Best in class

School­boy Q’s hard-knocks life may be over, but he has turned what he learned into a great al­bum. Jim Car­roll gets a les­son from the Los Angeles rap­per

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Here comes the man. It may have taken School­boy Q, the rap­per born Quincy Han­ley on an army base in Ger­many, a long time to reach this point in the game but he has no in­ten­tion of slip­ping out of view any time soon. This is what he does now. On the back of a well-re­ceived ma­jor la­bel de­but al­bum, Oxymo

ron, which came fast on the heels of a brace of fine mix-tapes that formed part of his ap­pren­tice­ship, Han­ley is sit­ting pretty. As gritty hip-hop al­bums go, Oxy

mo­ron is quite re­mark­able. There’s a size­able co­terie of pro­duc­ers and rap­pers around to give him a dig out – in­clud­ing Phar­rrell, Ken­drick La­mar, Tyler the Cre­ator, The Al­chemist, Raek­won and 2 Chainz – but Han­ley is the man push­ing this one up the hill. The real rum­ble is pro­vided by his keen eye for de­tail and de­scrip­tion and the re­sult­ing dis­tinc­tive verses. Be­neath the gangsta rubric writ large through­out Oxy­moron are su­perb tales about the hard-knocks of the never-end­ing street hus­sle.

The al­bum, Han­ley says, is the story of his life to this point. “It’s a dark al­bum be­cause that’s the way things were for me, man. Ev­ery­thing’s bright now, but my past was a dif­fer­ent story. It’s about me as a per­son and be­ing hon­est about who I am and who I was and my story and the stuff I saw when I was com­ing up.”

In­deed, it’s fair to say that be­com­ing a rap star is Han­ley’s sec­ond act. Be­fore he went any­where near a mi­cro­phone, he had al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced life on both sides of the tracks.

“Be­fore I was 21, I’d done a whole lot of shit. I’d been an ath­lete, a gang mem­ber, a drug dealer and I worked a job at the rail­road. I was a kid liv­ing on the for­tu­nate side when my mother was do­ing well and I hus­tled be­cause my homies were hus­tling and then I ended up hav­ing to hus­tle to sur­vive. And then, I started rap­ping.”

Rap­ping as sal­va­tion is a com­mon hip-hop meme: young­sters swap a life on the streets for a life in the stu­dio. In Han­ley’s case, rap was al­ways there in the back­ground. He re­mem­bers lis­ten­ing to acts such as Nas and Jay Z on the bus to school.

When he ar­rived at school, he found him­self learn­ing “noth­ing that mat­tered. I needed to know how to sur­vive the day-to-day, not about some his­tory thing.” He’d hear more sense when he stuck his head­phones on.

But grab­bing the mi­cro­phone him­self and spit­ting some bars? Nah, not for him in those days. “I know, it’s crazy, right? But I never thought about rap­ping. It wasn’t, you know, my thing. I had my favourites like Nas and 50 Cent – he changed my way of think­ing about mu­sic be­cause he was so de­tailed. I knew that life­style that he was talk­ing about and I knew he was for real. He’s like one of my big­gest in­spi­ra­tions to do rap. I re­late to him a lot in his mu­sic. That was real, that had sub­stance – it wasn’t soft.

“It was only when I got out of jail and was on house ar­rest that I grabbed a pen and started writ­ing and rap­ping. I was sit­ting around not know­ing what to do. Then I saw the Beef DVD and 50 was, like, ‘If you’re a felon who just got out of jail and you don’t know what to do nigga, rap’. That was it for me, swear to God.”

He proved to be a quick learner, the rap­per who ini­tially went about his busi­ness as Q Mac Miz­zle. His rap­ping skills at­tracted at­ten­tion from Top Dawg En­ter­tain­ment, the rap­ping start-up al­ready fea­tur­ing Ken­drick La­mar, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock. Sud­denly, Han­ley found him­self in good com­pany.

“I was Ken­drick’s hy­pe­man at the start,” he re­mem­bers of those days learn­ing the ropes. “I saw him go from hav­ing a hand­ful of people at a show to hun­dreds to sold out. That was a mo­ti­va­tion for me, watch­ing him go on and on like that. Now, he’s like a pop star and I want to get up to that next level too.”

But when he started out, there were some is­sues that had to be sorted. Han­ley was sell­ing pre­scrip­tion pills on the street and deal­ing with his own ad­dic­tion prob­lems at the same time. As he out­lines on

Pre­scrip­tion/Oxy­moron on the al­bum, this was some­thing that went for on for a while.

“I was sell­ing pills, so pills were al­ways around, so one day I took one to go to sleep and that was it. It was over from there. I was ad­dicted for like two years, and I didn’t tell any­body. No­body knew. I just stopped one day. One day, I woke up, didn’t have any pills, didn’t go get any more. Just stopped like that.”

These days, Han­ley prefers to talk about his ex­pe­ri­ences on the street, rather than add to them. “I’m not re­ally a gang­ster any more. I’m a gang­ster rap­per. I’m just telling a story now. I’m rap­ping about what hap­pened in the past so it’s easy. It’s my life and what I saw so I’ve lived that. I don’t need to any more of that. I just want to work now.”

He stresses too that there’s a lot more to come, as the full School­boy Q story is far from told. “I kept some back, man. You don’t give it all away first time out. I didn’t want to tell you all ev­ery­thing and then have noth­ing to show when you come back around for more. The next al­bum will have more.”

Oxy­moron is out now. School­boy Q plays Dublin’s Vicar St on May 27th

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