Going Back to School
What: Schoolboy Q
When: 9 p.m., Feb. 18
Where: Varsity Theater, 1308 Fourth St. SE
Influential tastemaker and hipster-bible music website Pitchfork Media gave Los Angeles native Schoolboy Q’s most recent mixtape “Habits & Contradictions” the coveted title of “Best New Music” about three weeks ago. For an indie rock band, this might be considered a huge breakthrough to a new level of fame and success.
But if you were to mention their review, which claims that he and his group Black Hippy are “reinventing West Coast hip-hop,” Schoolboy Q, born Quincy Matthew Hanley, probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about.
“I stay away from the talk and stuff,” Hanley said. “Now everybody’s starting to listen to me and know me a little better, but I’m just here in the studio. I don’t hear a lot of what people say.”
That is not to say that he doesn’t agree with the praise though.
“Keeping it real, we’re making the best [expletive] out right now,” Hanley said. “Most of the time West Coast rap is just bootlegged Dr. Dre beats and people trying too hard to be gangsta. We’re doing something different, and people like that. We’re selling records independently, but we still sell out shows faster than most major artists.”
This independent spirit can be felt all over “Habits & Contradictions,” and Hanley will bring it to the Varsity Theater this Saturday. It uses samples from indie stalwarts like Portishead and Menomena and has guest verses from fellow recent-breakthrough rappers like A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar. He also recently recorded a track with experimental producer Flying Lotus.
Still, these independent minded choices have not kept him from receiving major attention. He recently spent time in the studio with 50 Cent and Dr. Dre.
“It was cool. We were just talking,” Hanley said. “We didn’t work on anything, but 50 told me he wanted to in the future.”
He has risen fast in the past two years, and for anybody, backlash will accompany the success, but only to a certain extent.
“I get comments from people trying to knock me on my music, but they know I’m good,” Hanley said. “I don’t even hear it. People talk about Jay-Z that way too, but they still know he’s the best ever.”
Despite his West Coast roots, Hanley cites New York rappers like Jay-Z, Nas and Notorious B.I.G. as his greatest influences.
“I was weird when I was younger. I just wanted to be different. Just trying to listen to something else,” Hanley said. “That’s how I picked up on East Coast hip-hop.”
That does not mean he is suffering an identity crisis or anything, though.
“I definitely am a West Coast rapper,” Hanley said. “One of my favorite albums is Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle”. I just responded to New York stuff a little more.”
Hanley remembers well what his favorite music was growing up and the effect it had on him. So he knows how his raps affect his listeners too.
“It’s something I’ve always thought about, because rappers are always influencing people,” Hanley said. “Rappers are the reason I smoke and drink like I do. Rappers are the reason I did everything.”
There is a sense of this in his music. Even as he raps about a life of crime and debauchery, as many rappers do, his mixtape titles, “Setbacks” and “Habits & Contradictions,” give the impression that he disapproves of what he does even as he does it.
“The mixtapes and their titles are connected,” Hanley said. “My habits are the reasons I have setbacks.”
This is never explicitly stated in any song or lyric, though. And that’s not a coincidence.
“I’m not trying to save hip-hop. I’m just doing me,” Hanley said. “I never think about those types of things when I try to create. It just happens naturally.”
Letting things come naturally works well for him at the moment. Buzz around Hanley and his music is growing so rapidly he doesn’t even seem to realize it.
“Are people amped up there for the show?” Hanley asked.
If he keeps up at the pace he’s going, the answer to that question will be obvious, no matter where he is performing.