Andy Hull is the lead singer and songwriter for Atlanta-based indie rock band Manchester Orchestra. He’s an avid NBA fanatic and serves as commissioner of his own fantasy league. He and his wife are the proud owners of two chihuahuas, Poncho and Milo. He’s also the co-frontman, along with Kevin Devine, for Bad Books, and has his own solo project entitled Right Away, Great Captain! You can follow him on Twitter here and Manchester Orchestra here.
It’s been this way for awhile, but I think about it all the time: Hip-hop can no longer be classified as a single genre, it’s more like a kaleidoscope of genres that have the same name. It’s no longer a single city on the musical map — it’s an entire continent.
There are so many ways to make a great hip-hop album, yet so few are able to accomplish it. This is what makes Schoolboy Q’s Interscope debut Oxymoron, and third album overall, such an experience: He and his producers attempted almost every classic sub-genre in the game — it’s gangsta rap, party rap, soulful rap, angry rap, and honest rap — and knocked out home runs on almost all of them. Oxymoron takes some classic formulas and filters them through inventive and fresh production. Combine that with Q’s urgent delivery and the album starts to take on a life of its own.
The first thing I noticed was that Schoolboy Q sounds angry — not obnoxiously angry, just like he wants everybody around to know he’s here and it probably isn’t super smart to step into his territory. The second thing I noticed was Q’s seemingly endless variety of flows. “Flows” should be written and pronounced as flows’s’s’s because it seems that Q can do just about everything on the mike. He’s a chameleon, so it doesn’t really matter what the beat is behind him, he can adapt. But it’s not like Drake, who can go from hard rap to soulful vocals; this is something different — there’s just enough soul on the album that it makes you feel dirty when the harder tracks hit.
The production credits are a blast to read. They span from living legends (the Alchemist, Pharrell Williams) to new dudes (DJ Dahi, Lord Quest) who have the potential to take it all over. It all sounds so hungry. The features are really strong as well. 2 Chainz sounds as “I couldn’t give a fuck” as ever, manipulating words like no one before him. That guy can seriously make any word sound cool. Kendrick Lamar, Q’s Black Hippy bandmate, shows up and does what he does. I have a feeling there is some awesome tension and rivalry between them, like hip-hop’s version of the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. OK, that’s a stretch, but you get the point.
I could spend forever detailing all the goodies in this album. One particularly eerie, yet precious, highlight includes Q’s little daughter serving as something of a narrator for the album. The album starts with her adorable voice saying “Hello… Hello? Fuck rap, my daddy a gangster” and later “My daddy said, ‘Drown, nigga.'” It’s surreal and adds an element of uneasiness to the tracks that follow, all of which seems intentional. “Studio” is Q’s way of saying “Just in case you guys didn’t think it could get sexy in here, it’s about to get sexy in here.” Another standout is “Prescription/Oxymoron,” where Q takes you on a narrative of his addiction to pills over a steady and somber beat, only to end in one of the more evil hooks that I’ve heard in a while: “I just stopped selling crack today.”
This is the type of hip-hop that can make you feel invincible. It makes you drive a little faster, scowl a little harder, move your head with a little more nasty. There is a certain level of chest puffing that wouldn’t happen if you were listening to something else. In these moments, we can relate to the music, the beat, and the lyrics. Regardless of whether you have a tough history with the Crips or the Bloods, it’s somehow magically relevant — all of a sudden, your personal struggle is emotionally comparable to slinging pills in the ‘hood. It’s an incredible thing to be able to relate foreign territory with your own personal struggle.
You can tell that this guy spent a long time on this album. It has that certain type of vital blood running through its veins. It sounds like a man who’s come a long way to get here and has something big to prove. And he proves it. I would only expect challenging and trailblazing material from him in the future.