Quincy Hanley, better known by his stage-name, ScHoolboy Q, has over the years cemented himself as one of TDE’s elite. He’s built a reputation for his mix of introspective lyrics on his life, his city, and the ways he has coped navigated these channels be it through gang violence, drugs, or friends with a razor on his tongue. Q has always had a knack for using his sneering delivery to keep listeners engaged.
After releasing what will likely be his opus, Blank Face LP, in 2016, Q stepped away from music and went on radio silence before returning with the explosive “Numb Numb Juice” earlier this year. I say that Blank Face LP will likely be his opus because of how disappointing CrasH Talk is. When an artist releases a career defining project it is often difficult to follow it up. But others, including his TDE peers Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock, have already done it before with To Pimp a Butterfly and Redemption, respectively.
The album starts out promising enough, with a more reserved and stripped down yet not unfamiliar production that sets the stage for what we would expect from Q but with a shift towards the darker- a mood reflected by the album’s cover. The first two songs, “Gang Gang” and “Tales” do a good job of solidifying this before the flaccid “CHopstix”, quickly interrupts the early vibe that has been established. “CHopstix” is a pitiful low for both Q and guest Travis Scott as neither of them come anywhere close to their performative abilities. When this was released as a single, I wrote it off as maybe a throwaway to promote the album because it sounded nothing like the first single, the excellent “Numb Numb Juice”, so it’s unfortunate that Q haphazardly placed this track into the album to chase another hit single like “Studio”. There isn’t really anything positive to say about this song other than that it ends. The production is lazy and the performances by both rappers is half-assed.
And that’s the biggest problem with CrasH Talk, often it just comes off as lazy. The aforementioned “Numb Numb Juice”, a track that could easily be dropped in the latter half of Blank Face LP comes to break up the monotony and is followed by the solid “Drunk” with Atlanta rapper and singer 6lack, but then again the album is derailed before but can even get its bearings with the equally poor “Lies” with Ty Dolla $ign and YG. It’s baffling that Q would follow up these dark and melancholy tracks with something that sounds like it was produced for Chris Brown by DJ Mustard. It’s bad enough that these two songs are incongruous with the sound of the album but on their own they are just poor tracks where every artist involved is just… there.
The second half of the album fairs a lot better than the first half and lacks the blatant obstructions seen on the first. Album highlight “Black Folk” sees Q nailing what this albums seems like it set out to do and elaborates on themes teased on Blank Face LP over an excellent, somber beat provided by longtime collaborator DJ Dahi. In a better world, this would have been the album’s centerpiece that held this new direction Q wants to go in together. But even then, some of the remaining songs are just alright and Q appears to be phoning it in. It’s almost as if during his musical hiatus he felt obligated to make a new album more so than want to make a new album. This is represented best by the song “Floating” he shares with 21 Savage. It’s over yet an other beat that could have been plucked from Oxymoron or Blank Face LP with its dissonant untuned piano. But both of these rappers, known for their intimidating demeanor feel toothless in their delivery. It’s not horrible, in fact it’s pretty listenable. It’s just not as exciting as it could be.
After the forgettable Kid Cudi driven “Dangerous”, the album does finish strong with three of its best songs, “CrasH”, “Water”, and “Attention”. Ironically, “Water” features the best guest appearance with Lil Baby, one of Atlanta’s G-league’ers. Whether it be that he feels like he actually has something to prove on a release like this, he actually seems to enjoy being here and he’s trying with actual energy. “Attention” sees the album end on a very high note with its minimal production reminiscent of an Alchemist produced joint and Q doing his best rapping on the album. Tracks like this and the other moments of Q hitting on all cylinders keep this album from being completely mediocre. There’s some good tracks but even then there’s nothing that truly elevates this album like a “JoHn Muir”, “Blessed”, “Break the Bank”, and a “Tookie Knows II”.
CrasH Talk is an album with a couple rock bottom lows and is pretty good at best so it just ends up being a decent release hindered by some regrettable decisions with track placement and some inert features. However, even when it feels as if Q made this album because he needed some new music released, a lot of it outside of “CHopstix” and “Lies” is still decent and that’s a testament to how talented of an artist Q is- and we know what he can make when his heart is really in it. There’s nothing wrong with an artist wanting to reinvent themselves, and it makes sense for Q now that he’s getting older and likely wants to distance himself from his gang banging and drug infused career of yore, but reinvention doesn’t always translate well to music when you’re so good at your niche and it doesn’t always happen with one release. With this album, Q doesn’t have that edge he used to have even just a few years ago. On CrasH Talk, for the first time in his career, he sounds safe. Q has one foot still in the past on CrasH Talk but doesn’t feel confident in where he’s placing the other one. Here’s to hoping this album is a transitional one and his next release develops the promise seen here into something better.
Highlights: “Numb Numb Juice”, “Black Folk”, “Water”, “Attention”