At first glance, Blank Face appears messy and out of control. With 17 songs and 13 features it seemed impossible that anyone could organize all of that into a cohesive, well rounded album. Somehow Schoolboy Q and TDE have everything under control. They have packaged and delivered one of the best albums of 2016.
The album begins with the bizarre, slightly cracked-out street banger, “TorcH,” which serves as the best intro of the year. Schoolboy drops some of his toughest bars in recent memory while the irresistible Anderson .Paak can be heard at the beginning, and is presumably supplying ad-lib style background vocals. If one song could encapsulate an artist, this would be the one for Schoolboy Q due to it’s eclectic assortment of sounds and emotions.
“Lord Have Mercy” is the second, shortest and undoubtedly the most intimate song on the album. A soul sample is looped in the background as Schoolboy gets personal. “I’m a gangbanger, deadbeat father and drug dealer… Runnin’ from God’s creation,” raps Q. He seems to be torn between sticking with his old ways and pursuing different possibilities for him and his daughter.
The Kanye West-assisted “THat Part” gets the album back on an upbeat, in your face direction and creates a perfect segue into the two-part song “Groovy Tony/ Eddie Kane.” The first half of the double feature, “Groovy Tony,” features a guest verse from the OG Jada Kiss. His gravelly delivery scrapes across the beat, flirting with discord. Schoolboy is incredibly aggressive on both parts of the song, supplying a relentless barrage of rapid fire gangster rap.
A few songs later, the Ramona Park legend Vince Staples jumps in to help Schoolboy on “Ride Out.” The bass in this song is so heavy that it could crack a windshield. Staples and Q trade violent verses while reflecting on their respective hoods, a gangster ballad not for the faint of heart.
Another West Coast legend, E-40, drops by for a verse on “Dope Dealer.” E-40 dances over the Metro Boomin’ and Southside produced track with ease while Schoolboy flaunts his skills as a drug dealer extraordinaire.
The most lighthearted song on the album, “Big Body,” is an ode to big Benzes, thick women and big money. Tyler The Creator handles production and offers up a bouncy beat that is a breath of fresh air compared to the previous 10 songs.
As things begin to wind down Schoolboy once again calls on .Paak. This time for the title track. “Blank Face” begins with a sing-song verse from .Paak that lasts for over a minute, possibly the strongest guest contribution on the album. The combination of the no-holds-barred rapping from Schoolboy and the groovy singing from .Paak is like yellow mustard on potato chips – surprisingly good.
On a radio-friendly, but underwhelming note, the album nears its end with “Overtime” featuring Miguel and Justine Skye. Against Schoolboy’s wishes, the label insisted on including this song. “Tookie Knows II” is the last song and part on an ongoing song series that spans back two albums to the 2012 release of Habit’s & Contradictions. These songs don’t take anything away from the album, and likewise don’t bring anything to the table.
Blank Face is a schizophrenic arrangement of sounds that continues TDE’s winning streak. Q picks up where Oxymoron left off, albeit unconventionally. On Oxymoron there was a fine line between party anthem and introspection. Blank Face blurs that line and creates an even stronger project where one can find something new with every listen.