It is an understatement to say that Top Dawg Entertainment is without a doubt home to some of the most creative and charismatic talent in the music industry today. Serving as home base for artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Isaiah Rashad, SZA; along with a slew of in-house producers TDE has not only launched the careers of some of Hip-Hop’s biggest contemporary stars, it is home to some of the more diverse and eccentric talent to be assembled in recent years. This being said, one member of TDE has maintained a particularly low profile for the past several years, that being none other than boisterous South Central emcee ScHoolboy Q. Being one of the label’s most celebrated artists ScHoolboy Q has largely kept a low profile since the release of his last project Blank Face LP back in 2016; only sparsely making a guest appearance on selected projects occasionally. The most prominent perhaps being his appearance last year on the track ‘X’ featured on the Black Panther Original Soundtrack executively produced by TDE label-mate and frequent collaborator Kendrick Lamar. However, after three long years, ScHoolboy Q has finally returned to the mic, and delivering to fans his fifth studio album CrasH Talk.
While fans have patiently waited for close to three years for Groovy Q to release his latest follow up, CrasH Talk has had a rather turbulent release history, with the album’s initial release date having been pushed back several times. Originally scheduled for a November 2018 release last year, the album was most notably pushed back after the unfortunate passing of ScHoolboy’s close friend and collaborator Mac Miller following a fatal drug overdose last summer. While Miller doesn’t make any posthumous appearances here on CrasH Talk, the album does feature a roster of guest appearances. With seven features Crash Talk is easily ScHoolboy Q’s most mainstream and sonically accessible album. The album boasts a full roster of guest appearances which include the likes of Travis Scott, 6lack, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, 21 Savage, Kid Cudi and Lil Baby. From practically the beginning its very apparent listeners are in store for a much different offering from the typical ScHoolboy Q project. While its predecessor Blank Face LP had a decidedly more West Coast tinged sound and overall darker, brooding atmosphere and boasted guest appearances from a variety of prominent artists that included the likes of Tha Dogg Pound, Jadakiss, E-40, Anderson Paak, Miguel and Kanye West among others; CrasH Talk’s features by in large seem far more limited by comparison and offers a far more basic and palatable sound, likely utilized to cater to newcomers and average causal listeners.
One characteristic listeners will immediately pick up on upon first listen is the album’s length. Clocking in at just under forty minutes CrasH Talk is by far the leanest and brisk solo entry in ScHoolboy Q’s catalog; nearly half the run time of its its predecessor Blankface LP. ‘Numb Numb Juice’ the album’s first preview single and the shortest track on the album clocking in at a mere one minute and forty-seven seconds highlights the particular weaknesses of the album’s overall brevity. While brevity usually is something to be admired, especially in a era of bloated, over produced projects, the album simply isn’t allowed enough to explore any particular issues or themes before inevitably being jettisoned off to the next track. In fact, few songs ever top the three minute mark, the longest being ‘Drunk’ featuring relative newcomer Atalanta artists 6lack. Likewise, these features also highlight another, regrettable attribute observed here on CrasH Talk. Like many other contemporary Hip-Hop albums CrasH Talk’s achilles heel is its tonal inconsistency throughout a majority of the album’s runtime. Aside from the project’s frequently uninspired production (most accompanying artist features that will likely not age gracefully); whenever deep subject actually is explored it is inevitably interrupted innate throwaway tracks. With tracks such as ‘CHopstix’ featuring Travis Scott or ‘Floating’ which features a verse from 21 Savage, are not only tonally inconsistent with much the album; their placement as the album’s lead singles reek of overt, shameless pandering. Some features do however at times hit their mark. Some track racks such as ‘Lies’ featuring West Coast cohorts YG and TY Dolla $ign; while still heavily relying on contributions made from the featured artist are sonically pleasing to the ear and do actually sound like something listeners would expect to hear on a ScHoolboy Q project; though they are far and few in-between.
