Tuesday 20 September 2016

Double Review: 'Blank Face' by Schoolboy Q and 'The Sun's Tirade' by Isaiah Rashad

Kendrick season is over. You can stop doing naughty things to your hard copy of To Pimp A Butterfly. Instead, Top Dawg Entertainment has two new albums you should be getting stupidly excited about, Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face and Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade.

Bucket-hat-wearing gruff-speaking promiscuity-preaching gangsta rapper Schoolboy Q and laid-back weed-worshipping young father Isaiah Rashad are two very different breeds of emcee. However, they arguably both appeal to the same breed of hip hop head, shunning the arty-fartyness and sociopolitics of backpack rap, but simultaneously bringing more sophistication than your average babbling trap-loving Young-Thug-wannabe.

Previously, I’ve been lukewarm on both individuals' lyrical content, Isaiah rapping far too much about his love of the herb, Q spending way too much time rapping about the size of his dick. However, their inventive delivery and colourful beat choices have often made up for this. Personally, I was more keen on Isaiah's last record Cilvia Demo than Q's last album Oxymoron, the former sounding more focused. 

This time around things seems to have reversed - Q seems to have really stepped up his game with Blank Face, whilst The Sun's Tirade seems to lose its way a little. 

A change in lyrics isn't to blame - there's still very little poetry being recited by either artist. Q does dip his toes briefly in political issues on 'Never Change' and 'Black Thoughts', but the remainder of the record is a hamster wheel of money and hoes. That said, Q's gangsta persona is so cartoonish that none of this matters - dumb lines like 'straight ballin like a biiiitch' are squawked out with such infectiously ridiculous emphasis you can't help but fall in love with them. In the end, it's the guests that offer the most embarrassing contributions - the uninspired 'I’m gonna fuck right now' hook on ‘Overtime’ sung by Miguel and Kendrick being one of them, Kanye’s ‘okay, okay, okay, okay, okay’ blathering on ‘That Part’ being the other. 

Isaiah meanwhile seems to have thankfully cut down on the reefer-references on The Sun's Tirade, at parts even turning drug-adverse as demonstrated in later verses of 'Stuck in the Mud' with mumble-rapped line 'pop a xanny, make your problems go away'. Some of this clearly draws from personal experience, Isaiah having admitted to struggling with addiction for the last two years. However, rather than fuelling the album on this rich subject matter, Isaiah seems to sidetrack topics altogether, going for a more abstract approach to songwriting. In fact, rather ironically 'Find a Topic' seems to be the only topical track out of the bunch, a song about dismissing the need for subject matter. The lack of topics certainly gives The Sun's Tirade a more druggy and freeform feel. However, at times it can also just sound like a whole load of meandering waffle.

That said, this could be more to do with the energy of Isaiah's bars, the rapper at times sounding like he just broke his xanax withdrawal.  Whilst Q's creative hooting and cackling works like caffeine, Isaiah's experimentation with sleepy murmured flows on tracks like 'Bday' are sedative enough to lull a SAS sniper into a stupor. It's a shame, because on previous track 'Park' Isaiah shows he can be quite lively when he wants to be, spattering out each line with the truculence of a spitting cobra.

On the plus side, the production on each album is incredible. With the exception of Mike-Will-Made-It produced 808 banger 'A Lot', The Sun's Tirade takes a laid-back jazzy route that'll have you feeling more chilled than the Dalai Llama. Blank Face meanwhile offers a spicier and more uptempo palette ranging from the funky-sax-and-bells of 'Big Body' to the groovy-synth-bass-and-electric-guitars-outro of 'Know Ya Wrong', certain to get you busting moves around your bedroom like Big Quint.

Both artists certainly feel like worthy Top Dawg inductees, both finding their own unique style and voice and running with it. It's just unfortunate Isaiah's lethargic persona is less compatible when taken to the extreme than Q's gangsta guise.