I have no idea what to expect from ScHoolboy Q’s long-awaited fifth studio album CrasH Talk. But that’s how Q's label Top Dawg Entertainment operates—a soundless warhorse rather than a loud tank; everything strategic, everything in silence. To their credit, excitement is the natural reaction when that silence is broken. Tonight, I’m excited.
CrasH Talk feels like a chance to be reacquainted with a friend who has become something of a stranger. It has been three years since Groovy Q released his GRAMMY-nominated, Gold-certified curveball, Blank Face LP, but it feels much longer in retrospect.
“Numb Numb Juice,” the lead single from CrasH Talk, is a short, explosive record; a perfect match for the speed at which the sand moves in the industry’s hourglass. It’s a song that says: Q knows time is of the essence, and to leave a mark, he must be swift and effective.
May the return of ScHoolboy Q follow in the footsteps of “Numb Numb Juice,” and present a swift and effective mark that we remember.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Gang Gang"
A voice. "Take 1." The build-up is like lava simmering to the top of a volcano... And the volcano just exploded. My floor is trembling to the repeated phrase, “Whip clean, dope boy.” I like this flow. My favorite trap beats sound like you would have a hard time escaping them in a foot race. “Gang Gang” would run me down. I’m not engaged by Q’s rapping, his voice isn’t projecting with the same force as the production. An odd choice for an intro… “Gang Gang” would have been a solid surprise in the middle, but not as a commencement. Will revisit later.
A nice change of pace. I love these drums. Q has unlocked a new level to his artistic brevity. He’s going for short phrases and vivid imagery. I like retrospection, but it doesn’t seem focused. Q is loose. It reminds me of Kendrick's approach to "Yah"; in the ring shadow boxing instead of entering with gloves on and prepared to knock us out. He’s sneaking in a few heavy gems. Especially the second verse. The imagery is striking. I wonder how much of this verse is inspired by survivor's guilt. There's a dark cloud raining over this record. This song sounds like how the album cover looks. Hidden, distant, refusing to be seen. “Tales” might be the answer to what ScHoolboy Q is hiding behind that million dollar sense of humor. A keeper.
3. "CHopstix" ft. Travis Scott
ScHoolboy Scott. On the heels of “Tales,” this one is already feeling banal. The beat has a nice bounce to it, but Travis sounds like he’s harmonizing in a plastic bag. Q arrived with the type of energy that suggests the label gave him a check to write this song. Some songs are hits, while others sound like they’re supposed to be hits, and “CHopstix” is the latter. Man, I wish he left this one on the cutting room floor; this beat and hook are interchangeable with just about any rapper. And what the hell are the chopsticks that Travis loves so much? Oh, her legs? That’s weird, bro. I’ll have to skip this one.
4. “Numb Numb Juice”
Here we go! The combustion! Q is an ascending rocket and the production is the flame pushing him out of the Earth’s orbit. If I went to the gym, “Numb Numb Juice” would have me ripped by summer. The tricks he pulls off are impeccable. Every line, every flow, every pocket, not a single second is wasted. “Numb Numb Juice” is a flawless single, a flawless record, and a song I’ll be playing for years to come. Go watch the video, I was told Jay Electronica is hiding his album in there.
5. "Drunk" ft. 6LACK
An R&B feature and it isn't SZA or Miguel? I like the idea of 6LACK taking Q somewhere new. Oh yeah, day drinkers will appreciate this one. I love how slow and unwinding it feels. A beat that’s stumbling. Q’s verse is transparent, unraveling that’s inspired by too much whiskey. The grandmother and cousin both losing their lives hit me in the heart. Something about “Drunk” feels like an unfinished demo. It’s a dirty record; no color, no unnecessary sheen. 6LACK is here. This is his world. He is the master of the melancholy universe. I would play an album's worth of 6LACK verses over this shifting, woozy soundscape. Ah, and he’s already gone. That wasn’t a feature, it was a fea... This second verse doesn’t have the effective, vomit truth of the first, but it’s still a solid offering. I’m here for the “Just a little buzz, just a little buzz” hook. I’ll happily recite that all summer. Keeper.
6. “Lies” ft. Ty Dolla $ign & YG
Okay, a summery song. Ty Dolla $ign always sounds happy to sing. He’s like the friend who no matter what will show up for $3 drinks and appetizers on any given Sunday. We need more friends like Ty. Did Mustard make this beat? I don’t know what it is, but Q’s voice just isn’t as prominent as I remember it being. His flows are cool, but there’s just a lack of passion in these verses. He sounds too much like YG for my liking. I’d like this song if it was on Beach House 4, but not a ScHoolboy album. YG’s drunk uncle verse will sound great with a pint of Hennessy, but stone sober, I'm pretty disinterested. This one didn’t strike any chords.
