As a member of Top Dawg Entertainment’s vaunted Black Hippy crew, ScHoolboy Q generally plays second fiddle to Kendrick Lamar. That makes some sense, considering his cohort is a Grammy-winning, once-in-a-generation talent whose best-known song has become the rallying cry for a prominent social movement. And while Q’s fourth album, Blank Face LP, doesn’t eclipse Lamar’s recent, masterful work, it’s an exceptionally capable hip-hop album that touches on similar themes and continues to cement the 29-year-old’s status as one of the genre’s best new talents.
Part of what elevates Blank Face is its brimming roster of guest talent, which includes both fresh faces (Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples, SZA) and established talents (Kanye West, E-40). Lamar even makes an uncredited appearance on the album’s cinematic, reflective centerpiece “By Any Means.” Q also recruits top-notch beatmakers from Future mastermind Metro Boomin to frequent Lamar collaborator Sounwave ensuring that the album simply sounds better than most hip-hop in 2016. It’s a testament to Q’s talent that, despite having this many cooks in the kitchen, Blank Face LP is more sonically cohesive than other albums with extensive credits like West’s The Life of Pablo.
And it’s notable that, even with outsize personalities like West — who memorably calls his wife Kim Kardashian “the female O.J.” on the skittering “THat Part” — Blank Face is very much Q’s show, packed with some of his most evocative rhymes to date. On the silky, SZA-featuring “Neva CHange” he vividly reminisces about being “raised by your granny, pistols and Now & Laters.” Miguel adds similar soulful flair to “Overtime” — the vocal refrain “I wanna f— right now” never sounded so lush — but his overtures only buttress Q’s charmingly quaint assurances that he keeps “a penny on top of [his] loafers” and would like to “Netflix and chill when it’s after hours.”
At 72 minutes, Blank Face does sometimes sag under its own ambition. For every bonkers guest verse from an E-40 or Vince Staples (the cartoonish “Dope Dealer” and the menacing “Ride Out,” respectively) there are other forgettable retreads of West Coast hip-hop, like the 2Pac-interpolating “Str8 Ballin.” But, with an impressive range of sonic and lyrical styles and numerous highlights, Blank Face LP stands as one of 2016’s most engaging rap projects.