It’s been more than a decade since Quincy Hanley left the gangbanging life behind to debut as Schoolboy Q with the mixtape Schoolboy Turned Hustla. Fast-forward to today and the Los Angeles rapper is a mainstay on one of America’s most illustrious hip hop labels, Top Dawg Entertainment, an established artist with five robust studio albums under his belt—and a father.
Last week, Q made his much anticipated return with Crash Talk, a record that was delayed twice, by the untimely deaths of Mac Miller—a dear friend of Q’s—and Nipsey Hussle. In light of its release, we’ve rounded up five songs that speak to the rapper’s staying power as both serious storyteller and hedonistic party-starter.
“Rolling Stone,” featuring Black Hippy
Q’s first album was titled Setbacks in reference to the obstacles he faced in the lead-up to its release. His debut would have likely been impossible without the help of his homies in Black Hippy, the collective comprising Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Q.
“Rolling Stone” is a bonus track on Setbacks, but it’s a perfect, easy-going way to cap off an album reflecting on adversity. With its gang vocals and bouncy beat, the posse cut was no doubt a staple at college frat parties back in 2011, and it still sounds great. The rappers’ different verses meld imperceptibly, and each Black Hippy member expresses his own unique personality. As for Q, his dismissive humor comes through: After the sampled refrain of “When love runs high,” plays, he snorts, “Whatever that mean.”
“Sacrilegious” is a prime example of Q’s serious, lyrical side. The opening track of Habits & Contradictions delves into the psyche of a hardened man who kneels down to pray, knowing that he’ll be steeling himself to kill later that day. “Hell goes far as the eye can see, hoodies and weaponry / Naive to being free, locked up, we chasing keys,” Q rhymes. The way Q combines canny societal observation—“We look up to entertainers, ball players, pistol bangers”—with weighty religious metaphor compels the listener, believer or not, to seriously sit with the spiritual implications of life on the streets.
“Collard Greens,” featuring Kendrick Lamar
“Fuck these little internet dweebs. Every single I drop, don’t nobody like it. ‘Collard Greens,’ they hated it,” Q told Vulture in a recent interview. Well, not us. Q and KDot have gone toe-to-toe on numerous collabs, but none is quite as electrifying as “Collard Greens.” This Oxymoron cut is mean and lean: Every element shines, from Lamar’s bilingual, scene-stealing appearance to its elastic, instantly recognizable beat to Q’s snappy, icky-icky-icky-icky verses. It’s one of the TDE rapper’s most popular songs, and for good reason.
It’s difficult to pick one highlight from Blank Face, the sinister yet irresistible record Q dropped in 2016 to widespread acclaim. There are several outstanding cuts, from the Kanye West-assisted “That Part,” to the addictive “By Any Means” to the swaggering E-40 collab, “Dope Dealer.”
But when you find out that Q freestyled all the lyrics to “John Muir,” it becomes a shoo-in for this list. The rapper weaves an engrossing tale from fragmented anecdotes of his early life on the streets over Sounwave’s gem of a beat: a cruisy, even bluesy instrumental with tasteful horns on the soulful chorus and old-school scratching to finish. Q’s bars flow so smooth on “John Muir” that, save for a few forgivable lyrical crutches, it’s hard to believe they all came off the dome.
“Attention” wraps up Crash Talk, Q’s fifth studio album and—after the critical acclaim of Blank Face—perhaps his mostly highly anticipated. Q opens the track by openly acknowledging co-signs from the GOATs (Jay-Z, Nas, Dr Dre and Alchemist) he’s gotten over the years, citing their validation as his creative fuel: “All this love from the greats put my passion in pen.”
Q’s certainly name-dropping, but these are no “I met Kanye West, I’m never gon’ fail” boasts. Rather, he’s knee-deep in reflection, leaping immediately from those career milestones back to the tough street realities in his rear-view mirror. His rhymes flit between the hurt he caused his mother (“You know pain on my mama’s face when the opps can call me a loser / Ain’t achieve shit, her son quit sports to become a Crip”) to the sacrifices he has to make for his daughter. “Just imagine Joy[‘s] hopes if I died next morning,” he ventures.
On “Attention,” Q knows the stakes of his success all too well, as his leaden cadence and alternately hedonistic and hard-boiled chorus bears out. It’s a heavy note to end Crash Talk on, but it might also point to a turning point for the rapper. We’ll have to wait a few more years to find out what he does next.
Listen to Crash Talk here.