I’m not sure where this album is supposed to be taking me. Ah, there’s Kendrick. I like this build up. Q’s voice is such an incredible build up tool. Eh, what is this? Guys, didn’t they already make this song? Sounds like a Black Panther Soundtrack leftover. What's the song with Travis and Kendrick? "Big Shot?" Imagine that record—but a karaoke version by Baby Keem. The second verse is better as Q is finding his groove, but this just seems off. Is this supposed to be an album of anthems? I find ScHoolboy Q to be more like Jaws than Free Willy, but so far he’s all tricks and no bite. The hook did get me by the end. I’ll have to try it again.
8. "Black Folk"
This album is moving so fast. It’s the opposite of Blank Face LP. Where is the meat? Some singing. Okay, his voice is engaging and the production is gripping. “Who knew failure would make you better.” We have found the bite! This is it! Short, vivid, focused. This energy is what I hope it spread across the back end of this album. There's some depth here. I’m starting to piece together a theme.
9. "Floating" ft. 21 Savage
I'm excited about this collaboration. Q has found a groove! This one is dark. His demeanor is a pure mean mug. This is the Q that was inspired by 50 Cent—both the rapper and the gangster. The bassline is absolutely disgusting. Rapping over just the keys was a great call; leaves room for his voice to be the song’s star. Not too gripping, but I’m engaged. 21! He arrived as if brought by a chauffeur. "Still the same, I'm just a richer me." Best 21 guest verses, ranked, is a think piece I’ll be writing this year. I like “Floating."
10. "Dangerous" ft. Kid Cudi
A Kid Named ScHoolboy. These chords scream Cudi. A good call to get his voice. "Dangerous" is ghostly, very thin. Seems to be a lot of coping on the album. I wish he would just open up more about what exactly he’s coping with. Wow. I didn’t think Q would sit on this beat with such ease. It’s like hearing someone walk through the darkness in their head. The last song he said he was legless, and this one he sounds like it. He's absolutely see-through. Production is a drunk driver. This record is anxiety-inducing and I love it. Messy, maybe too messy. Q is spiraling—spiraling out of control. Way too short.
11. "Die Wit Em"
So far there have been three takes. I’m assuming the album is supposed to be viewed as a three-act story. I’m enjoying this one a lot. The second half has been quite enjoyable. This is the stunt record and Q is letting the chinchilla slide across the marble floor. “Niggas die every summer.” Didn’t leave a strong impression, but not a bad record.
Oh, shit. The DJ Premier sample. This is… Royce da 5'9"’s “Boom.” It’s officially a good day. Q is opening up a bit; he sounds down despite the uplifting theme. He just said he got his daughter a mansion and gave his mother a million but there’s no enthusiasm. His entire energy feels off. In his GQ interview with Jeff Weiss, Q mentioned being depressed. It sounds like he’s really trying to get out of a funk. “CrasH" might be my favorite record on the album. Q comes to life in this second verse. “Way too blessed to be normal.” Love the message he left for his daughter. Man, someone give Q a hug.
13. “Water” ft. Lil Baby
Strings. I don’t expect strings when I see: featuring Lil Baby. Oh, this is a crack rock sizzling over the pot. Far from a jaw-dropping performance by Q, but his flow works really well with this production. I love how he says, “I’m covered in gang.” The Migos are somewhere flipping over very expensive tables. LIL BABY CAME IN FROM THE TOP ROPE. I need a remix with the entire Quality Control roster. How was this beat not on Culture II? Baby is in a good zone. A good song.
Final track. This album has such odd pacing. There's no beat, Q is rapping, it's a winning combination. I love how dusty this one sounds. Yep! He's talking about being praised by Jay at the GRAMMYs. Storytelling. I want an entire album of stories from Q. This is so good. I’ve been grabbed. I don’t want him to stop. I’ll sit here and listen to his entire life story if it’s over this beat, with this flow, in this cadence. If he really made three albums, as he told Weiss, I want the one that sounds the closest to “Attention.”
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on ScHoolboy Q's CrasH Talk:
ScHoolboy Q’s CrasH Talk is several things at once: an album by a rapper who showed up to do his job; an album by a man in the throes of success and depression; an album by an artist who is trying to merge these worlds but is unable to find peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, it suffers from banality.
CrasH Talk should've solely focused on the trials and tribulations of Quincy Hanley—the rapper, the father, the man. Take away the bangers, pile on the melancholy. Instead of fully committing to the crash, though, Q spends too much time pretending everything is fine. Everything isn’t fine. Life is burning us all out. We are all crashing.
A record like "Tales," co-produced by DJ Dahi, Jake One, and G Koop, works so well because Q sounds like how it feels to take a negative trip down memory lane. But instead of allowing us to witness the full crash, scars and all, Q hides behind the mundane tough talk.
Talk is cheap.