead End Hip Hop). My beef with this track is that it’s trying to be this really hype party track, but it just ends up feeling like a super overproduced hot mess. The pre-chorus feels like it’s the build of a dubstep track that never drops. I know Q didn’t sink much time into the lyrics on this one either cause they feel like straight filler. The nail in the coffin for me is the corny ass, “Go, go, go, go, go…” (ten minutes later)… “…go, go, go,” B.S. on the chorus. Nah fam, I’m good. Leaving this one in the freezer where it belongs.

Zablocki: Told you. What I love about this song is that Q says it “might be a hell of a night.” Not that it “will be a hell of a night” just that it might be. I appreciate that he’s optimistic but not presumptuous. He’s kinda like “Yeah, it could be a nice night. I mean, I’m ScHoolboy Q, I like my chances. But we’ll see.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” And I personally just appreciate him for not thinking in such binary terms.

Vic: Even though I enjoy this track, it’s definitely the weakest single for me. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just underwhelming. Like Andrew said, the poppy build up in the chorus with the repetitive “Go’s” were the main downside for me; it just didn’t feel like Q. He has some pretty basic party bars about doing drugs and smashing hoes but at the end of the day, it’s an easy listen meant to get a crowd jumping.

 

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Track 11 – Break The Bank

Hatt: I remember loving this song as a single, getting super hype for the album off of it, but then cooling off on it big time after the whole project came out. I don’t really know why, but maybe it’s because the lyrics kinda go in one ear and out the other for me. The Alchemist beat is nice, and I always appreciated Q’s audacity for the line about coming for Kendrick’s spot on the throne, but besides that the song just feels like it’s ‘there’.

Zablocki: I do think it’s a testament to how great the album is that this song is just middle of the pack for all of us. Did you guys know Alchemist sampled the noise Toad makes in Mario Kart in this beat?

Vic: Shit, now I’ll never be able to unhear Toad screaming in the background. I always thought that was the same person that did the high pitched yelling in “Studio.”

Zablocki: Speaking of Toad, one time coming out of mushroom trip this was the first song I heard when things were becoming more coherent again. So for me, this song always has a weird residue to it.

 

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Track 12 – Man Of The Year

Hatt: This song as a closer used to perplex me, but to be honest now it makes total sense. Listening to this again after so long was a welcomed surprise. I was never a huge fan of this track in the whip after the album came out, but it’s even more hype than I remember it being. It feels like ScHoolboy is having pure fun on this one, straight celebrating life, this album, everything. I can get behind that.

Zablocki: Hatt and I’s senior year we had 9 “snow days” because it was so fucking cold. I remember one of those nights it was like -35º, I had just gotten home from work and smoked a huge bowl to myself. That was the first time I heard this song. And, it was with the incredibly lush music video. I will never forget how warm the whole thing made me feel. I was elated. I was glowing. The juxtaposition between the desolate wind chill outside and the warmth that this beautiful video gave me was honestly transcendental. It also might’ve just been really good weed too.

Vic: Damn Nick, let me have some of whatever you’re smoking. Q’s really living his best life in this music video and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous about not being on that island. “Titty, ass, hands in the air, it’s a party over here” pretty much sums up the track perfectly and the thumbnail for the video makes it even better. And now I wish it was summer 2014 again.

Hatt: Pretty sure I heard that the music video for this track was the inspiration for the viral Fyre Festival promo video. Shit is fucked up.

 

Thoughts After a Relisten:

Vic: This was my favorite album from 2014 and favorite Q album to date so it’s no surprise that I still enjoy it. After this relisten, I realized it fills in a more “complete” album mold with dark, sexy, and moody tracks sprinkled in between the fire bangers. Oxymoron sounded more dynamic than ever. This album solidified the ScHoolboy Q sound I’ve come to know and love.

Hatt: I used to love this album, thought it was incredible. I still have mad love for Oxymoron, just maybe not as much as I did when it first came out. The party tracks here are some of ScHoolboy’s best, I just wish that the darker, introspective moments went a little deeper. At the end of the day, this is a commercial rap album full of bangers, not a nuanced character piece or philosophical examination of life’s many oxymorons and contradictions. The first seven tracks here are an incredible run to me- ScHoolboy should have had Kanye put those out as its own project last year.

Zablocki: After this relisten, I really think that in retrospect Oxymoron is the second best TDE project ever. Obviously we have to give the top spot to one of Kendrick’s albums, which I think should be good kid, m.A.A.d. City. But after that I think it can be argued that Oxymoron has better rapping than DAMN and better replayability than To Pimp a Butterfly. Spicy, but this shit is a perfectly crafted and fully realized.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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