Ah, who doesn’t love a good ‘come-up’ story? Schoolboy Q has reason to celebrate as his third LP Oxymoron takes over the no. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart. Apparently, them “Collard Greens” were pretty potent, as 139,000 people decided to add Oxymoron to their music collection. 139,000 copies isn’t the ‘end all be all’ in regards to album sales, but its definitely sound for what could be considered an up-and-comer, even three albums into a rap career. Compared to his colleague Kendrick Lamar, the numbers are less favorable (Good Kid M.A.A.D. City missed the top spot, but sold 241,000 copies), though Kendrick also had bigger buzz surrounding him at the time, not to mention the fourth quarter to propel him.
Schoolboy Q fended off that feisty Frozen Soundtrack, which continues to put up respectable numbers. This week, the magic number for the runner up was 91,000, which according to billboard.com was an increase from the previous week. Frozen kept another new release and veteran, Beck from the runner-up spot. Beck settles for no. 3 with 87,000 copies sold of Morning Phase, his first album in six years. Even though Beck couldn’t match a previous high watermark – a no. 2 peak for 2005 effort Guero – or its robust 162,000 copies start, he managed to outperform prognostications.
Surprise albums seem to be all the rage these days, with Kid Cudi’s oddball Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon fitting right into the trend. Kid Cudi doesn’t quite have the Beyoncé effect, but does debut at no. 4 with 87,000 copies. Compared to last year’s slightly more accessible Indicud, the numbers are down for the left-field rapper. In fact, Satellite Flight is Cudi’s lowest debuting album as of yet. The next closest in terms of his discography was his debut, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, which sold 104,000 good for a no. 4 bow. Previous album Indicud debuted at no. 2 selling 136,000 copies. Indicud was a drop-off itself, specifically from Cudi’s sophomore album, Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which debuted at no. 3, but sold 169,000 copies. Is Scott Mescudi just too odd for sustainable commercial success? Perhaps.
Keeping things close (and new), Romeo Santos debuts at no. 5 with Formula: Vol. 2. Formula sold 85,000 copies, awesome numbers for a Latin album. Dierks Bentley didn’t quite get in on the “80s” action (80K that is), but Riser did debut at no. 6 with 63,000 copies. 63,000 copies doesn’t have much of a ceiling itself, but Bentley isn’t exactly country’s most consistent selling male artist. Still, 63,000 copies isn’t too shabby. The Fray would’ve enjoyed being even remotely close to 63K; they settle for a no. 8 bow and 37,000 copies sold of Helios. Seems like the popularity of “Over My Head (Cable Car)” hasn’t translated to the band’s more recent efforts. Other than Frozen, the only holdovers are Eric Church (The Outsiders), Now 49, and Beyoncé (Beyoncé). Good sales week – finally!
Pharrell Williams goes into next week’s chart with the momentum of retaining no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Happy“). Pharrell’s second solo album GIRL is one of the competitive albums fighting for the top two spots on next week’s chart. Second solo album you ask? Well ole boy released In My Mind a couple of years back and snagged a Grammy-nomination for the LP. Rick Ross should have no. 1 locked up as he releases his sixth LP, Mastermind. With the exception of Ross’ best LP (in my opinion), Teflon Don, Ross has locked down no. 1 four previous times. Lea Michele wishes she could muster up the numbers expected from Ross or Williams, but according to Billboard prognostications, she won’t come close. And as for Eli Young Band, well 10,000 Towns is far behind. I won’t even mention Ashanti’s Brave Heart – it doesn’t have a shot.
Oh and going back to the Billboard Hot 100, what about my homeboy John Legend breaking into that top four (last week I believe)? Who would’ve thought that “All Of Me”, an old school, piano-driven ballad would be a hit in 2014? It remains at no. 4 this week according to Billboard. Rock on John, rock on!
