Review: Schoolboy Q, ‘Crash Talk’

On Crash Talk, Schoolboy Q leaves his own party to check out what’s going on next door.

Personality can get an artist far in their career. It’s not always the deciding factor, but almost always assists in separating a rapper from the surfeit of like-minds. The quirks of Schoolboy Q have been missing for three years, last showcasing his zany talents on the Blank Face LP. Since then, Q has only popped out the hole for a handful of features and the Black Panther soundtrack. Now 32 years old, the gangsterisms of the major label debut Oxymoron can apparently only get the Top Dawg rapper so far as he searches for the key to the next phase of his career.

Frankly, Q’s return is quite the headscratcher. Crash Talk is a cruising yet scattered comeback with no method to the madness, shedding the majority of Schoolboy Q’s unique traits to follow the commercial blueprint.

Whereas Blank Face LP was near-impossible to figure out, Crash Talk is a two-piece puzzle consisting of beats and bars. In other words, it is as simple as it can get, particularly for the pre-proven capabilities of Schoolboy Q. For a brief 39 minutes, Q engages in topical acrobatics, jumping from subject to subject or at times no subject at all that inevitably establish no themes. The album cover, just like Blank Face LP, relays a lack of identity, which is exactly the description befitting for Crash Talk.

At first, Q appears to be in his zone with the intro track “Gang Gang”, an unofficial continuation of the “Gangsta” opener to 2014’s Oxymoron. The track’s quickly revealed to be nothing but smoke and mirrors, following up with a haul of forgettable cuts that sound like every artist’s song except Schoolboy Q’s. Cases in point: the uncanny “Lies” with Ty Dolla Sign and YG, preceded by the dreary “Drunk” with 6LACK. Schoolboy Q sounds like a feature on his own songs, purely incompatible for an album by an artist that is often gritty and sinister. Of all the incompatible collaborations, “Chopstix” with Travis Scott is the most strained. The cheery single is led to its demise by the obnoxious hook, void of melody and effort. It is the unfortunate centrepiece of the song’s inexcusable metaphor (“Chopsticks, her legs chopsticks”), which are not helped by Schoolboy Q’s rudimentary verses.

For an album striving for replay value, Crash Talk lacks it significantly. The “Boom”-sampling “Crash”, “Black Folk” and “Tales” have non-existent hooks, relying heavily on the verses and the short runtimes (no song passes 3 and a half minutes) to get to the finish line. That being said, the most replayable song of the album is the shortest song. Barely scratching  the 2 minute mark, lead single “Numb Numb Juice” embodies all the applauding qualities of Schoolboy Q; wacky flows, bombastic production and energetic delivery. The ‘hook’, which is more of a refrain than a catchy hook, is at least quotable and void of a pop formula.

Sonically, the approach on Crash Talk is relatively clear. However, the thematic approach hangs by several disconnected threads. Q isn’t saying anything until the very last track, where he lays out a stream of consciousness about his rapping idols. This lasts for a single verse, meaning that Q barely scratches the surface on the topic he vaguely begins to discuss. This is a pattern throughout the bulk of Crash Talk; it lacks exploration of even a mild quantity.

Even the signature witty Q bars are lacking (“I been countin’ dead men, puttin’ bodies in a safe”), nor are their absence compensated by vibrant production. The beat for “Tales” is essentially a reworked version of “Torch” from Blank Face LP. Banal beats leave a vacancy in songs like “Floating” and “Water”, representative of the modern trap monotonies that come and go at a standard rate.

By the end of the album, the listener is left wondering what Schoolboy Q was attempting to say, if anything. And if the rapper was not aiming for substance, it is not compensated by catchy, replayable songs. Crash Talk cruises by painlessly, but is easily the most rudimentary album of Schoolboy Q’s discography. 

Rating: 5 / 10

Best tracks: “Numb Numb Juice”, “Gang Gang”, “5200”, “Dangerous”