ScHoolboy Q drops his most eccentric and revitalizing album yet as he closes one stage of his career and opens up the next.

By: T-Rod

I don’t envy the artists in the music industry. It’s hard enough to deal with real life as we know it, let alone knowing your career rides on reinventing yourself each time you hit the studio. Even if you aren’t a hustling musician, you can recognize the feeling of burnout, trying to reinvent your wheel even when its impossible for you to even imagine what that looks like.

Looking back at 2019’s CrasH Talk, the record found the TDE legend ScHoolboy Q sounding exactly like that: burnt out. The industry was changing rapidly at this point, shorter and punchier songs reigning supreme in the market instead of the more expansive, meditative tracks found on his 2016 Blank Face LP. Crash Talk, despite me enjoying it more than most, felt like Q was experiencing growing pains, captured in its dour lyrics and middling reception. After a 5 year hiatus, Blue Lips feels like it the album Q always wanted to make, no longer burnt out but ready to move onto a new phase of his life and career.

One thing that’s immediately noticeable is how strange this record is. From the constantly shifting beats, to Q’s scattershot way of tackling his verses, this record feels unpredictable and wild. While some fans of Q’s older work may crave another “Man of the Year” or “Hands on the Wheel”, I think the record manages to capture the feeling of those songs in a new, bold context. “Pop” is a punk rock take on Q’s trademark of explosive, simple and nasty intro tracks. “Yeern 101” is almost hookless, instead revolving around Q’s elongated verse over some bass heavy production that genuinely could have fit in the Crash Talk era. “oHio” reminds me of “Silent Threats” as a moody rap tag-team, but it’s a jazz rap odyssey that gets better with time. The track is a series of vignettes in Q’s mind as he bullet points his own successes, with Freddie Gibbs coming in for a nice finish. We’ve seen songs like these before from Q, but the presentation and the context feels so much more organic, almost like he’s thinking “Alright, let me rap over this now”, a sentiment that is captured by the abrupt ending of “Smile.”

The presentation of these tracks may be much more strange, but that doesn’t distract me from Q’s efforts, at least on relisten. Hearing the multi-layered beat under “Thank God 4 Me” led to initial concern that these songs would be unfocused, but the opposite reads true when Q’s ink bleeds into your mind. His lyrics on this track, much like the rest of the album, are looking both to the past and future. Songs like “Blueslides” and “Germany 86” are some of his best-penned yet, beautiful odes to family, lost friends, and the alienation that comes from grinding to the top. “Back N Love” and “Nunu”, meanwhile, sound like Q telling the listener that he has a freshly filled tank, the former being a crazy banger passionately reclaiming his love for hip-hop and the latter a psychedelic rap experience that is unlike anything Q has dropped. For as much new content Q throws your way here, there’s still room for the classic stuff you can expect from him. “Pig feet” is a middle finger to corrupt authority, “Foux” is another showcase of the chemistry between ScHoolboy and Ab-Soul.

Generally I’ve found Q’s work to be pretty great, but of all the records that I’ve listened to, I’ve found this one to be one of the best to dissect. There’s a lot to unpack, from the repeated imagery that Q discusses, the small narratives he paints, the randomness of it all. While this is all true, I think what makes this album so good is that it sounds like Q had fun recording it. This sounds like the album Q wanted to make since blowing up in the 2010s…and that’s felt in his energy, his pen, the beats. It’s a weird one, but this is probably gonna be a personal favorite of mine by end of 2024. Give Blue Lips a spin.