It’s sad to think that the fourth album from Quincy Matthew Hanley (a.k.a. ScHoolboy Q) might be the soundtrack we deserve in this bleak collective cultural moment. Released less than 24 hours after a black army veteran with a sniper rifle killed five cops in Dallas, and just days after the nationally publicized killings of black civilians Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by white police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively, Q’s Blank Face LP represents a vision of the anger, mistrust, and numbness that have resulted from America’s inability to affect change in communities divided along racial lines. For Q personally, the album seems to reflect both the reality of black life as he knows it, and his most uncompromising expression of the violence and hatred he sees as a necessary response to that reality.
But it’s a worldview conveyed almost entirely in gleeful, vitriolic excess, which has the peculiar effect of nullifying its attack: In its relentless repetition, Blank Face LP becomes a virtually stoical incarnation of anonymous hate. This may well be its intention: While 2014’s Oxymoron showcased a more multitudinous artist, one as capable of barked gangster rap as he was Chromatics-sampling playboy anthems, Blank Face LP’s deficit of diverse tones complements a sonic cohesion unlike any album the rapper’s released. Full of noir-ish horn blasts, sparse keys, claustrophobic backup vocals, and stuttering, midtempo beats, this sound is perfectly calibrated to its host’s paranoiac vision.
Q’s nasally voice follows form, bending, breaking, and bursting all through the nightmarish sprawl, with virtuosic skill: looped into a strobing effect on the bridge of intro “TorcH”; stretched out across vowels on the Kanye-featuring “THat Part”; and matched with E40’s elastic agility on standout “Dope Dealer.” Never is Q not a perversely entertaining presence here, but the perversity gets exhausting—especially when the rapper’s flagrant misogyny becomes a repeated, dead-eyed capstone for the album’s more depraved antics.
More than one track on Black Face LP finds Q unimaginatively rhyming “hoes” with “bankrolls,” while the bitterly snarled hook of “By Any Means” goes, “You can fuck my bitch, you can have my hoe.” Without exception, women are treated as mere components of a cynical, myopic consumerism; on the bouncy sing-along “Big Body,” Kurupt and Daz Dillinger go as far as to explicitly connect those dots: “Money makes the world go ’round in case you didn’t know/In case you didn’t know about these bitches and these hoes—and these sluts!” The song settles into a call-and-response of “Fuck that bitch!” And that’s not even the most offensive moment on the album.
That distinction goes to “Overtime,” which frames itself as a sexy slow jam, but relegates its come-ons to the purely transactional: “If your money ain’t right/I should be in your life” and “I get money like athletes.” The track’s Miguel-sung hook fares no better, finding the singer reverting to his noxious, rape-y “How Many Drinks” persona: “You know the night ain’t a sober night/I wanna fuck right now.” Justine Skye, one of three women featured on Blank Face LP, takes the last verse, and she sounds so entirely isolated from the rest of the song (she does her own backup vocals) that her part almost feels like an afterthought—a halfhearted gesture of inclusivity.
Misogyny is so deeply embedded in the character of hip-hop that it can be difficult to separate straight exploitation from the honest reflection of a society in which the anger fueled by institutionalized oppression of black males is displaced to the nearest scapegoat. But it says something about Q’s priorities, and his lack of self-awareness, that the targeted shots he takes at the oppressing institutions themselves, at “the devil in all blue” and “the cop that keeps my gear in park,” are so heavily outnumbered by his contempt for, say, women whose “child support [is] killing niggas.” Blank Face LP is ultimately an unfocussed album, one caught between reportage and repugnant opportunism—its violence and sexism alike an appeal to commerciality. Q has no responsibility to be conscious, but he veers so drastically in the other direction that he doesn’t merely represent the bleakness of this reality, but actively stokes it.