Blankman: ScHoolboy Q’s “Blank Face LP” – A Review
Just to get it out of the way, I’m not trying to make any comparisons between ScHoolboy Q’s spectacularly gloomy and groovy fourth album Blank Face LP and the goofy 1994 superhero-parody Blankman starring Damon Wayans. In the Blankman movie, Wayans parades around in a loose-fitting, bulletproof, wacky red costume, whereas, ScHoolboy Q adopts the persona of Groovy Tony, the No-Face Killer (a nice nod to Ghostface Killah a.k.a Pretty Toney) toting a machine gun, rocking circular shades and sans nose or mouth.
That creepy, cool visual came from Q’s “Groovy Tony” video, released in April, which started a chilling cinematic build-up to the release of the album. A couple of months later, the boastful lead single featuring Kanye West “THat Part” dropped. People said, "Alright! Q's giving the people want they want! He giving us that fire!” Well, he eased up on the flame-emojis and delivered a three-part 23-minute mini-movie with “By Any Means: Part (1)”, "Tookie Knows II: Part (2)" and “Black THougHts (Pt. 3)”. It basically starts with Q kickin’ it with the homies to some of those homies robbing a pawn shop, which then leads to Q getting arrested and dealing with the heart-wrenching truth that not saying anything would result in him not being able to raise his daughter. The somber sight of seeing barb wire and prison gates surround his mansion illustrates the inescapability and inevitability of all the things his lifestyle comes with.
"We might die for this shit, nigga
Might go down for this shit, nigga"
Judging from the “Tookie Knows II” video, I felt like ScHoolboy was on his Drake & Future “Jumpman” shit and that he was up to something. I was glad to see I wasn't wrong. He finished things off with one of the best videos I’ve seen recently with “JoHn Muir”, directed by A Plus. The video is a movie in and of itself and somehow ends up saying just as much if not more than the three videos that came before it. The graceful simplicity comes from resting the camera on the back right side of a vehicle, and watching our protagonists jack fools for their cash and Jordans, selling drugs, chilling, flirting with girls, watching cops harass fellow neighbourhood folks, and then getting their comeuppance by being fatally shot in the end – presumably all in the 24 hours we witnessed in a harrowing three-minute video.
As amazing as the visuals were, they were brought to life by the Blank Face LP, an album that will go down as one of the year’s best and one of the hardest albums put out in the last few years. Not necessarily ‘hard’ in the banger-after-banger fashion, even though it contains “THat Part”, “WHateva You Want” and “Big Body”, but ‘hard’ in the unease, distress and sobering messages it delivers. Q revelled in his drug dealing past in Habits & Contradictions and shed light on his drug addiction in Oxymoron. Now, seeming and sounding sober, he contemplates on his past filled with gang banging and drug dealing ("JoHn Muir"), settles in the present situations of a rapper ("THat Part"), and peers into the future possibly filled with the cyclical nature of where he grew up (“Neva CHange”).
“My homie facin’ life, told me that my pride my biggest enemy"
It’s telling that songs such as “Big Body”, “Str8 Ballin” and “Ride Out” belong in the lower tier of the album’s collective, and they not only fit into the mould of the project, but they are still important listens that slowly grow on you. I love the party vibe of “WHateva You Want”, where ScHoolboy goes on and on about how he can shower his lover with luxury, but I love how Candice Pillay’s soft and heavenly voice, which was barely audible throughout the song, ends the track by affirmatively cooing,”I don’t want your money, honey/I just want your love”. I love the introspection of “Lord Have Mercy” and “Blank Face”, and the hood commentary on “Kno Ya Wrong” and “Black THougHts”. I love how on “Dope Dealer”, the famous “Metro Boomin’ want sum mo, nigga!” drop is slightly sped up so that Q can get to business.
Shea Serrano, Twitter champ and writer at The Ringer, tweeted about the pivots the album takes. There are too many to point out, yet they’re all subtle and brilliant. I mentioned the one in “WHateva You Want”, but my favourite came from “JoHn Muir”, which is named after the middle school Q attended, where he raps about selling dope and fucking hoes at 14. The pivot here comes in the jazzy hook of this Sounwave-produced banger, where the choke-hold loosens around your neck and an arm is draped around your shoulder as Q talks about “Bellin’ through the mothafuckin’ street” and Chicago singer-songwriter Sam Dew sings,”We love, we go/ We rise, we low/ Our pride, we show/ We love, we go”, displaying the love, the ups and downs, the resilience and resolve held in the people from his hood. It’s not a coincidence that my favourite turn comes from my favourite cut off the album. I love the song even more after finding out that Q freestyled the whole song.
“I'll trade the noise for a piece of divine"
With album titles like Habits & Contradictions and Oxymoron, for years ScHoolboy Q has been trying to say how there is more than meets the eye in regards to him, and it feels like he reached a boiling point by simply going as the No-Face Killer, a beautifully haunting piece of art I can’t believe I keep revisiting in the middle of the summer. I didn’t get around to the album when it was available on the July 8th because like many of us, I had other shit on my mind from that week. Listening to it now, I keep remembering about how Kendrick Lamar said that To Pimp A Butterfly was the album he initially wanted to make before good kid, m.A.A.d city, but he just didn’t have the confidence to do it. I feel the same about ScHoolboy Q and his new album. Kendrick’s “Alright” became the #BlackLivesMatter anthem, and it's ironically depressing that songs Q recorded a year ago are resonating and poignant still today. He’s proven himself as a major-label artist, he’s paid his dues, and he was then afforded the freedom to do whatever the fuck he wanted with Blank Face LP.
Yes, he’s ScHoolboy Q, but, as he rapped on the Swizz Beatz-produced “Lord Have Mercy” he’s a “gangbanger, deadbeat father and drug dealer”, he’s also a rapper, Hoover Crip, an artist, a Black Hippy, Groovy Tony and Quincy Matthew Hanley. He’s all of the above, or many more things, or maybe none of those things. And I think that’s the point of this record. With him sharing his stories, baring himself, and showing us so much that we can’t box him into anything. He’s the new Blankman; blank-faced while simultaneously being multi-faceted.
written by The W