However, thats not to say CrasH Talk does not contain it’s own shining (albeit short) gems and diamonds in the rough. ‘Tales’ a low-fi down tempo track treads into familiar territory as ScHoolboy takes listeners on another stroll down memory lane as he recounts past experiences of his life in the streets of South Central selling drugs an immersed in the L.A. gang culture. Perhaps in a signal to maturity and self-reflection ScHoolboy reflects back on these past encounters, lamenting the cyclical, violent nature of the streets and the grave repercussions that inevitably always follows to those who remain in the lifestyle. Other notable songs include ‘Black Folk’ a low tempo track where ScHoolboy is allowed the room and freedom to dive into deeper subject matter; in particular his own thoughts and perspectives in regards to wasted talented and money and how it plays out with his own peers and across his own community. Practically void of any drums or percussion, the track almost plays out like a spoken word poem and allows listeners even more opportunity to absorb ever single word and syllable that is spoken throughout the song. Others such as ‘Dangerous’ featuring the likes of Kid Cudi over low-fi, dystopic, grungy production of chopped and distorted guitar chords also dive into more serious subject matter who ScHoolboy illustrating the at times perilous lifestyles that the performers live and their experiences when intoxicated. The track is probably the closest ScHoolboy ever comes to subtly referencing late friend Mac Miller. Much like ‘Prescription/Oxymoron’ featured on his big label debut Oxymoron several years ago detailing his own struggle to overcome opioid addiction the song marks yet another example of ScHoolboy commentating on substance abuse in Hip-Hop culture. Likewise the album’s outro ‘Attention’ also falls in line with the same general tone and atmosphere of these aforementioned selections as a reserved and low profile conclusion; serving as more proof that by in large it appears that more often than not ScHoolboy Q actually shines his his brightest on these down tempo and decidedly gritty, low-fi selections.
ScHoolboy really seems to hit his stride in the album’s last third with boisterous tracks such as ‘Die Wit Em’ feeling more in line with offerings true fans of Groovy Q would come to expect on such a release. However, even this is followed by the easily forgettable ‘Water’ featuring Lil’ Baby. This song in particular perfectly illustrates CrasH Talk’s greatest weakness, that being its tonal and atmospheric inconsistency as the result of much of the album’s production and features. Highlight tracks such as ‘Tales’, ‘Black Folk’ and others, do mange to capture the sounds of past projects or offer peeks and glimpses into complex and nuanced subject matter also explored in past releases. However, they are almost always, inevitably and immediately followed up by shallow, charmless offerings such as ‘CHopstix’ or ‘Floating’ which regrettably seem to be the flagship singles of the project and what the album seems to have placed all of its bets on. These unfortunately tend to overshadow otherwise stellar and even moving track selections present on the album. With that said, there’s no doubt that CrasH Talk is the most predictable and commercially watered down release that the South Central emcee has put out to date. For an artist that has earned a reputation for bucking trends, it’s sad to see him chase a such a demographic with charmless radio fodder and superfluous features by flavor of the month talent. It’s unfortunate that after a long three year wait, ScHoolboy Q has largely dumbed down and oversimplified his content and concepts here on CrasH Talk; all in an attempt to appeal to the west common denominator in Hip-Hop as of this moment. While CrasH Talk is by no means a terrible or even bad project, its overall brevity and commercial pandering is bound to underwhelm hardcore ScHoolboy Q fans which have come to expect more disciplined and darker albums with lyrically and sonically and undoubtedly leave them wanting more.
CrasH Talk is available now to purchase on CD in stores and available on digital platforms as well to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, Prime Music and iTunes.
Full Album Track Listing & Credits:
1. Gang Gang
3. CHopstix feat. Travis Scott
4. Numb Numb Juice
5. Drunk feat. 6LACK
6. Lies feat. Ty Dolla $ign & YG
8. Black Folk
9. Floating feat. 21 Savage
10. Dangerous feat. Kid Cudi
11. Die Wit Em
13. Water feat. Lil Baby