The Academy Awards was filled with a lot of predictability ultimately, but there were some interesting moments as well. For the music world itself, there was plenty to rejoice about. Jared Leto, who’s been more associated as the front man of 30 Seconds To Mars as opposed to acting as of late, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for an exceptional role in Dallas Buyers Club. 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers), a brilliant documentary that focuses the attention on the background singers as opposed to the star, won deservingly for Best Documentary Feature. Darlene Love, one of the featured background vocalists gave praise to God, belting out a powerful rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” onstage while accepting. And what about the victorious Documentary short, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, about a Holocaust survivor Alice Hertz Sommer, a pianist? Sommer passed away just a week before the telecast, making the victory for The Lady in Number 6 even more special.
Music was well recognized at the 86th Annual Academy Awards. All Original song nominees would have their chance to perform, with perhaps the most infectious being Pharrell Williams’ no. 1 hit, “Happy”. The performance itself was enough to brighten even the cloudiest day, especially to see children and actors alike feeling the good vibes. Idina Menzel would have her name butchered by John Travolta before performing “Let It Go” from Frozen, but a questionable performance of the ubiquitous children’s favorite wouldn’t undo the momentum or ultimate win in a tightly contested category. U2 would evoke some magic with “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom while Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) would mysteriously and quietly perform “The Moon Song” from Her. The multiple times victorious Gravity (winner of seven), would also get some music swag, with Steven Price snagging Music – original score.
Other non-award related performances are worth noting. Bette Midler, who is 68, performed her classic ‘ace in the hole’, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” following the In Memoriam segment. Midler’s performance couldn’t be called technically perfect, but at her age and having never performed live at the Oscars, it was solid. P!nk surprising eschewed being suspended in air (surprisingly), to perform “Over The Rainbow”, with Liza Minnelli in the audience. Don’t call it a classic performance by Moore, but it worked.
Ultimately, this years Oscars not only recognized a Mexican Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity), or the first black Best Picture winner (Steve McQueen becomes the first black producer to win) for 12 Years A Slave, but it also recognized the music world too. Whether directly or indirectly, the academy has truly embraced music and shown the world its importance and relevance.
Schoolboy Q • Oxymoron • Top Dawg/Interscope • US Release Date: February 25, 2014
Schoolboy Q keeps things 100 on Oxymoron – he keeps it real “from the jump” (catch the Drake reference?). In fact, the MC keeps things so ‘real’ that at times Oxymoron is a truly difficult (polarizing) to listen to. Sure, the old saying “honesty is the best policy” applies here and the candidness and frankness of Schoolboy Q is appreciated, but Oxymoron isn’t exactly the most endearing rap effort because it is so grimy and raw. Schoolboy Q’s intentions seem to be emphasis on his machismo, his demons, and a trying, difficult life. As always, the rap album (his third) serves as the ultimate ‘come-up’, with the rapper’s daughter playing a central role in his life-changing experience, judging by numerous references throughout. Ultimately, Oxymoron, an album that is confounding yet impressive, ends up showing the range of abilities of the rapper. It’s not perfection realized, but there are plenty of exceptional moments working toward that goal.
Schoolboy Q is a “G” from the get-go, as his daughter asserts on the intro of “Gangsta”: “Hello…hello? F**k rap, my daddy a gangster.” If the idea of being a ‘gangsta’ wasn’t firmly planted, Schoolboy Q ensures on the hook he repeats it a million times so that you know his status. While merely stating a description of himself wouldn’t make him a ‘G’, Q backs up things with brash rhymes that he spits over incredible production work. He also asserts he’s a pimp…he gets it in, easily.
As much as a bang “Gangsta” is, “Los Awesome” is better, sporting more agile rhymes and sick production courtesy of none other than one ubiquitous Pharrell Williams. The hook slays from a first listen: “I’m a groove type n****a, rather two-step with you / pants sagging, rag dragging, rather gangbang with you / triggers squeeze, throw a palette, throw them thing-things with you / hot degrees, anti-freeze, chilling cool-cool with you…” Q doesn’t stop on the hook as he also spits ether throughout his verses: “Looking like a reaper in your driveway / strays through your living room / liable to drive-by on a summer day / July 4th will be in June…” He also gets the assist from Jay Rock, who complements the violent tilt: “N***as that’ll murder ya, steal you like a burglar / seemed the soul was long gone before I got them / he was dead before I shot him, it’s the reaper.”
