Music

ScHoolboy Q: 'I Call Myself All-American'

NPR | Feb. 28, 2014 12:21 p.m.

Contributed By:

Frannie Kelley, Ali Shaheed Muhammad

ScHoolboy Q onstage at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City two days before his major label debut dropped.

ScHoolboy Q onstage at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City two days before his major label debut dropped.

Polina Yamshchikov for NPR

The Los Angeles rapper has lived a lot of life in his 27 years. “I call myself All-American,” he says. “I done been an athlete, a gang member, drug dealer. I done been a kid that was kind of living on the fortunate side when my mama was starting to do good, and I was hustling just to hustle because, dude, my homies was doing it, you get what I’m saying? But then I ended up actually really needing to hustle. And out of all that s—- I done did, I had a job — worked a job for two years. I worked at the railroad. Go to jail, get a strike. All this s—- happened before I was even 21.” And then he started rapping.

ScHoolboy Q has released two mixtapes and, just this week, his major label debut — but he says he’s got two more albums all planned out. As a part of Top Dawg Entertainment, the company that gave rise to critical phenom Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q has played the role of the hard-boiled cut up. With Oxymoron, he says he wanted to make “a gangster rap L.A. dark album from a good student’s point of view.” When we sat down with him, the night before he performed brand new songs from the album, he spoke thoughtfully about addiction (his own and his uncle’s), why he used to think rappers were fake and how he grew up.iano

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up?

FRANNIE KELLEY: Thank you for coming.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Chilly chill, you know. I just got through smoking some weed. I don’t know if I can say that, but, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: You can say whatever you like.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Alright, cool.

MUHAMMAD: The aroma was in the air.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Oh, I thought I was being low-key.

MUHAMMAD: You brought the breeze in. I was like, that’s familiar. We’re happy to have you here.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Oh, yeah. Thank you, man, for having me. I never really have days off like so I was always expecting to do something today, even though I just found out I got a 700-people show tomorrow. That’s like a real show tomorrow so I gotta turn up, you know what I mean? I gotta get some rest tonight.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, absolutely. People anticipating this new album, you.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, it took me two years to make this s—-. It’s a real dark album, like real dark.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, we were talking about that. Compared to, you know, Setbacks and Habits[& Contradictions], it’s real sinister. Straight from the top it’s like, “Gangsta, gangsta, gangsta.”

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: You just like ripped the lid off and it’s just like —

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah. I put every part of my life in that. For example, a song like “Hoover Street” is — I’ll say, “I done jumped up off my a— / Hit the lick and barely pass but I quickly got to ballin’ / 2012 ain’t really happen, so I guess it’s back to trappin’, eyes open night to morning / Had roaches in my cereal, my uncle stole my stereo / My grandma can’t control him.”

MUHAMMAD: I was wondering about that, especially because it’s been — the last record was —

SCHOOLBOY Q: Habits & Contradictions.

MUHAMMAD: Which was in 2012, right?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Right. So when I heard that line, it made me real curious.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, I really grew up in the ghetto, where roaches like, you know — I’m pretty sure you probably had that problem, too. You pour the cereal in the bowl and you see a roach crawling in it like, “Ah! I can’t eat that!” You know what I’m saying? “That’s over with.” My uncle, which was my grandmother’s son, of course, he used to — he was a crack addict. He used to steal my bike, stereo, video game. My mom used to always lock the door. We had a key cause we was all living in the same house. We was poor, basically, at that time. We used to lock our door cause my uncle would come in and steal s—-, you know what I mean?

MUHAMMAD: That’s like —

SCHOOLBOY Q: He stole my grandmother’s dog. Like, how you steal a dog?

MUHAMMAD: How old were you?

SCHOOLBOY Q: When we were that poor, I was like, eight. But my mom, she got her stuff back together. She wasn’t on drugs or nothing but she was laid off from work, or something like that, then they brought her back.

MUHAMMAD: What does that feel — do you really remember everything that you were feeling outside of just the experience of seeing the dog being stolen? The overall feeling? If you forget to lock something, how that disrupts —

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, my mom will whoop my a—. We had regular locks though, you know, the little locks.

KELLEY: Padlocks?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah. Like if I walked out I couldn’t get back in the room until mama got back. But I had to lock the door, no matter what, if I left, you get what I’m saying?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah.

SCHOOLBOY Q: I used to lock the thing or whatever. Sometime he would break it. Like it would be literally broke off — the latch.

