Compton’s Schoolboy Q runs in the same Black Hippy crew as the most purely talented breakout rapper of 2011, Kendrick Lamar, and the two share a gift for impressive, tightly knotted verses. In spite of their stylistic overlap, though, the rappers are such temperamental opposites that they often seem to come from different worlds. Principled and precise, Lamar raps with an exacting awareness of the cultural implications of each and every word that comes out of his mouth; even at his loosest, he’s incapable of escaping his own head. Schoolboy Q never has that problem. Brash and impulsive, he operates under a constant fog of weed, booze, and pills.
Released to a good deal more attention than his 2011 debut Setbacks (credit his knockout guest verse on ASAP Rocky’s Live Love A$AP for some of that new interest), Schoolboy Q’s sophomore album, Habits & Contradictions, is as rich with paradoxes as its title promises. It’s simultaneously rigidly themed and formless, swinging wildly between deep introspection and dead-eyed delinquency, with long stretches of austerity broken up by outbursts of druggy whimsy. Where Curren$y, who guests on the unusually mellow Lex Luger production “Grooveline Pt. 1,” is the prototypical weed-rapper—a likeable scamp with some mostly benign vices—Schoolboy Q casts his drug intake in a rarer, far harsher light. He’s a borderline fiend, entertaining violent fantasies between his fixes.
Habits & Contradictions sometimes seems to crib the wrong tricks from Odd Future’s playbook. “Raymond 1969” leans on empty shocks (“Money, money, hos, clothes,” Schoolboy growls on the chorus, “murder, murder, kill,”) and the jokey “Druggys Wit Hoes Again” devolves into snickering juvenilia. Any album this capricious is bound to stumble, though, and the record’s highlights make it easy to forgive those missteps. “There He Go” derives its gonzo beat from an inspired Menomena sample, and the frenzied ASAP Rocky feature “Hands On The Wheel” distills Lissie’s cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit Of Happiness” into a magnificent head rush. Habits & Contradictions doesn’t fully hold together as a great rap album, but it has some of the key hallmarks of one: big ideas, engrossing lyricism, and an unusual sense of exploration. It guides listeners down some dark alleys and toward some dead ends, but it never loses them.