ScHoolboy Q's latest project Habits & Contradictions is really a wild ride, because literally, you never know what's going to happen next– until you've listened to the album completely through a few times, of course. But, at first it's spontaneous, and one thing it will never shake, no matter how many times you listen to it, is its amorphous nature– the product of an artist who's still trying to find his voice. However, although the album lacks a concrete style, what it doesn't lack is a concrete theme. ScHoolboy Q may have an endless repertoire of styles to draw from, but what he doesn't have is an alternative life to pull different stories and experiences from. You can't create pottery out of clay you don't have, that's for sure.
On Habits & Contractions' opening track, "Sacrilegious," we're welcomed to the album by a dark, heartbreaking, ambient beat, and a melancholy monotone that shakes you at the core. The calm, dark way, that Q manages to come across on the track is eery, beautiful, and frightening all at the same time. Exuding sadness the entire track through, he goes through the tribulations of being constantly surrounded by self-deprecating behavior, disloyal friends, and being unable to wash his hands clean of the deeds he's done. The track really sets the theme for the rest of the album– making it quite clear that we shouldn't expect anything too ambiguous, or even happy, for that matter, from the subsequent songs.
Although most of the album deals with themes of despair, anguish, deterioration of friendships, drugs and sex, it also deals a lot with coming to peace with one's self, understanding who you are as a person, and hoping that when your final day comes, you can rest easy. ScHoolboy Q sure pushes the boundaries of justified moral abstinence, and digs his elbow into the gut of Theology, but he still manages to come out shining as this respectable avatar of the streets.
Succeeding "Sacrilegious" on the album is "There He Go," a song chock full of over-confidence, quirky, high-pitched squawks, and thoughts on the Q x Top Dawg Entertainment come-up. ScHoolboy's manic flow mixed with the erratic, upbeat instrumental, make it one of the happiest songs on the album, and probably the right amount of cushioning necessary for what comes on next: the ScHoolboy x ASAP Rocky collaboration that everyone expected to be one of the dopest tracks on the album. How unfortunate it is that the track leaves us with our mouths hanging open in disappointment. The song is pretty straightforward: it's rapped over a sample of Kid Cudi's "Pursuit of Happiness," around a chorus that repeats, "weed and brews" over and over again, and it talks about lack of control due to excessive drug use. The ASAP verse doesn't leave you satisfied, and the song ends up being the biggest let down of the album. There is a decent amount of wording to pay attention to however, whether it's purposeful or not, and it goes like this, "you sat me down/ I'm just trying to get higher" and "too damn high/ can't stand myself." With all the references to a divine figure throughout the album, you can't help but look at any "higher" reference with dogged skepticism. Whether he's regarding his venture to get closer with God or not, it leaves the listener with a lot to wonder about.
As big of a disappointment "Hands on The Wheel" is however, nothing compares to "Sex Drive"– a collaboration with singer Jhene Aiko, gone wrong. Although they are more than able to put together a great song– "Fantasy" on Setbacks— the two fell short of producing the same sort of quality material with "Sex Drive." Instead, they produce the sort of song you delete from the album before you put it on your iPod. Don't be turned off however, because it's an 18 track album, full of versatility and 16 other great tracks.
On "Blessed," featuring Kendrick Lamar, the Black Hippy superstar– and maybe not the only one anymore– ScHoolboy Q comes back with the same zeal and emotion he sewed into the fabric of "Sacrilegious." Rapped over an instrumental that cries out in sadness, it proves to be the perfect complement to Q as he comes out and spits a masterpiece. Talking about his transition from drug slinger to rap icon, Q pushes the idea that no matter the situation you're in, to keep trying, and that it could always be a lot worse– and honestly, as corny as it sounds, you really believe the guy. He's possibly the only guy in the world to make something so corny sound so cool (sorry Lupe, but "The Show Goes On" was not inspirational). Then, when ScHoolboy Q is all done, Kendrick Lamar comes in and tears the beat apart with his unique flow. The track is easily the best song on the album. There are, however, many other hits: "Gangsta In Designer (No Concept)," "Nightmare On Figg St.," "NiggaHs.Already.Know.Davers.Flow," and "Druggy Wit Hoes Again"– just to name a few.
Habits & Contradictions is a real masterpiece, and if Setbacks didn't catch your attention last year, than I'm sure this album will. Big things to be expected from ScHoolboy Q– last year Kendrick turned heads with Section.80, now it's his turn.