Schoolboy Q leads rap’s new supergroup into Baltimore
The days of the rap supergroup are deep in the rear view for my generation of hip-hop millennials. Most of us were in elementary school or diapers when Wu-Tang and Death Row dominated the genre and we weren’t much older when Cash Money and Roc-A-Fella took hold of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Once Dipset imploded in the late 2000’s, we found ourselves looking around for the next, genuinely captivating clique to ride with. No dice. But thanks to a resurgence in quality rap coming out of California this decade, Odd Future (Tyler The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean) and Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul) are both prospects for bringing the supergroup back, with super talent, appeal, and execution to match.
Sunday night at Baltimore Soundstage, T.D.E’s Schoolboy Q, headlining the world tour for his debut album, Oxymoron, showed how he and his group mates have already made an impression on rap fans. The “line” wrapped around Market Place and Lombard Street with no shortage of T.D.E hoodies and an assorted of camouflage and floral patterned bucket hats (Schoolboy’s signature). Unlike his labelmate and superstar Kendrick Lamar, who’s been dubbed the next rap great because of his keen eye for detail and imagery of from growing up near Compton’s gang culture, Schoolboy represents the narrative of someone actually participating in that culture: selling drugs, doing drugs, and experiencing the pain and joy that comes with both. And that, no matter if he’s on Lamar’s level as an emcee or not, brings out a side of fans that Kendrick can’t. With Schoolboy Q, you can drink lean, smoke blunts in the first row, and do whatever the fuck you want. For five straight hours Sunday, the venue’s energy did not waiver.
After short opening sets by up-and-coming Baltimore rapper Black Zheep DZ, Philly rapper Asaad, and California dance-rap duo Audio Push, came Long Beach native Vince Staples. Like Schoolboy, Staples gives first-hand accounts of California gang life but he does so in ways that center the moral compass of gangbanging. He started his set with his standout verse from Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hive,” which most fans around the stage knew word-for-word. That was followed up by songs from his most recent release, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2. Set highlights included “Humble”—in which he reminds us of all the bullshit he’s been through and says he “deserves this shit”—and “Nate,” where he expresses adoration for his father who was a gangbanger, too.
Next up was Top Dawg’s newest signee, Tennesee native Isaiah Rashad, whose self-aware, funky, non-dance southern rap won a lot of people over. Before he came bouncing out, his people came out to drape the T.D.E logo flag over the DJ booth, where fans almost immediately started yelling “T-D-E!”. His first track was “R.I.P Kevin Miller” and fans assisted him the whole way through. Other standouts from his performance were “Webbie Flow (U Like),” a song that makes you bop your head unconsciously and the final cut from his January debut album Cilvia Demo, “Shot You Down,” during which he ran to each corner of the stage, rapping and slapping fives with fans.
Once Rashad exited the stage, there was a freezing silence of anticipation; a silence and angst that I’d felt when Kendrick Lamar was about to perform at Rams Head Live in late 2012 but didn’t think Schoolboy Q would get, even in the middle of his “arrival” to the mainstream. When his DJ hopped on the mic and asked, “Y’all ready for Schoolboy Q?” the entire Soundstage erupted and Schoolboy strolled on stage, looking around the venue and soaking in his welcome. With his face lit up—partly by stage lights and partly by cell phone camera flashes—he looked on, greeted the crowd and went straight into “Fuck LA” from Oxymoron. From the far left of the stage, I could see most of the crowd bouncing up and down while rapping Schoolboy’s lyrics to each other. Things got crazier once he started performing fan favorites from his earlier work. “Hands On The Wheel” and “Brand New Guy”—which are both collaborations with A$AP Rocky—were some of the loudest moments Sunday.
The amount of blunt smoke twirling up to the lights hit a maximum once Schoolboy performed his weed anthem “How We Feeling” from his previous album, Habits & Contradictions. Right before going into 2011’s “iBETIGOTSUMWEED” from Setbacks, he turned to his DJ who lit a blunt from a torch and joked about the blunt being ruined by it.
The rest of his set pulled from Oxymoron. His radio hit “Collard Greens,” “Yay Yay,” and “Studio” were all engaging parts of the set but the energy was elevated once he got into the album’s most hype songs. “Gangsta Gangsta” immediately got the crowd jumping under alternating blue and white lighting. While Q performed “Break The Bank,” the same guy who brought out the T.D.E. flag before Isaiah Rashad’s set whispered to the DJ, who looked disappointed. After the song, Q walked over to him and yelled into the mic, “They said we only have five minutes left! How you gonna cut the headliner’s set short?!” Testing how badly the crowd wanted his last song,Schoolboy went to each corner of the stage, encouraging the crowd to scream their loudest before he jumped into Oxymoron’s biggest hit, “Man Of The Year.”
Watching Q control the crowd, reflecting on Isaiah Rashad’s set, and thinking back to when I saw the T.D.E camp play at Rams Head almost two years ago, I thought, “This is the supergroup of the 2010’s.” Aside from the usual bandwagon fans that fill every rap show, there were genuine fans of the music at Baltimore Soundstage on Sunday. Fans that I watched recite every lyric, wanting to be a part of the experience. That’s a rare sight at rap shows in 2014 but Schoolboy Q—though mostly a pretty chilled-out performer—was able to tap into those positive vibrations.