“Collard Greens” proceeds in top-notch form, retaining its greatness since being released as a single back in 2013. From the opening groove by the drums, to the gimmicky, infectious hook, “Collard Greens” is quite distinct. “Oh, oh luxury / chidi-chidi-ching could buy anything, cop that / oh, oh, collard greens / three degrees low, make it hot for me drop that”, Schoolboy Q raps on the hook. Schoolboy Q is on autopilot, rapping “Kush be my fragrance, we love marijuana / function on fire, burn the roof of this mother f**ker”. Kendrick Lamar captivates on the second verse, providing a little bit of everything including Spanish and his signature gun sound effects. Among Lamar’s best lines is when he proclaims, “I’m more than a man, I’m a God, b**ch, touché, en garde.” Stoners and non-stoners alike can indulge in the greatness of “Collard Greens” – the song itself that is!
Anytime 2 Chainz is featured on the track, well, you know there is probably an element of perversion and stupidity about it. “What They Want” doesn’t go too dumb, but it is also sort of what you would expect – driven by sex. The hook sums up Q’s intentions: “This the sh*t that they want / this the sh*t that they need / tell me where are you from / drop you pants to your knees, girl I’m capital G…” Even so, Q has his moments, like the clever “Might cop the Phantom, get ghost…” He ruins it with a line about his… and what he plans to do to her… but it is what it is! As for 2 Chainz, he goes the blasphemous route: “Oh Lord, she in Christians, all gold on my Adventist / pull it down and she kiss it, all gold where my wrists is.”
“Hoover Street” is one of those difficult moments to listen to as Q expresses his ‘story’. It is insightful, but certainly is an experienced that not everyone will relate to. “I got that work, f**k Labor Day, just bought a gun / f**k punching in, throwing rocks, no hopscotch / Bet my 9 milli hit the right spot…,” he spits on the intro. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the narrative of “Hoover Street” comes on verse two, in which Q spits “Gangbanging was a ritual and grandma would help / should’ve never left her gun on the shelf.” After “Hoover Street”, Q switches gears for a bedroom-joint, “Studio”, featuring the vocals of BJ The Chicago Kid. Rather than focusing on shooting someone or violence, Q thinks with his pants (“See I’ve been in the studio just trying to get to you, baby / all night laying verses though I’d rather lay with you baby…”). Ultimately, it works, providing a nice change of pace from the violence and darkness of “Hoover Street”.
“Prescription/Oxymoron” proves to be an exceptional two-part track. The first part, “Prescription” is all about being on drugs. Throughout, Q alludes to addiction, epitomized by rhymes “Prescription drugs, I feel in love / my little secret, she gon’ kill a thug / my body numb, she like to give me hugs / I love her touch, I get a rush.” While the line doubles as a sexual reference cleverly, Q is clearly under the influence of drugs, not love. “Oxymoron”, the titular track, is truly an oxymoron as Q spits “I just stopped selling crack today…O-X-Y, a moron…” So he’s been addicted to drugs as well as sold drugs, which he was addicted to? That seems to be the sentiment of one of the better tracks of Oxymoron. Not sure that it is compliment worthy given the danger of drugs and demons in general…
“The Purge” is a beast, produced by and featuring Tyler, The Creator. Again, Schoolboy Q’s daughter establishes the tone: “My daddy said drown, n***a.” The significance of the line seems to be “the purge” that Schoolboy Q references within the title and song. “Coming in for yours / n***as got them choppers and they knocking at your door,” Tyler, the Creator spits on the hook. “The sirens getting louder when the bodies hit the floor / why you look confused? Mother f**ker this is war.” Schoolboy Q plays right on the maliciousness, referencing kilos, drug money, and guns. Q’s most notable moment comes during a bridge between verses: “Bust my gun all by myself / rock cocaine all by myself / poured propane all on myself / go so hard might harm myself.” Oh, and did I mention Kurupt also guests on the third verse? “The Purge” goes hard.
