It would be difficult to come up with a better title for ScHoolboy Q’s second album, Habits & Contradictions. The album mixes second-nature stoner anthems with sophisticated struggles, lulling you into a hazy calm before pulling you out with a spitfire verse or a hyperactive beat. It’s a calming album at times, but leaves the listener’s pulse racing, even after 17 tracks and over an hour of music.
The clearest example of the juxtaposition comes on tracks 12 and 13, starting with the purple-hazed “How We Feeling,” a song that more or less shotguns thick smoke into your ears. It’s a sloping, lazy track, fertilizing the roots you’re slowly putting down through your couch. “The world spins and…” ScHoolboy trails off before concluding, “…we get high.” It’s a genre piece – an ode to weed and success.
Right as your eyes begin close, Nez & Rio blast things wide open with a throbbing beat punctuated with pulsing choral vows. “Druggys Wit Hoes Again” paves the way for ScHoolboy Q and fellow Black Hippy member Ab-Soul to spit dirty verses about pills, sex, and, well, more weed. But it’s a faster flavor of bud here, and the track reinvigorates the last quarter of the album. (The track, it should be mentioned, is also one of the starkest exhibitions of misogyny this side of Odd Future, although it has some stiff competition from fellow Habits & Contradictions track “Gangsta in Designer (No Concept).”)
If the above descriptions didn’t clue you in, this isn’t an album for people turned off by weed smoke or casual objectification of women. A quick glance at the track list would tell you as much – I bet you can guess what “Oxy Music” and “Sexting” are about. But don’t dismiss Habits & Contradictions as nothing more than an adolescent screed. ScHoolboy is a captivating rapper, breathing life into what can sometimes be a sluggish subsection of the LA rap scene. Kendrick Lamar, the most successful of the Black Hippy crew, makes you hang on his words; ScHoolboy Q hangs the words on you.
There’s clever wordplay on Habits & Contradictions (“Feeling like superman/I might crip tonight”) but it’s ScHoolboy’s flow and bite that make the album special. On the darker side of things, “Raymond 1969” is an ominous horror show – the evil cousin of some of Clipse’s We Got It For Cheap mixtape tracks. “I ain’t on my Odd Future tip,” raps Q, before painting a gory picture befitting that crew.
“Nightmare on Figg St.,” is a sinister follow-up to ScHoolboy’s debut album’s lead track “Figg Get Da Money.” The track references Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Ni**as In Paris” from the position of a young artist still grinding to get paid. ScHoolboy’s off the drug game for now, but as he raps on the track, “better hope our star poppin’/Before I start robbin’ the re-up with OxyContin.”
The strength of Habits – and the true contradiction – shows best in the album’s point-counterpoint tracks “Sacrilegious” and “Blessed.” The first is a contradiction in and of itself, the monologue of a killer kneeling in church. “Prayers not close to me/As I bow down and take a knee,” raps Q. Later, “They say clean your hands before you eat, rest your sins with pray/But I've done did some things I don't think I could ever wash away.” It’s one of the album’s most interesting thematic moments, and a stark contrast to the positivity of “Blessed.” On the latter, ScHoolboy prays to God and offers support and advice to friends over an angelic beat. Kendrick Lamar shows up for a well-placed guest spot on the third verse, and though it’s clear that he’s a stronger lyricist than ScHoolboy, the two complement each other nicely, with their Black Hippy association driving home the camaraderie of the song’s lyrics.
After listening and re-listening to Habits & Contradictions, it’s still difficult to put your finger on what exactly it is about ScHoolboy Q that is so fascinating. His lyrics are often heavy handed and low-brow, but his skills as an emcee buoy them until they are engaging and even fun. The album’s beats – all but Lex Luger’s “Grooveline 1” from unheralded producers – are dynamic and varied, although they stop short of anything earth shattering. But still that contradiction remains – although the album, by almost all measures, is put together with unexceptional parts, the resulting product is perhaps the hip hop album to beat in this young year. I could make a habit of listening to it.