Sunday, March 2, 2014
Grantland - "Schoolboy Q’s Hunger Pains"
by Amos Barshad
"It’s a mid-December afternoon in New York and his new album, Oxymoron, will be out in less than two months. Oxymoron is not only his major-label debut, but also the first release from empire-building Los Angeles label Top Dawg Entertainment since Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City blazed into the pantheon. Q got his start as Kendrick’s hype man, earning $200 a show, until he decided to cop the spotlight for himself — and then actually briefly surged ahead in the internal TDE arms race. In 2012, Q’s gloriously reckless “Hands on the Wheel” was getting radio spins while Kendrick was still a mixtape wiz. Then Good Kid dropped, and the debate became moot.
Ever since, Q’s been up next. It’s an unfamiliar hip-hop narrative. Traditionally, one dude gets in the party, then props open the backdoor for his buddies. Sometimes, a buddy works hard enough to get to hang out for a while;1 sometimes, a buddy damn near steals the party.2 More often than not, though, the buddies eventually get laughed out of the room. For rap nerds, these failed backdoor-enterers live in infamy, their names bandied about for fan cred: I have a signed Tony Yayo laminated photo! I celebrate Gudda Gudda’s entire catalogue!
But that’s not what’s happening here. Q and Kendrick came up together, just another couple of MCs in America dreaming of domination. That Kendrick actually got there now seems preordained. How could a talent like this — who makes the English language his plaything, who reimagines his come-up as banger after banger — end up as anything other than his generation’s Jay Z? Q’s got a different viewpoint, though. He appreciates his friend’s innumerable talents, of course. But he’s been right there the whole time. He might not have Kendrick’s salesman mentality; he might not care as much to clean up his act. But still: How can he not see this whole “rap superstardom” thing as imminently reachable?
Over the past year, in interview after interview, Q has been unable to escape the specter of Kendrick. Not that he’s shied away, either. Again and again, he’s said, in so many words: I want what Kendrick’s got. I will have what Kendrick’s got."