The line stretched for almost a full city block. Among the throngs of fans waiting to get in to see Schoolboy Q were bucket hats – a lot of bucket hats. It was almost like a show of solidarity. You couldn’t mistake the fact of who these people came to see. Yet after the headliner took the stage, you wouldn’t be faulted if you felt like he wasn’t the main attraction.
Before Schoolboy Q took the stage, the rapper’s DJ walked out brandishing a flag that bared the insignia of Top Dawg Entertainment. The crowd erupted into a raucous uproar. It was like being at a sporting event when the American flag was unfurled. It was people pledging their undying allegiance to the label that brought them Habits and Contradictions, Oxymoron as well as the seminal good kid, m.A.A.d city from Q’s label mate, Kendrick Lamar. The DJ would hype up the crowd with hits from unrelated acts like Young Thug, Rick Ross and A$AP Ferg, all of whom share the same cultural space as the Black Hippy trigger man. After the warm-up, the inspiration behind the rows of head gear took to the stage to perform “What They Want” to a thunderous greeting.
Once the crowd settled down, the rapper broke out into “Collard Greens” with the fans helping to sing the Kendrick-assisted chorus. Q then asked the audience if they had heard of Habits and Contradictions to which they enthusiastically confirmed that they had. He then launched into “Hands On the Wheel” then followed it with “The Purge” and “Blind Threats” from Oxymoron. The two aforementioned songs received a lukewarm response as the crowd just mumbled among themselves throughout the entirety. Then, the rapper interacted with the crowd about their enthusiasm over A$AP Mob during his DJ’s warm-up set. The cheers grew thunderous as he went into his guest verses on songs from the universe of A$AP Mob such as “Brand New Guy” and “Work”. He then played “Dump Dump” from A$AP Ferg’s Trap Lord album and just had the everyone sing along.
The music stopped almost suddenly after the chorus where Q took a minute to introduce “My Momma” by Future which seemed like a left turn considering that he at least worked with the previous artists. Things got even more zeitgeist when the song switched almost instantaneously into YG’s “Bicken Back Bein’ Bool”. For a moment, I had to catch myself. I felt like the guy who everyone came to see had turned into a hype man for all of his contemporaries rather than a performer of his own material.
The interlude ended abruptly with an origin story about his famous “YAWK YAWK YAWK” on Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d city”. This led itself naturally into the song with the rapper’s only performance being the intro; the crowd hyper actively performed the rest. The remainder of the concert was more material from his sophomore effort. “Studio”, “Break the Bank” and “Man of the Year” followed in succession with “Man of the Year” being the official bookend to the show.
The performance was my first in-person glimpse at a collective’s effort to push one of their burgeoning acts to rap super stardom. In TDE’s case, Q is the next in-line to become the outfit’s Next Big Thing. But, it didn’t feel like he could hold a stage on his own. While everyone in attendance was certainly responsive to much of his material, it felt like Q was too indebted to the people who helped make this album and, subsequently, this tour a possibility. Though he proclaimed Oxymoron was number one, it didn’t feel like it. It was as if the shadow of both Kendrick and A$AP Mob were cast over the entirety of his set. Even the guy who is following the same trajectory as him in his own collective – A$AP Ferg – had more of a stage presence than him.
The experience overall was great and Q was able to keep the audience engaged through almost the entirety but it was at the expense of his own material. It didn’t feel like he wanted to force anything on anyone. It felt very safe. It was all the hits (his own and otherwise) with his burners being showcased for all of five minutes. Maybe that comes from his humility which was showcased at great length rather than the gruff, in your face persona that is exerted on all of his records. “Y’all pay for my tour bus, my food, my rent, everything,” Q told the sold out room at Amos’. It was fan service but it was on behalf of other artists. The strongest thing he did service of himself was flip the script on his admiring imitators by wearing a fedora rather than the signature bucket hat.
On the way out of the venue, there were promoters handing out flyers for an upcoming gig. “EARL SWEATSHIRT,” they screamed. I could not help but think of the similarities between Earl Sweatshirt and Schoolboy Q as well as their place within their respective crews. While Tyler, the Creator may be the loudest and most recognizable name out of Odd Future, Earl has established himself as the most talented with a personality that has separated him from the kingmaker of his crew. Earl has made himself a different flavor that doesn’t bask in the glow of Tyler’s schizophrenic personalities. Schoolboy Q possesses a more straight forward approach than his conceptually minded counterpart who is synonymous with TDE. Unfortunately for Q, this directness did not translate in his live performance. You’re instead treated to a guy who performs as if he’s still hiding in the background.