“Blind Threats” proceeds, but lacks the oomph that “The Purge” possessed. Sure, having Raekwon guest on any track raises it up a notch, but as a whole, “Blind Threats” is a tad less enthralling than the best. Still, “Aim that, shoot that, pledge allegiance / kill mine, kill yours, make it even / soul need saving, Mr. Preacher…” is a pretty awesome lyric. “Hell of A Night” is more ‘down to earth’ compared to edgier cuts like “Hoover Street” or “The Purge”, which makes it feel ‘looser’. It isn’t that Schoolboy Q is giving up on his street savvy, but he’s more about having some fun, popping some bottles, and “making it do” as opposed to shooting someone or selling drugs.
On penultimate cut “Break The Bank”, Q keeps things ‘street-smart’, claiming its “My time to show out, finally the illest Crip / and I guarantee, I spit harder than concrete.” He does spit pretty hard, so Schoolboy Q seems to be honest. “Man of the Year” concludes the album superbly, coming over more accessible than some of the edgiest cuts. Still, he’s not forgotten where he came from. “Fast forward getting real tell me now / every dog need a cat to meow, every once in a while,” he raps on the second verse. “I see hands in the crowds / see whites, blacks blazing a pound, jumping around…” Hey, he’s the ‘man of the year’, and by having a unified fan base coming out to see his shows, he’s really came up.
All in all, Oxymoron is a fine introduction of Schoolboy Q to many. He shares what life has been like for him before becoming an up-and-coming MC in the rap game. He’s honest, and seems to adhere to a no BS approach, which is something not all major label MCs can attest to. Still, there’s a lot of grime and brutal honesty to sort through at times, which might be something Schoolboy Q may want to better balance out on his fourth studio LP. Still, Oxymoron is well played.
“Los Awesome”; “Collard Greens”; “Prescription/Oxymoron”; “The Purge”; “Man of the Year”
Let the “Church” say yes… Corny, I know. But one of country’s rising stars, Eric Church, just continues to rise. The Outsiders gives Church his second no. 1 album, selling a healthy 288,000 copies. Sub 100K weeks are done, at least this week. How does The Outsiders’ numbers compare to the numbers that greeted Chief? Well ole boy “Doubled Up”… or nearly doubled up (145,000 copies). In a slow weak for new releases, well, Church was the bright spot. Compilations continue to do soundly though, as Frozen Soundtrack sold another 100,000 (no. 2) and Now 49 sold 77,000 copies after a no. 1 debut. From there, the numbers are only so-so. What is notable, however, is that Toni Braxton & Babyface only see a small drop in sales of Love Marriage & Divorce (it is no. 8 this week). Go figure.
On The Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry continues to rule the roost with some help from Juicy J on “Dark Horse”. However, being “Happy” definitely helps Pharrell Williams, who’s Academy Award nominated hit sits at no. 2.
As for next week’s chart impact from new releases, Candice Glover, the American Idol season 12 victor, released her debut album Music Speaks. Unfortunately, with little fanfare behind the album, who knows how well it will sale. Otherwise, unless Cole Swindell is incredibly established as a new country force, sales might underwhelm.
Another year and another Grammys ceremony has come and passed. As always, there were moments that thrilled me while others made me curse under my breath. Luckily, as a music journalist, this guy has learned how to think like the Recording Academy, hence the accuracy of many of my picks this year. Still, even being correct, you have to wonder what the Academy is thinking sometimes. Yes, I’m specifically referencing the fact that Kendrick Lamar was shut out – ridiculous! But here goes nothing examining the awards given.
The Big Four:
Record, Album and Song of the Year & Best New Artist
Honestly, “Get Lucky” had been a lock for Record of the Year all summer. Even with such a tight category, “Get Lucky” felt like the strongest candidate here. Additionally, Daft Punk’s victory in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category was a lock.
Album of the Year: Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Personally, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City would’ve been my choice for album of the year, but using Recording Academy psychology, I knew Kendrick Lamar didn’t stand a chance – NONE! So ultimately, Random Access Memories seemed the logical, safe choice for voters. It was also a great album and moved some major numbers for an electronic album. Not even Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ brand of hip-hop was going to take this one. Additionally, Daft Punk was a lock in the Best Dance/Electronica Album category.
