Open Google Streetview and go to the corner of Figueroa and 51st, in Los Angeles Central. Take a virtual look around: an avenue with five lanes with palm trees on each side, transited mainly by lorries and pick-up trucks. Big, empty grounds. Rundown houses, a Baptist church, a video club and a beauty parlour. Second hand cars standing out in the open. Now put an intimidating soundtrack to it: “Nightmare On Figg St.”, one of the emblematic songs on this “Habits And Contradictions”. Now imagine the scene at night and memorise this psychopathic refrain: “On Figg we see it / We need it / We want it / We get it / Its stormin', its snowin', its floodin' / And still out here thuggin'”. West Coast Rap, and especially Gangsta Rap, has always been very territorial - something inherited from the havoc wreaked by the Angelino gangs over the control of their respective zones. With ScHoolboy Q, the action moves to Figg St.: that's where his hideout is, and “Habits And Contradictions” are his new adventures.
Quincy Matthew Hanley didn't come out of nowhere, nor does he walk the streets on his own: he has a more than decent debut album out, “Setbacks” (Top Dawg Entertainment, 2011), and several mixtapes. He also has the backup of the Black Hippy collective - who also had a thing or two to do with Kendrick Lamar's excellent “Section.80”. It's no surprise the LA press are comparing them to Odd Future, although Black Hippy will never be just hype: besides sporting a name that doesn't really fit them (there's nothing hippie about them), they lack the eager to shock promotional attitude of Tyler and his buddies. Furthermore, while Tyler's stories happen only in his sick mind, in Q's case they're happening in a real place. But that doesn't mean his music isn't equally full of rage and nihilism.
Styles, too: the sound of the album is crude and direct, but at the same time very eclectic. It's somewhere between (updated) Cali G-Funk and futurist beats. Another highlight on the LP is “Hands On The Wheel”, a collaboration with A$AP Rocky, on which he shows his fine nose for the alternative audience. It features a sample of Indie singer Lissie doing a cover of Emo rapper Kid Cudi's “Man On The Moon”, ill-tempered guitars over an up-tempo Roland 808, and lyrics about all the ways you can end the night high as a kite. It's not all hedonism and narcotics, of course, there is a dark side, too. “Oxy Music”, for example, paints a nightmarish junkie picture: “Blood on the wall / Death in the air / Birds on the ground / Pistols everywhere / Devils in the eyes / Babies always cry / Papa never home / Fuck it we all alone”. With “Oxy” he is referring to Oxycodone, a medicine synthesized from opium-derived thebaine with similar effects to those of heroin and all the rage in under-privileged neighbourhoods. All those pretty stories are told in a voice reminiscent of Snoop Dogg when he was younger (and still called Doggy Dogg), only foaming at the mouth. A rabid dog: the times of swag are hard and affectations are not allowed.
It's curious that both here and on other tracks (“How We Feeling” and weird interlude “Tookie Knows”) the tempo goes down and the beats become cruder, like nineties Trip-Hop. For example, “Raymond 1969” finishes in a guitar bacchanal over a Portishead sample. It could be the first ever gangsta historiography about Raymond Washington, founder of the Crips in 1969, the gang Eazy-E and Snoop belonged to. The track works as a flashback, taking the listener back to that time with a trippy soundtrack. Don't expect any historical accuracy: there is none. The song talks about hold-ups and fire arms, while in those days, Raymond Washington fought with his bare hands and the Crips only stole leather jackets. But by taking 1969 as the start of a big nightmare - the year of the Charlie Manson slaughters and the incidents with the Hell's Angels that killed off the hippie dream - he drenches the track in a kind of symbolism that is recurrent in pop music: The Stooges, Sonic Youth and... ScHoolboy Q? Of course! Those gangsta moments are mixed with club tracks like “Druggies With Hoes Again” and futuristic R&B songs like “Sex Drive”, with Jhené Aiko (with a brilliant zodiac chorus in the vein of Rick James: “Scorpio: sex drive / Gemini: sex drive […] Let me be your sex drive”). Finally, there is - of course - the slick and dirty womaniser moment, with Curren$y on “Groovline pt. 1”, and the Cut Chemist-style production on “Gangsta In Designer (No Concept)” - with that delicious looped flute and drum rolls. In conclusion, while DJ Quik revived the times of the old school gangsta squad last year, ScHoolboy Q gives the style a new horizon to look at, with a very personal flow and a sound that is, most of the time, original, innovative and full of rage.
“Nightmare On Figg St.”