Top Dawg Entertainment are one of the most successful and critically acclaimed crews in the game, and deservedly so. I don't need to mention the genius of Kendrick's latest LP, and Schoolboy Q finds himself following up one of the most wildly received album's of recent memory. Q's last release, 2014's 'Oxymoron' was a banging, authentic west coast album, and he takes his craft to a higher level on the new 'Blank Face' LP.
Opening with the crisp, majestic 'Torch', Schoolboy instantly shows a maturity and professionalism that bodes well for the rest of his fourth studio LP; Q demonstrates a gritty delivery over a slow-moving instrumental contributed by Chicago production duo Nez and Rio. The Swizz beatz production 'Lord Have Mercy' is an early highlight; despite the track's short run-time it remains a clear favourite from the LP, with passionate lyricism from Q over a quirky, textured beat quite outside the realms of Swizz's comfort zone.
One of the things floating around the webisphere around the time of 'Blank Face's release was Kanye West's appearance on 'That Part'. Yeezy starts his verse with a characteristic piece of bottom of the barrel lyricism that relies more on swag than thoughtful penmanship ("OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK" - seriously that's the opening bar), and despite the beat's looming sinister aura and Q's cockiness, which resonates with more sincerity and skill than Kanye's, the song is one of the more forgettable efforts on the project. Q recruits another legend for 'Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane'; the collaboration with Jadakiss is a hard-hitting, aggressive cut, and is another example of the boundary-pushing vision Schoolboy explores on the album.
'Ride Out' features Vince Staples, and the grimey production and convincingly menacing verses from both MC's make for an exciting and memorable cut. The guest-spots on the album are pretty on-point; 'Dope Dealer' features independent powerhouse and Bay Area legend E-40, and the bouncy, bassy production is perfect for the two MC's unique, charismatic style's. The uptempo, funky 'Big Body' features Tha Dogg Pound, and it's no surprise that with a line-up like Schoolboy Q, Kurupt and Daz Dillinger this track is one of the most impressive thumping, west coast bangers on the album. The jazzy influenced production of 'Black Thoughts' is mixed with hard-hitting self-analysis from the Top Dawg MC, and the result is one of the LP's best tracks. The closing cut 'Tookie Knows II' is another flawless banger, with street-wise lyricism delivered with menacing intensity by Q, Traffic and TF.
The ambitious production and varied styles explored on 'Blank Face' make it a vivid, memorable and consistently entertaining project. Q sounds menacing, experienced and confident, and he enlists a who's who of hip-hop's most talented stars to complete the vision. There's one or two tracks on here that do sound as if they've tailored for the radio, but on the whole this is a mature, focussed effort from Schoolboy, and he keeps it as gangsta as ever.
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