Fear and loathing in South Central Los Angeles. Against an orange sky Groovy Tony hurtles through the street, full throttle, in an old school Chevrolet. His round sunglasses and black fedora cast a shadow of humanity over his otherwise featureless face. The No Face Killer’s psychedelic excursion leads him off on a wild ride of prescription drug sales, debauchery and overblown action scenes that would require a Hollywood budget. At times the madness begins to numb, allowing for moments of deep thought, glimpses of a former life glimpsing out through the lucid ultra-violence.
ScHoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP is both sonically and aesthetically unique.It’s both a love letter to the hardcore street rap of the mid-2000s and a sprawling, blockbuster album crafted to be mass consumed via social media. It consolidates a position that he’s been developing for a while now, South Central’s premier gonzo journalist; Hunter S. Thompson if he’d grown up gang-banging with a soundtrack of 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Like all great writing, there’s an autobiographical element to Q’s work. “It’s a lifestyle, you know?” he explained to Crack. “It ain’t as easy as just rapping about it.”
“Your favourite rapper broke, he don’t get this paper. But claim he got a kilo, been born in ’93 though,” he spits on Black Thoughts, showing up those rappers whose laughably preposterous lyrics aren’t to be believed. Q’s brand of vivid street storytelling has him agonising over the details – dirty jeans, a shattered wing mirror, orange shoelaces, pissy sofas and Pringles litter his stanzas – painting a vivid picture of the warts-and-all West Coast gangster lifestyle that we’re fed all too often in a glamourised fast-food fashion.
From the cinematic feel of the music, to the movie-ticket shaped cover art – film has been an important influence on Q’s latest album, even moreso than his previous work. He kicked off the campaign with the Jack Begert-directed Groovy Tony video, taking place mostly in first person, and setting the pulp fiction tone of the album from the jump. In the video we’re introduced to the faceless character who adorns the album’s cover, as he goes on an after hours killing spree in a container terminal.
As one quarter of Black Hippy, arguably one of the strongest rap collectives in the game right now, it’s been vital for each member to develop their own lane or be eaten up by the success of their peers. Back in the early days, around 2010, Kendrick Lamar would bring Q on stage, paying him with exposure about $200 per show. “I was just his hypeman,” Q explained, “but he was making sure I got loved.” Without a strong sense of individuality, he could have easily been regurgitated as one of rap history’s many sidemen. But for Q, his charisma is effortless.
Between his breakthrough Setbacks mixtape and his acclaimed Habits + Contradictions album he’d evolved from snapbacks to bucket hats, and by the time he’d unleashed his debut album Oxymoron you’d be most likely to catch him rocking a fedora. He’s rescued “groovy” from 70s disco lingo to a reflection of his wavy lifestyle and scrawled his distinctive handwriting across a number of TDE releases (including Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D city and To Pimp A Butterfly).
Watching him perform live in socks, a dashiki and his staple hat and glasses, it’s clear that Q is comfortable in his own skin. He promotes individuality, but not in a try-hard sense. Q is about the details, from the hard work and grit that goes into his lyrics, to the way he capitalizes every H in his tweets to represent the Hoover Street Crips and the HiiiPoWeR frame of mind. As he continues to expand his mythology and originality on the Blank Face LP, we’re reminded of an early warning of his uncompromising stance back from Black Hippy’s remix of U.O.E.N.O back in 2013: “Gangsta nigga, no trap beats, bet I still sound like the new shit. Originality in my blueprint, still Figg side, Figure pimp.” As he continues to make music that sounds unlike any other MC in the market, this promise still stands.
Photography: Mehdi Lacoste
Set Design: Dora Miller
Styling: Luci Ellis
Styling Assistant: Leah Abbott
Blank Face is out now via Top Dawg / Interscope