MUHAMMAD: What’s your relationship with him now?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I haven’t seen him in years. Since I was at least 18. I’m 27 now. I mean, he’s somewhere around. He was one of those dudes that was a real black sheep of the family, like for real, for real, for real. He put a lot of stress on our family for real, for real. Some of it is unforgivable for me. But I’m not the person that — if I was to see him, I wouldn’t act like he wasn’t my uncle. Still got love for him and love him, or whatever, but he basically killed my grandmother, you know what I mean, like the stress putting on her. She would never kick him out.

I don’t even want to say it like that cause that could probably even get back to him and it could really hurt his feelings, me saying that, talking about a dude’s mother. But at the same time, I was the last grandbaby so I was always there. I was the one that was rubbing her feet, you know what I’m saying, going to the store for her all the time and you know what I mean. Like, she showed me my first gun.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. It sounds like — “Hoover Street” sounds like a dedication to her.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, it is, basically.

MUHAMMAD: I thought you said that she gave you your first gun.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Nah. Honestly, I never owned a gun. No, I did own a gun when I was in college. I picked a time when I was in college to own a gun. I did all the street stuff, then go to college and then get a gun. But all the other times I used to get guns, it would either be — I would steal my grandmother’s or I would steal my uncle’s and put it back. Because it was two of my uncles that lived there. It was my uncle Mark — he’s schizophrenic now — my uncle Mark and my uncle Pat. My uncle Pat was the crack addict. My uncle Mark, he ended up going crazy. But, yeah, I used to steal his gun and I would just put it back. Because they would never use it, you know what I’m saying.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah.

SCHOOLBOY Q: I could just take it. And I never used them or nothing like that — just put it back.

MUHAMMAD: With the Oxymoron album being more sinister — maybe you are speaking from a point of reference of what life is like now. I would hope that, after the success you’ve had, that it would be different. But just seeing how sinister it is — you’re coming from Los Angeles where things — life is somewhat glamorous. But the tales that you talk about are far from attractive. It’s alluring but not alluring in that, “ooh,” glossy kind of way. It’s an alluring life to — the code of the street and just being in that environment. Coming into this album, what was it that you really wanted to portray, versus where you are now and what you been through?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Honestly, this album was — if you look at all my albums, even the titles, Setbacks, Habits & Contradictions, Oxymoron, they play off of each other’s meaning, you get what I’m saying? If you look at the covers, they all black and gray. If I picture a color in my head of my albums, I would picture black and gray.

For example, Kendrick last album, I would call that purple. Purple and yellow almost. You know what I’m saying? But all my albums I feel like they always dark. It has that eerie little feel to it.

Habits & Contradictions is the prequel to Setbacks. I had all these titles already in my head before I even dropped ‘em. Like Setbacks, I knew that was gone be the first one, I knew Habits & Contradictions, I knew Oxymoron. I got two more albums that I already have the title to it and I know how I’ma play the theme off of it.

Oxymoron though is more so — I done had my Setbacks, you get what I’m saying? These are the reasons. I was addicted to prescription drugs. I was a gang member. My grandma, she was — as much love as she showed me, she still was a bad influence on me at the same point also. I was around crackhead addicts. I was around pimps, hookers, prostitution. So you’ve got songs with me with Suga Free where I’m saying, “Will you sell that p—— for me?” I never been a pimp, but my block Figueroa that I always scream out “Figg side,” it’s big — if you was to think about Detroit or wherever pimps — or Frisco, you know what I’m saying? My name comes from a pimp named Schoolboy, from my block.

MUHAMMAD: I was wondering.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, he’s a pimp. Well, used to be a pimp. He from my hood, too, he from Hoover. That’s part of my name. But what my name really came from was from me having a 3.3 in high school in GPA but I was all into all this s—-, you get what I’m saying? I was still a athlete, but my mom worked nights and when she would go to work at night, I would leave. Cause this was bout time we moved across the street so my grandma really wasn’t monitoring me like that.

MUHAMMAD: So what was it that — if you’re doing pretty well in school, what is it about the life or the environment that caused you to be like, “Alright, instead of going out …” Obviously your lyrical game is amazing. I forget what song it is, where you talk about, “It’s in your mind and then it goes to your spine and through your heart.” To me, that’s scientific. So what is it about someone who thinks the way you think find themselves out in the wilderness, in the belly of the beast?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I don’t know. That’s just my life. I can’t explain it. I done been everything. I call myself All-American. I done been an athlete, like I was saying, a gang member, drug dealer. I done been a kid that was kind of living on the fortunate side when my mama was starting to do good, and I was hustling just to hustle because, dude, my homies was doing it, you get what I’m saying? But then I ended up actually really needing to hustle. And out of all that s—- I done did, I had a job — worked a job for two years. I worked at the railroad. Go to jail, get a strike. All this s—- happened before I was even 21.

