There are multiple levels of meaning in the title of the latest album, “Oxymoron,” by Los Angeles rapper Schoolboy Q, who plays the Showbox SoDo Monday, April 14. (Note the show has been moved from the Showbox downtown.)
First, there’s its multifaceted sound: The beats meander from sneering, hard-knocking West-Coast opener “Gangsta” to bouncing, dub-reggae single “Collard Greens” to thumping-808 trap-house anthem “Hell Of A Night” to the blog-friendly, indie-sampling “Man Of the Year.”
The lyrics jump around from chest-puffing, set-repping machismo to startlingly honest retellings of an upbringing that left him with few other options than to join his neighborhood’s Hoover Crip gang. There are also carefree, hedonistic tales of his current post-gang, post-jail-stint success as an artist (“Smokin weed and drinkin’/All the college students lovin’ Q”).
“Oxymoron,” as it suggests, juxtaposes these apparently contradictory elements into something that defies convention or genre, something that Schoolboy Q has excelled at since his releases “Setbacks” and “Habits & Contradictions.”
But this title takes on a completely new meaning by the album’s seventh track, the seven-minute “Prescription/Oxymoron.” Its first half is a confession touching on Q’s past prescription pill addiction, made heartbreakingly real when his baby daughter’s voice enters the track, begging him to “wake up” from a drug-induced coma.
Its second half jumps ahead a few years, when the rapper was deeply involved in a drug ring, trafficking huge amounts of Oxycontin from his hometown to, strangely enough, Seattle. As Q told the L.A. Weekly just months ago, his Oxycontin-selling career ended after he was stranded in Seattle because his local liaison went to jail. This prompted him to sell off his stash, give up the drug trade, and move back to L.A. to try to start his rap career, which ended up being his escape from street life.
One of the Oxymoron tour’s opening acts, Vince Staples, is another young voice from L.A., the birthplace of gangsta rap, whose music is much more complex than it seems at first listen. His recently released “Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2” features a freshly upbeat, pitched-up flow. This is in direct contrast to his previous, laid-back drawl, which dates from his first appearances on Odd Future mixtapes.
Unseasoned listeners might only hear tired rap tropes about selling drugs and toting guns, but those really paying attention can’t miss the commentary and deeper musings about deep-seated societal and institutional reasons behind these prevalent ‘hood conditions.
“Just sit back and look at where they raised us at,” he says on album opener “Progressive 3.” “Seen black, same crack, so they gave us that/Give us hope, then take us back/To the 1800s with these rap contracts/And they wonder why [people] get shot, coke sit in the pot/He can’t get no job so he hittin’ the block.”
This is the sound of new Los Angeles rap – still rooted in the inescapable gangsta ideals of old, but fully aware of the bigger picture behind this brand of systematic oppression.
8 p.m. Monday, April 14 at Showbox SoDo, 1700 1st Ave. South, Seattle; sold out (206-652-0444 or showboxonline.com)