Genre: Gangsta Rap
Favorite Tracks: “Floating (featuring 21 Savage),” “Die Wit Em”
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but remember when Top Dawg Entertainment was inarguably the hottest music label in the world? Through SZA’s CTRL, they’d figured out a way to not just make bonafide superstars, but to do it through culture changing albums that critics and the public at large seemed to (mostly) agree on.
And then all of it just kind of… fizzled out. It took an eternity (or about six months) after CTRL to see their next release, SiR’s snoozer debut NOVEMBER, and 2018 would continue with the BLACK PANTHER soundtrack, something more defined by Marvel’s cultural moment than TDE, a decent but underappreciated release from Jay Rock in REDEMPTION, and a blink-and-you-missed-it mixtape from Reason entitled THERE YOU HAVE IT. A lackluster year combined with the reckoning of hip hop artists who dropped projects in 2018 and suddenly TDE’s elite status felt light years in the past.
Granted, you could feel it happening. There were rumblings—even late last year, people would reference a ScHoolboy Q record as being the thing to look for in 2019. While CRASH TALK, his latest release, has been out for a month now, its cultural impact has been basically nonexistent, either a true sign of TDE’s depreciated status, a reveal that the promise of Q’s potential as an A-lister was all hype, or simply a much maligned record creatively that was deserving of early dismissal.
In truth? It’s a combination of all three of these things. All the way back in early 2017, before either Kendrick or SZA had released their respective album of the year contenders, Q let Zane Lowe know that his album was close to finished, an update we would see periodically announced over the coming two years. CRASH TALK is plenty of things, but one thing it’s not is special. Nothing here feels like it was years in the making, nor does Q ever even attempt to elevate his game to make a run at being the current best (a title which, in 2019, is pretty open for the taking). Instead, CRASH TALK feels more like a record slowly piecemealed together since 2017, a blasé collection of odds and ends that lack thematic cohesion or energy that sees Q remain in neutral rather than shifting to another gear.
Consider the more notable of the two singles here: “CHopstix,” featuring Travis Scott. Scott, who is never given a proper verse, is wasted in a stale hook, as though producer DJ Dahi had either just never bothered to get around to the fascinating and genuinely bold ASTROWORLD, or simply wanted to intentionally dilute the cosmic atmosphere he’s now known to bring to the table. The chorus on “Drunk,” featuring 6LACK, is almost as sloppy, a kind of sleepwalking slice of mediocrity that similarly plays to none of 6LACK’s strengths and features production that is in no way as woozy or interesting as a song about drinking actually should be (not to mention the fact that ScHoolboy Q has plenty of better drunk examples in his past). Opener “Gang Gang” kind of just drifts into view, a pseudo-follow up to OXYMORON’s “Gangsta” that features literally half as much intensity or excitement and none of the fun replay value. Even lead single “Numb Numb Juice,” a quick sub-two minute banger, never explodes with the kind of hunger we’re used to hearing from TDE’s most interesting personality.
Q was, and always will be, a strange choice for an A-list rapper for plenty of reasons, but CRASH TALK never gets close to offering him a platform to plead his case, especially now that he’s years removed from a genre that has young rappers nipping at the heels. The rest of the features give us a clearer picture of the messy and decidedly unfocused direction: A serviceable but uncomfortable pop rap bop with Ty Dolla $ign and YG, a silly but cold cut with 21 Savage, a wigged out psych rock Kid Cudi feature, and an aimless mixtape track with Lil Baby. Even on BLANK FACE, a record with its own set of less glaring problems, the features tended to elevate everyone involved, be it .Paak or Jadakiss or E-40. But on CRASH TALK, from the jump there’s not much energy happening here by either the producers or the performers, and that the album hasn’t been the focal point of debate or spectacle on social media at all is emblematic of that fact.
ScHoolboy Q has a masterpiece in him. He’s gotten close—HABITS & CONTRADICTIONS laid out a path for him to be the pistol-carrying poet of the TDE group, a kind of perfect amalgamation of his Black Hippy compatriots that could offer both wit, philosophy, and flow amidst giant, interesting production… CRASH TALK, unfortunately, is nearly none of those things. It’s a boring album with nothing of note about it other than its symbolic representation of TDE’s current status.