Schoolboy Q is not cautious. His Interscope debut, Oxymoron, came out last month to a warm critical reception and the number one spot on Billboard, and Q didn’t get there by second-guessing himself. TDE’s Figueroa-bred id spends much of the album frantically and emphatically exploring his own psyche and how it was shaped by an upbringing fraught with drugs and crime. It’s a thorough, balanced recollection. As DJ Dahi explains, “it shows you why Q is who he is, but there’s an honesty about the life—it’s not something that should be celebrated”.
Q’s relentless pace is matched only by that of the production. Smartly resisting the urge to lean on more established, old-guard producers, Q employs a host of new names, up-and-comers, and next big things to flesh out his vision. We spoke to four of them about their contributions to Oxymoron, their relationships with Q, and their careers at large.
"Hell of a Night”
How did “Hell of a Night” come about?
I started working with TDE during the recording of Q’s second album, Habits & Contradictions. I gave him the “Sexting” beat, and then from there, we kind of stayed in a relationship with him and Kendrick and everything. What happened was, I was working on some stuff that had more of a dance sound, but still had a rap track type of taste. From there, I was just like ‘let me track some ideas’. I sent it to my manager, Brock. [Eventually] Q heard this and was like ‘what’s this?’ Probably a day or two later, Brock told me Q wanted me to go to the studio. I heard what Q did, and it was really dope. It’s an energy record, a different type of track. It’s got a dance, pop type of hook, you know.
Well, the interesting thing about lots of songs, especially Oxymoron, is that instead of having token songs—one for the girls, one for the clubs—“Hell of a Night” mixes a lot of those elements.
It’s a combination of both. When I make records, I’ll make stuff that has some similarities to what’s popular, but I always would put my own twist on it. I never really make the same beat. I’ll make one, and then switch to something else.
One thing I’ll say about Q is that he’s an artist who can make big records. He can appeal to a larger audience and just have energy records. He didn’t say ‘this has to be this type of record or that type of record’, he just did it. It’s one of the most commercial records on the album, but it’s really not. It’s a song white people are gonna love. [laughs] It’s got that bop, it’s got that feel, it’s got the fist pump. But it’s almost like two records, because the hook is different from the verses. It’s like, two different genres meshing together, but it makes sense—which is happening a lot in music.
You’ve had two other huge records in the last year and a half: “Money Trees” and “Worst Behavior.
“Money Trees” was great. I would have never imagined what [Kendrick] did to the record when I first made the beat. He did this whole, you know, Outkast mixed with West coast thing, and it was a kind of record that I hadn’t really heard. I can call good kid, m.A.A.d. city a classic now, because when Kendrick came in, he shifted the culture. It was cool to be a part of it. It had an impact of everybody’s lives.
Drake, the majority of the world considers him that dude. From a general standpoint, he’s made a huge impact. So to have a record done with him—and to have it be one of the biggest ones—is dope. Especially considering he doesn’t work with a ton of outside producers, a lot of it is just with 40. Again, you just make a record, someone does something to it, and it becomes a song. He told me ‘that’s one of the best beats I’ve ever heard.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever make a beat like that again; my whole goal is that every time I make something, it surprises people.
How were you introduced to the other Digi Phonics members? How did the creative relationship feel at first?
Well, I already knew Sounwave through a mutual friend who was a local artist, and I knew Taebeast through the homie Curtiss King. As far as our creative vibes, they were always good. We joke around with each other a lot. Plus we respected each other's styles—we all feel that each other are monsters so the chemistry came naturally.
What was your first interaction with Q?
When I met Q, a lot of producers was sleeping on him and wouldn't give him no A1 joints, and I remember him playing me a joint where the beat was subpar as hell but he made a dope record out of it. That's how I knew that nigga was nice. Q was humble.
What's the process like with the TDE guys, and how does it differ from member to member?
From working with them for so long I just know what each of them want to hear from me. It switches up with Kendrick sometimes because his creativity is crazy. But on the average I know what sound they each want out of me, so when I make joints that I think they would kill I just send them. But sometimes Jay Rock likes to have the producer there [in the studio].
How did “Oxymoron” come about?
Simple, I did the beat for "Oxymoron" Q recorded it. Didn't know he titled it after the album, though. Just always heard from Sounwave and some of the other homies, like CMLA, that he recorded a banger to one of my joints. Sounwave produced the "Prescription" part of the record. They were two different records at first. At what point did they decide to make it one whole composition? I don't know. But it was a genius move regardless.
