“The body is a person” —Morgan Parker, “Magical Negro #84: The Black Body”
We know ScHoolboy Q as Top Dawg Entertainment’s groovy gangsta with an attitude. Q is the rapper who bellows bangers and street talk in the same turn. He is as fun as he is grave; grotesque in his imagery. Yet on his fifth project, CrasH Talk, Q delivers a side of himself we have yet to see, one that is obsessively preoccupied with his own demise.
Across his discography, Q has embraced death as a facet of his gang ties but never has he spoken so candidly about his own death. From the second track, “Tales,” to the final track, “Attention,” and a handful of times in between, ScHoolboy Q muses on his death compulsively. With four total musings at his own death, we can conclude that these scattered thoughts are Q working out his fears in real-time.
More than ever, CrasH Talk is obsessed with the present, and the present, per Q, is good. He has the accolades and he has money, and he has a loving daughter. Or, put another way, he has everything to lose.
“It’s the story of his life as a famous rapper,” wrote Craig Jenkins for Vulture. But that story is not a happy one, which is why joy is all but absent from the album, even in the spaces where the bangers should be breaking tables.
We are instead presented with light raps at the hardwood. The celebrations are trepidatious as if Q were scared to fully indulge. As on “Drunk,” where the rapper assures you it’s just a light buzz. There’s a subtle fear there, one that permeates the record and informs Q’s mentions of his death. He feels himself on the brink of something. CrasH Talk is not exactly DeatH Talk, but it is very close.
With that in mind, these mentions of his death are reminders that ScHoolboy Q is not merely an artist. His career is not linear, and the scope is not narrow. ScHoolboy Q is a person. And while his “body” occupies the space of entertainer, to have it all means that there is a newfound risk of losing it all. That concocts real, human concern.
Do we see ScHoolboy Q, truly see him, and his body, and his personhood?
Now, Q is caught in an unexpected crossfire. For one, he has achieved everything from hit songs (“Collard Greens,” “Man of the Year,” “THat Part”) to a handful of GRAMMY nominations (Oxymoron, Blank Face LP), but he has also seen the perils of fame eat away the ones he loved. The only way to escape these perils is to lose everything, yet losing everything would be so tragic. Out from this dichotomy comes Q’s own obsession with his death. He has everything he could have ever wanted, but he wants for more and uses his death as a vehicle to express that want.
When death crops up on CrasH Talk, it is not grand. Nor is it a moment of misguided agency. Q never takes his life, nor does he need to. His compulsion manifests in a different way, where each mention of death speeds by and the album continues as normal. The album is marred in flashes of loss. Death, here, is multiple and it is brisk.
On “Tales,” Q muses on the end of his life: “How many tears am I gon' shed ’fore I go?” Here, Q’s death sounds like a random but anticipated occurrence; one to which he has given a hefty amount of thought. The passivity suggests Q has grown accustomed to imagining his passing, and it’s possibly become some type of escapist fantasy—brief and not intense, but present. Q is not necessarily crying out for help, but he is seeking attention.
In his lifetime, Q has gone through so much—most recently the deaths of Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle—so many tears and so much loss, we can gather that he has a desire to be seen, and for his pain to be validated even in the face of all that he has accomplished. Taken another way, then, the tears may be a bit of survivor’s guilt. Where Q has lost so much, and yet he has accrued so much in his life. To balance the two seems to be an impossible task; a sobering fool’s errand.
“Greet me by my hand 'til you teach me to float / Head is in the cloud with my stomach below / Somethin' 'bout this feeling, I felt it before / Took this pill and it swallowed me whole / Pinch me on my arm, is it Heaven or fun? / If I don't come back, had a hell of a run” —ScHoolboy Q, “Dangerous”
On “Dangerous,” Q alludes to a potential overdose. The compulsion here is one where the body acts out to remind us that it is a body; the body is a person, and the person can be hurt tremendously. Here, Q’s death would be at the hand of the indulgence that comes with the rap star lifestyle. And yet, much like the mention on “Tales,” “Dangerous” does not sound grand. Q does not die in a fury, but rather a drug-laced whisper.
ScHoolboy Q always seems to find himself on the brink. When partying, he realizes death is always an option for him. It would not take much to push him over the line, and if he doesn’t come back, at least he made something of himself. It’s that final bar that’s so troubling, because Q recognizes he has lived a full life, with more life to go. Yet at the fullest peak of his life, all his mind can turn to is his death. Perhaps he is scared that celebrity is going to take him out, so he might as well beat it to the punch in his raps. Perhaps.
The act of compulsively thinking about his death gains more credence on “CrasH,” where Q spits: “My thoughts is sick, I don't have no sense, sometimes I crash,” and the entire hook alludes to death by drunk driving. Here, we are faced with a literal crash. Q drinks too much and loses himself to his recklessness. As on “Dangerous,” the compulsion—the sick thought—here is acting out, with the hopes of winning some attention and care from the people around you.
On “CrasH,” I feel for Q. My compulsive craving is also to drink until I am on the floor. The thinking is: a good solo-stupor will surely secure some attention from the people in my life and get me a quick hit of love and sensibility. I want to be seen. I want my body to be appreciated, and, again, Q is begging for the same. The body is a person, but with all the successes of being a rapper, Q has likely never been farther from being seen as one.
With these constant deaths, then, visibility is really the rub. All of this is why CrasH Talk comes to a head on the final track, “Attention,” where Q rattles off all the praise he has received, while still sounding so empty. Praise from Nas cannot fill the void of going unseen as a man.
Rapping, “Let me tell you 'bout this story, when Quincy died,” at the close of the album is confusing until it isn’t. Q is about to give us the details, he finally has our literal attention, but it’s too late. He’s died and the story matters not. And when he was telling it in his life, nobody was looking. That’s his ultimate fear—to lose everything, for sure, but to go overlooked, even in death.
Exiting the album, this is perhaps why Q’s face is once again covered on CrasH Talk. The slumped shoulders and the paper bag communicate a sort of resignation. Something in the vein of, “I guess they just don’t want to see me,” but at the same time, Q is looking right at us. The body may be a person, and that may be true, but ScHoolboy Q certainly does not feel that truth apply to himself. The cover says, above all else, money cannot buy honest attention.
All ScHoolboy Q wanted was for us to look at him.