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Album Reviews

Reviewing notable albums, mixtapes and projects.

Oxymoron, Looking Back 5 Years Later

A lot has changed since I went to high school. Today, Lil Pump and Blueface are superstars on the internet, but just five years ago most teenagers would have probably seen through their gimmick, even if they were half-baked. Sure, Pump and Blueface were a good joke for a few months, but it’s been nearly a year since their brand of “ignorant” music has swept the nation and the now the joke isn’t funny. It’s surprising they have lasted this long, since almost each song and album is the same structure and format rehashed. The only differentiating factor is the artist’s tattoos and fashion - not their musical talent.

Is it the audience that's changed, or is it the music? Probably both. The rap music of half a decade ago didn’t glorify violence and drug use, instead, the music shed light on the bleak reality of those victimized by the epidemic. And while the artists were young, as almost all musicians are, neither the artists were predominately comprised of pre-teens. The music was not an endorsement of street life, it was a warning and tribute to it’s fallen soldiers. Audiences and artists however, have gotten younger and younger, so in an effort to popularize and sanitize rap music it became dumbed down to appeal to the youth on a massive scale. What happened?

For starters, the internet really screwed things up. Younger people are naturally more inclined to find music online and so it’s really no surprise to me rap music has changed as a result of their influence. The ubiquity of the internet culture and social media, coupled with easily torrented music software such as Logic and Pro Tools, has led to the proliferation of music being pushed out like burgers at a fast food restaurant. The labels and artists are concerned with “feeding the streets” and the artists are concerned with their internet image rather then the quality of their music. The result is a fan base consuming poorly consumed music they listen to and discard quickly and artists who retain no shelf life and are forgotten about after a year.

The listeners inevitably get older, some of them even naturally outgrow the genre, and a new generation of teenagers fill the gap. The genre of rap music is inherently rebellious, turbulent and youthful. However, typically the generational gap between rap fans wasn’t noticeable, or enough to spark animosity between the separate audiences, both the old heads and young kids could bop their head to the same track and appreciate it’s lyrical quality. Since, after all, rap is a lyric-based sport.

The music of pre-2016 was as robust and insightful as it was diverse in it’s appeal, detailing the struggle of every existence, a teenager could enjoy the grimey aesthetic of the lyrics while an adult could appreciate and understand the deeper message of the content. Everyone was a fan of Tupac and Nas, even those who preferred Mac Miller or Kid Cudi were able to respect the musicians of the 90’s who paved the path forward. But now, we’ve seen the startling new trend of rap’s younger audience outright disparaging their forefathers.

But one thing I never expected five years ago (there we go, I’m dating myself) was Kendrick and SchoolBoy Q falling off in 2019. I wish they were still on top. But since their commercial rise, the quality and authenticity of their talent has been watered down, as it often is, by their corporate handlers. The aspect of their artistry which initially attracted me to their music has dissipated from their newer releases.

However, in 2014, Kendrick didn’t need to change his style, the success off of Section.80 and Good Kid Maad City propelled him into the spotlight as the most talented emerging artist of the year. In the eyes of teenagers and young adults everywhere, including myself, Kendrick and the entire TDE crew were like gods who could do no wrong. They were pushing the genre forward.

Above is a photo of SchoolBoy Q circa 2013.

Above is a photo of SchoolBoy Q circa 2013.

These days, Kendrick and SchoolBoy have gotten older, the industry has taken life out of them. There is an old maxim in rap that an artist only has two good albums in him before he’s washed up. Sadly, SchoolBoy and Kendrick are an example of this convention. Today, Schoolboy is living his life away from the press and spending as much time as he can with his daughter. I’m proud of him for attaining success and I’ve no doubt he’s probably recording frequently, he’s rumored to have a new album slated for the end of 2019, but since he doesn’t feel any pressure to share his music at the rate he once did, fans have been left starving for new material. In his absence, a gap emerged.

The sad reality is the artists I grew up listening to have gotten older and so have I. Since the death of his close collaborator and friend Mac Miller, it’s hard not feel as if the era of which Oxymoron was released is over.

Yet despite the still relatively underground nature of hip-hop in 2014, everyone American high school, regardless of their background, knew who Schoolboy and Kendrick were and wanted to see them on their tours. When he stopped to play the local college in our town, tickets sold out in minutes.

But developing not so quietly alongside him was SchoolBoy Q. His music sharply juxtaposed Kendrick and during the height of their popularity, both Kendrick and SchoolBoy were two of the most intriguing and talented recording artists of their generation, stealing the attention away from poppier acts such as G-Eazy, Rick Ross, and Logic.

When Oxymoron was released, Schoolboy emerged as one of the few artists who could stay next to Kendrick, as his own man with his own style and distinct perspective. The two lives different lives, SchoolBoy was a thug and Kendrick was a street philosopher, but they both were undeniably talented in their own lanes.

When the album Oxymoron was released it instantly became an all time favorite for me. Now maybe I’m just old but 2014 doesn’t seem far away. I can still remember the year and this album was the soundtrack of my youth, of times where the biggest worry was where can we get away with drinking a few beers or which college I was going too, which years later, now seem trivial.

Above is the cover art of Oxymoron, released in 2014.

Above is the cover art of Oxymoron, released in 2014.

This album shook not only me but the world because it was the perfect album to take a rapper mainstream. It showed SchoolBoy could produce classic party anthems as well as deliver Tupac-esque didactic tone without sounding corny or fabricated. Sometimes people forget rap music has certain established conventions, the tone of an artist is as essential as his verse, which is why artists like ODB are revered for their unorthodox vocal performances. Schoolboy is similar, his sinister voice cannot be forgotten. This project was his magnum opus. Even years later, this tape hasn’t aged a day. Front to back it was impeccable. It really tells the story of Schoolboy’s struggle to survive and keep his head above water. It’s as close to grunge as hip hop could be, as a self confessed addict on this tape, Schoolboy doesn’t hold back. This one should have won a grammy.

What people may not realize was Oxymoron charted at number one in 2014. Back then I was in my senior year of high school and I can remember the pandemonium of the day of the album’s release, which was a school day, and everyone in the computer lab was listening. Every track on the album could have been a single. Listening back to it, I can remember the nights spent with this tape, celebrating the end of the year. I knew plenty of people who had this album pre-ordered and hadn’t purchased an album in their life, but with this tape, Schoolboy converted his already established fan base into his disciples.

I would say this album got near constant daily replay value when my friends and I would drive back home after school or on the way to a party. This album challenged my friends and I to think about where our lives were headed and not just “turn up” to his music, there's a cut on here for every moment you might experience, growing up and out off into the world. This was a tape that really got my generation into modern hip hop and bridged the past with the present, ushering in a new movement in the genre.  It was the hip hop I grew up on.

Album Score: 9.3