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Interview: Schoolboy Q

photographer Geordie Wood

Last week, Schoolboy Q stopped over in support of his upcoming third LP, Oxymoron, due out next fall. After dumping the contents of his kangaroo pocket on our conference table, he talked about copying Kendrick, his daughter's new tutu and the moment during rap shows when white people decide whether or not to say the n-word.

When we talked last Thanksgiving, you said you'd started then stopped recording songs for your upcoming album. What happened? I stopped recording for about two months to gather my thoughts and see how I was gonna attack the album. At first I was going a little too party. Then I started going too story. I was almost trying to make an album like Kendrick’s. I was basically just copying for a minute. That was a classic album, but that’s not me. It wasn’t tight. I was reaching. That’s what comes with making an ill album, though. You try so many things. Now, I’ve finally got the right perfect mixture. At this point, I’m making sure everything is put together and sounds complete. Not just putting the tight songs in there, but making sure songs flow together, adding two bars, an ad lib, another hook.

Of the five core traits of rap star success outlined by TDE founder Top Dawg—studio charisma, substance, lyrics, uniqueness and work ethic—in which do you excel most? Charisma, that’s my strong point. Me and beats, we have so much fun. My personality was always good, but with music I had to grow into it. I grew into who I am now. When I started rapping I thought it was alright, but like, Why I ain’t signed? Why I ain’t got an album out? When I go back and listen to old stuff, I can see why. I got lyrics, too. A lot of people be trying to kill me about my lyrics, but I’ll rap circles around their favorite rapper right now.

Why'd you title your next record Oxymoron? Oxymoron connects to my other albums: Setbacks and Habits & Contradictions. They’re basically all the same title, damn near mean the same thing: We’re living or dying. We’re already dead, the living dead. So do what you gotta do. Take care of your family, of yourself as a whole, and everything will be alright. People are so worried about the next person. That's what’s fucking the world up, jealousy and anger. If people would worry about their own shit, everything would be aight. We probably wouldn’t need a president.

How do you make sure you're taking care of yourself? My attitude. I’m a real stubborn person. I’m still humble, not too cocky, but I’m big headed and shit. I know what I wanna do and I know how I wanna do it and I know what needs to be done. Especially when you become an artist. Working, you’re away from home for so much time. You really see what the use of time means to you once you’re an artist and you travel so much. you go this week without seeing your daughter, the next thing you know it’s been two months and you haven’t seen your kid, you’re just sending money. It takes things like that to find yourself. I complained so much to where I am with music, but now that I’m here I still complain so much. I hate the business part of music. Music is just like the streets. There’s loyal and disloyal people, people saying one thing and then don’t do it. The streets helps you a lot in music, cause it let’s you know that you can’t trust nobody and that nobody’s gonna wait for you. You can’t just sit there with dope in your pocket and think that people are gonna come to you. You gotta put the product out there.

How has fatherhood impacted your life? I cut out a lot of shit I used to do, and I won’t do certain stuff on camera cause I know later on my daughter’s gonna see that. I don’t bring girls around my baby. My daughter already plays baseball, she gets on the court and dribbles the basketball. She’s doing ballerina now, that’s her new shit right now. She got the tutu. She’s learning sign language, can tell you the ABCs, colors, can count to 20 in Spanish at four years old. She’s too much.

Who watches her while you’re away? Her mom, her other grandmother, my mom. My mom is just like my grandma was to me with my daughter: too nice, no whoopings, let’s my daughter get away with hell. I used to sneak out the house when my mom went to work, cause my momma wouldn’t play that shit. But if my grandma was in the house, I’d just walk out the door. Grandma loves you. She don’t give a fuck, her old ass. You could tell her anything.

Before doing rap seriously, you played college football. Had you planned to go pro? Yeah, I wanted to. My last football game was 2007, that’s not too far from now. I miss it every time I watch the 49ers. My friend brought me to a Niners game the other day. It was my first time on the field, standing next to the players. I saw one guy about my size, he didn’t have no neck. Seeing those guys made me kinda happy I didn’t go pro. I wasn't ready yet.

Was it difficult to adjust to TDE’s studio rat lifestyle, as the last of the four to enter the fold? At first I didn’t fuck with them niggas. I made them niggas convert to me. I made Jay Rock and Ab-Soul eat my dust. Then they became my homies, my brothers. I think I brought the character out in them. It’s cool for them to laugh in an interview now; I brought that. Just like Kendrick, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock brought me into rapping. I started rapping late. I was 21 when I wrote my first full song. I’m 26 now. If I was with some other rappers who aren't as polished, or I was the only rapper, I don’t think I would be where I’m at right now, nor would I be rapping. They pushed me, we pushed each other on every record. From 2008 till now. When Ab-Soul plays a record for me, I’m not about to listen to it and go record some bullshit. I have to record something better. That’s what keeps me humble, because I know these niggas are on my ass. How can I not be humble after Kendrick dropped good kid, M.A.A.D. City?

You praised an article about your recent FADER FORT performance, which considered white people singing along when you rap the n-word. Do you think it's okay for white people to say the n-word at rap shows? I’m not saying white people should just walk around like, “Aww my nigga.” But white people come to my shows, they’re the reason I can wear these nice clothes. They’re the reason my daughter’s straight. So yea, you can say nigga in my concert. It’s not meant in that way, we’re in here having fun, we’re chilling. As much as people have abused the word and where it really comes from, that shit can also bring people together. At my shows, black people see the white people be scared to say nigga, then I tell them to say it. Then they're all in the crowd together and I get in the crowd with them, and I’m a nigga. I usually let people know it’s cool to say before my last two songs, and it makes my last two records electrifying. I see it. Everybody’s excited, they’re happy, like, This nigga’s a down to earth nigga. That’s TDE: fuck your ethnicity. We’re not black, we’re not white, we’re not Asian. We’re just people here listening to music. You can say nigga in front of me, I don’t care.

You and past tourmate Danny Brown seem to have cultivated a genuine friendship. What do you like about him? Danny Brown is probably my favorite artist. His music don’t sound like nobody else's. People say he’s like ODB, but him and ODB are nothing alike besides looking weird. The shit he says, I wanna say. A lot of shit now I hold back, cause I’m dealing with Interscope.

Early last year, Ab-Soul called you the best dressed dude in Black Hippy. But it seems like Kendrick's pretty into shopping these days. Naw, nobody’s fresher than me. None of my shit is in the mall, my drawers is $50. I can afford nice things. I didn’t just jump into fashion when I first started getting money, though. You gotta graduate. You can’t just go from the Asics to the Yeezys. I went through elementary, junior high, now I’m in college. When I graduate I’m gonna throw that suit on, take the bucket hat off, come with the bald head or something.

Has Kendrick become more interested in looking polished? I seen him change a whole lot. He’s too rich now. He shits on me every time he sees me. Y’all get the humble Kendrick. He’s my brother, he’s my homie, so I get the other Kendrick. He shows me his checks. It’ll be a million dollar check. He shows me his Rolex like, “Yo, you gotta get you one of these, this kind. Oh here, hold this.” I love that shit. It gives me drive. I made a lot of money last year, but I didn’t make half of what Kendrick made. I want it all. I want the fame, I want the ill shit, I want the clothes, I want the money, I want the fresh daughter, I want the Grammy, I want the whole shit. They say Kendrick’s the number one MC? I want that too. I don’t wanna be number two.

Interview: Schoolboy Q