What's your overall impression of the album?
I love it. I think it's a classic record. No biases involved. I just hate how niggas be trying to compare it to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Q’s project has its own aura. You can't possibly compare those two albums. Both classics in their own right. But that's like comparing It Was Written to 36 Chambers. It's two different waves. Both equally ill, though. Not to mention, I love dark music and his whole album is dark.
What's next for you personally?
More placements with and without TDE artists and more instrumental projects. But right now I'm working on getting a couple dates in Japan to perform live beat sets. Working with a new artist from the Inland Empire named Mickey Taelor and a couple of other up and coming acts like Raven Sorvino, my boy Vito out of NYC, a new kid named DNiro, and a couple of other artists.
What was it like to hear that Raekwon was going to be on your record? What was the first Wu-Tang record you got into growing up?
It was an amazing and surreal feeling…I didn’t even believe it when I first heard about it. The first Wu album was 36 Chambers. Amazing album!
What are your overall feelings on Oxymoron?
It’s a great album that really gives you a real insight into the mind of Q and i think its a real personal record.
How would you describe your relationship with Q and the rest of TDE?
I’m cool with Q, every time we see each other it’s all love and it’s love with everyone else, too. As far as creativity, those guys are like a creative boot camp…it’s no joke over there. They take what they do very seriously.
What was the scene like in Toronto when you were coming up? How has it changed now?
I feel like I’m still coming up. [laughs] But I feel like now there's a lot more unity between all of the artists doing stuff and everyone's got everyone's back.
What are your creative goals for the next year or so?
Just put out more music, whether production or emceeing. I just want to make people happy through my music.
How did you meet Q?
It’s crazy, because the first time I met Q, I was assisting with David Banner, Kendrick, and Q at Conway. Q was so quiet. I just thought about this the other day—he would dip off to the corner, and it would just be me, David Banner, and Kendrick. I had always been a fan, I just didn’t know how to approach it. Time passed, he got more poppin’, and I went into my managers office. They asked if I had anything for Q, and I was like ‘absolutely’. He texted me the next day and told me ‘hey, bro, I fuck with all of these records’. I actually didn’t see him again until he had something in LA recently, and he came right over to me and thanked me. I said ‘man, you don’t know how humbled I am’. He’s a great guy, man.
As for “Studio” itself, it’s a personal song, it’s intimate—but it’s still a banger.
With every beat that I make, I want to tell a story. Whether it’s a street song or a club banger, I want it to put a picture in your head. Q did exactly what I was already thinking: dark, but still smooth and fun. I wanted to keep it as open as possible. The way he rapped on it, I don’t think anybody could have did it any better than that. He did it exactly how I thought in my head when I made the beat.
You’re in a position now where you have some freedom. What do you look for when a rapper approaches you to work?
Well, for the last few years, I really wanted to just give people me. Every time we go to a studio session, A&Rs will be like ‘give me a beat that sounds like this producer’. But I want to give people me, and then next time I come through you want exactly what I gave you last time. [For example] with Kevin Gates, his A&Rs actually asked me for something completely different, but I didn’t feel like sitting down and crafting something that didn’t sound like me. I felt like I could give him something that was just a straight banger. [Swiff did “Paper Chasers” off of The Luca Brasi Story.]
What’s the next thing for you?
Everybody—not everybody, but everybody who’s on—has, like, a two-year slot where they can just get anything off. They’re the man at that given moment. I’ve seen my man Hit-Boy do it, I’ve seen Mike Will do it. I’m trying to take those steps to where I can be that next person. But more importantly, I want to not stop with that two-year slot. I want to do it like Timbaland and them, I want to be able to bring new stuff to the game for as long as I can.
The thing that producers like Timbaland can do is give a single big, distinctive joint, but they can also craft a full album.
Absolutely, man. People who know me, they know I don’t just have one sound. I’m so driven to the point where, if there’s something we need done, I’ll make sure it gets done and sounds like a Swiff D joint that’s perfect. I had the opportunity to do a whole Pac Div album that didn’t eventually come out, but that would have been my joint to introduce myself. I’m one of those guys who can give you a full album of just quality music.
All photos courtesy of Christopher Parsons.