In Praise of ScHoolboy Q, Top Dawg Entertainment’s Secret Weapon

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We’ve all seen the photo, that snapshot which captured LA’s gangsta rap dynasty at the peak of its globe-spanning powers. All emanating from the California area, it was Vibe Magazine’s 1996 cover shoot with Death Row Records which gave way to that foreboding image of 2pac, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, and the label’s iron-fisted kingpin Suge Knight clad in black save for the trappings of success that adorned their necks and wrists, all perched comfortably at the apex of the rap game as a united front. With the benefit of hindsight; it was clear even then that the seemingly impenetrable, life-long allegiance to ‘Tha Row’ had already begun to capsize under the weight of friction between Suge and his artists, alongside his stubbornness to separate the company’s business dealings from its ties to the criminal element. After little more than a few years of uninhibited dominance, the label that had once seemed predestined to become a permanent fixture on hip-hop’s landscape instead became an allegory for how not to maneuver in the rap game.

Founded on a set of principles that are inalienable to those which Suge and company operated with, today’s leading proponent of LA-centric sounds is undoubtedly Anthony Tiffith’s Top Dawg Entertainment. refuted any haphazard comparisons between the two on the grounds that today’s Californian exports are informed by a pacifistic and level-headed approach. That aside, there is another crucial factor which separates the two beyond just a difference in ethos, and it’s one that has threatened to infringe upon the progress of its artists. When you think of Death Row’s alumni, the mind is instantly drawn right back to that stark cover shoot that has become the lasting commemoration of their golden era. Although intermingled on record and, in Snoop’s case, brought to the fore by Dre, the commonly held perception is that both artists behind such G-funk classics as “Nothin’ But a G Thang” and “Gin and Juice” were on level pegging in acclaim and stature as the dichotomous street prophet that was Tupac Shakur when they stood side by side for the photographers.

For the core contingent of artists that is synonymous with TDE in Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock, there is far more of a pronounced disparity in terms of how the mainstream consciousness views them that has led to three of them being routinely considered as creatively and commercially inferior to the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Kung Fu Kenny.’

Collectively known as Black Hippy, it is these MC’s that implanted the TDE acronym into the cultural vernacular as a unit and formulated label figurehead Tiffith’s reputation as a man with an innate ear for talent after he recruited this all-star team between the years of 2005 to 2009. To this day, there is always an air of palpable excitement whenever this quartet of MC’s jump on a track together, be it on an album’s lead single such as Jay Rock’s “Vice City” or a supplementary remix such as ScHoolboy Q’s “That Part (Remix),” but this rapturous response has never translated to them being viewed on an even keel. Save for the transcendence of SZA and her 2017 R&B opus CTRL, the presence of Kendrick in their midst has been paradoxical in nature due to being both a positive attribute and a hindrance for his comrades. While a factor ever since the emergence of his seminal Interscope debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, this overarching issue has seldom reared its head as profoundly as when Isaiah Rashad recently took to Instagram to elaborate on what’s coming down the pipeline from the TDE camp.

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