In a year in which we’ve seen both formidable and lackluster bodies of work from both veterans and neophytes alike, ScHoolboy Q stakes a viable claim for album of the year with his sophomore major label release, Blank Face LP.

Coming off his highly-praised major label debut, 2014’s Oxymoron, the masses have been anticipating ScHoolBoy Q’s next up-at-bat. Blank Face LP finds him at his most skeptical and introspective, and while that’s not out of the ordinary for the 29-year-old Compton native, he delves deeper than we’ve seen previously with this new project.

The 17-track opus opens with “TorcH”—a five minute, 35 second track—which cracks open the window of nostalgia through which the LP takes place, while setting its dark, foreboding tone with help from multi-faceted Hip Hop/R&B crooner, Anderson .Paak. The intro is followed up by “Lord Have Mercy” featuring Swizz Beatz, a shorter, interlude-like track, that is a good breather following the five minute opening, which then leads into the album’s well-received two singles “THat Part” and “Groovy Tony/ Eddie Kane”. This speaks to Q’s skillful album sequencing and pacing, which has been a cut-above-average since his first album Setbacks, back in 2011, and has only seen refinement over his past five years of activity.

That’s the thing about Q, self-awareness is the fulcrum of his content and his career. He knows what he gets right and what he gets wrong, and at every outing instead of fleeing from the things he got “wrong,” he instead perfects them. Take for instance, “Big Body,” a track assisted by Tha Dogg Pound and produced by Tyler The Creator, serves as a more uptempo and fun track compared to the rest of the album. “Big Body” is a seamless, enjoyable gear-switch, whereas, on the Setbacks track “Rolling Stone,” one of the first entries by Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Q as Black Hippy, went a similar route but to more of a detriment to the overall sound of the album, which was largely disjointed, albeit enjoyable. With each project Q improves at curating the sonic textures of his album and Blank Face LP is a testament to that.

While the “gangster rap” genre—which he falls in by default—has had an identifiable sound in years past, Q experiments with the musical landscape of his projects, without it ever coming off as a reach. “Kno Ya Wrong,” for example, a two-part track featuring what was accurately described by Genius as Q’s “rendition of a bluesy/ODB-esque freeform flow,” is one of the more experimental tracks on the album. “Overtime” which features libidinous crooning by Miguel and Justine Skye comes toward the end, lulling listeners into the songs outro. “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane,” an extension of Q’s first single for album, adds a gravelly Jadakiss verse to the mix, over brooding base-heavy production before switching to the song’s percussion-driven, eclectic second half. ScHoolBoy Q is one of few rappers whose projects can see these three different textures co-exist, without losing its cohesion.

BFLP boasts a weighty slew of features such as Kanye West on the album’s second single “THat Part,”  as well as T.D.E.’s newest signee Lance Skiiwalker. Additional features include Long Beach stalwart Vince Staples, T.D.E. songstress SZA, E-40Miguel, Justine Skye, and Candice Pillay. Newcomers Traffic and TF also appear on the album’s outro “Tookie Knows II” as well as star in the album’s accompanying short film series.

The absence of fellow Black Hippy members is glaring, although Kendrick does have background vocals on “By Any Means,” “Black THougHts” and “Overtime.” It’s worth noting, however, that they do appear together on a one-off remix of “THat Part” that, while not on the album, dropped on the same day.

In a recent interview with Real 92.3 he explains why we rarely hear Black Hippy as a collective in recent years. “We don’t like rapping with each other no mo’ like that,” he explained. “Like that’s pretty old now for us.” He went on to reveal that the “THat Part” remix was the manifestation of lobbying by T.D.E.’s commander in chief, Top Dawg. 

Blank Face portrays not only the ills of life growing up in the gang-infested streets of Compton, but Q’s many personal missteps as well. His narrative is received as less of a glorification of gang banging and criminal activity, but more of an attempt to edify his listeners. On “Black THougHts” Q spits:

Ain’t nothin’ changed but the change
Let’s put our brains away from gangs
Crips and Bloods the old and new slaves

Sh*t we even changed our names

On “John Muir,” Q puts the listener into the shoes of his younger self, presenting an unvarnished reality of his formative years, and the pragmatic choices he made. He raps, “I was thirteen with my mothaf*ckin’ heat, y’all./N*gga caught cases tryna take your f*ckin’ screen off.” Though his delivery at times can come off boastful, in reality it’s more like Q giving his younger self a smack to the back of the head. “Str8 Ballin” furthers the narrative depicting when Q finally progressed from the impetuous South Central lifestyle and finally took his life by the reigns:

Hiding from the reaper tryna’ dodge the cage
This sh*t I’ve done to rhyme on this stage
I went from king of the the corner
To breaking down weed on my diploma
Straight ballin’ like a b*tch

Blank Face LP expounds on everything enjoyable about Oxymoron, and tweaks the faults of that album making for the best body work we’ve seen from ScHoolBoy Q yet. The personal nature of the album creates a bond between the listener and Q, which is a rarity in an age where polished “rap persona” archetypes are ever-present. Blank Face LP will be adored by avid ScHoolBoy Q fans, and will also be exactly what those waiting for him to prove himself have been waiting for.

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