Here, voters made the best choice in regards to impact. “Royals” was a gargantuan hit, with only “Roar” rivaling in regards to buzz. “Same Love” was a breakthrough record (same sex marriage equality, etc.), but would’ve been a stretch over the most unique record of the bunch. And as good as “Same Love” was, was it necessarily more special than P!nk’s “Just Give Me A Reason” or Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven”?
“Royals” victory in the Best Pop Performance category was also #winning; it was the most unique song/performance of the bunch.
I picked Kendrick Lamar, but honestly, I’m not too angry about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning this one. Still, Kendrick is the more valuable long-term artist in my eyes.
So the Grammy nominations just came out, and guess who is already putting his two cents in about who’s gonna win? This guy is! Yep it is technically ‘way too early’, but who cares? How about some December predictions for what’s gonna go down in January?
The Big Four
Record of the Year
“Radioactive”, Imagine Dragons
“Locked Out of Heaven”, Bruno Mars
“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell
This is one of the most competitive categories, period. All five of these are worthy records, which isn’t always true. If one feels like it’s out of place, it is Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven”, mostly because it is the ‘oldest’ of the bunch.
Both “Blurred Lines” and “Royals” are deserving of love based on their impact, but just because you ruled the Hot 100 certainly doesn’t equate to a Grammy. If one of these two wins, I’d give the edge to Lorde, who doesn’t have various controversies on her back. Still, rock would get a huge recognition if Imagine Dragons’ mammoth hit “Radioactive” was awarded here. Still, doesn’t Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” seem unavoidable here, particularly if the duo is victorious in the Album of the Year category?
Way Too Early Pick:
Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”
Album of the Year
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red, Taylor Swift
I’m not even going to curb my biases – I’m rooting for Kendrick Lamar’s rap opus Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. But I won’t even begin to act like it has a shot after hip-hop has been avoided like a plague in this coveted category; its only been a decade since OutKast’s undeniable masterpiece Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was awarded AOTY. But Kendrick also has killer competition within his own genre with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ breakthrough The Heist, which is certainly considered more ‘friendly’ hip-hop. I think both cancel each other out, which leaves Sara Bareilles, Taylor Swift, and Daft Punk. As good as Red is, Taylor Swift has already won for her career-breakthrough, Fearless. Sara Bareilles’ inclusion over bigger pop albums is shocking, but never count out the surprise nominee… sometimes that’s the album that wins. Personally, I think Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is the frontrunner.
Way Too Early Pick:
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Song of the Year
“Locked Out of Heaven” (Bruno Mars)
“Roar” (Katy Perry)
“Same Love” (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert)
Another big-time category, my goodness! All of the nominees here should be jumping for joy that “Get Lucky” wasn’t nominated in this category. Again, I’m going to eliminate “Locked Out Of Heaven”, no matter how good it is; I don’t think it’s Bruno’s year. While I love Pink and approved of “Just Give Me The Reason” (with Nate Ruess of fun.), I’m not sure the no. 1 hit is the best song of the year. If the voters want to go bold (and political), they vote for the fine “Same Love”, courtesy of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert. If they don’t, they’re left with the inspirational breakthrough “Roar” and the ubiquitous “Royals”. If Katy Perry was ever to win a Grammy, “Royals” would be the perfect song. However, that “Royals” is one unique song contrasting its fellow nominees.
Way Too Early Pick
Best New Artist
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Another category where I’m biased to one artist – Kendrick Lamar! Again though, Lamar is up against heavyweights Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Kacey Musgraves unapologetic brand of country is notable from what I heard, but I’m not sure she outpaces the huge hip-hop nominees. Ed Sheeran feels either a year late or a year early, depending on your perspective, but could certainly play spoils. James Blake’s nod is a ‘trap’ for the hip-hop favorites, amplified by his Mercury Prize victory for superb sophomore album Overgrown. I’m truly torn here, so I’ll go with who I think is most deserving, even if it doesn’t come to pass.
Way Too Early Pick