I don’t know where my thoughts come from, but when beats come on, it just takes me there. Like I have stuff in this album, Oxymoron, that I didn’t even spill yet, cause I’m saving it for the next two pieces. I barely tied my mother into this album. This one was mainly around my grandma and my uncles and being addicted to prescription pills and selling prescription pills.

That’s why you got a song called “Prescription” and then “Oxymoron” on there, where [in] “Prescription” I’m nodding in and out of coma. My daughter — she was around one or two years old. I remember this like yesterday. Used to be all the time she used to always try to wake me up, but I’d be in, like, a Xan coma, or Percocets and lean. All this s—-, you know what I’m saying? I could never really raise my daughter. I was always f—-ed up.

I put that in there and then it switches up to “Oxymoron,” to where I’m selling it now. It’s like I was addicted to it, and then now I’m selling it. Since the album is called Oxymoron, I switched ‘em up, put it first and then that behind it, but the reality was that I started selling Oxycontin, then I stopped selling Oxycontin, went broke, then got addicted to another prescription drug — three different ones: Percocets, Valium and Xanax. And codeine, actually.

MUHAMMAD: How’d you get started?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I was selling pills, so n——s looked at me like the pill man. Pills was always around me. When you smoke a lot of weed, you hang with a lot of weed heads. When you sell pills, other pills come around, you know what I mean? All it took was one day me saying, “I need to go to sleep.” And a homie — I remember him to this day — I ain’t even gonna say his name. This dude is like the devil, bro. This dude is the devil. He gave me my first pill. I fell in love. It was over from there.

I was addicted for like two years, and I would never tell nobody. Like, none of my homies; I wouldn’t tell my girl; I wouldn’t — my mother, like nobody knew. TDE didn’t know. Only n—— knew was Ab-Soul. He was the only one. Kendrick didn’t know. I was his hype man, I was faded. It was crazy.

KELLEY: How’d you kick it?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Just stopped one day. I don’t know, like, I just stopped. One day I woke up, I didn’t have no more pills, I just didn’t buy no more. It was crazy. Two years of being addicted to it and then one day I ran out of pills and I just didn’t call ol’ boy back.

MUHAMMAD: That’s a lot of life in a short amount of time. Obviously the music — at least to me — it comes across as you’re really passionate about it. I love the music. Do you pick the beats? You sift through all that?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, I bring in live s—-. The violins you hear, I brought them in. Pianos you hear, I brought that in. The guitars — the beginning of “Hoover Street,” I told the dude how to play it. I couldn’t play it, you get what I’m saying?

MUHAMMAD: That’s my favorite part. As a bassist I hear that, I’m just like —

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, Thundercat, told him how to do it, talking to him.

KELLEY: That was Thundercat?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah.

KELLEY: Yeah. Hell yeah.

SCHOOLBOY Q: I’m talking to him though. I don’t know how to do it but I’m telling him, you get what I’m saying? And he’s following me. I already had the lyrics. I didn’t even have no beat — “I got that work, f—- Labor Day / Just bought a gun, f—- punching in.” I just thought that line right there was so hard to me. That’s all I had. I didn’t have no song to it. Then I just kept writing to it and I came up with that. And then I called Thundercat in and he came and played that s—- and it was amazing.

MUHAMMAD: One of my lines I love on that is when you go, “Uh ha, ha, ha, ha.” Was that a throwback to Melle Mel?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah. That’s like you know like “Before my last …” what did I say? “Last night it was a dream, this morning a fantasy / Back when the only fan I had was a fiend.” Pay homage to hip-hop, the beginning of hip-hop, back when the only fan I had was a fiend. Giggle, like a joke. Now back to rap: “And meet me by the Acura, cause the cops like to get help from the store camera / They always in my cornea,” like you get what I’m saying?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, no, I felt it.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah, that’s — the whole description of that.

MUHAMMAD: It’s crazy that you just started rapping at 21, like, “Oh, I’m just gonna …” It’s like — obviously the music is deep and branded into your spirit. Did you find during times of — I’ma call it the dark life, troublesome — was at any point music sort of this thing and it just — like a calling? As a backdrop to what you were doing?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Man. You know, it’s crazy. I say this all the time: I never thought about rapping. I had favorite rappers but I always thought the s—- rappers kicked was fake. You’d see n——s talking on YouTube, gang members and s—-, and you hear about s—-: this rapper said this, that rapper ran from this dude. That rapper used to get beat up back in the day. All these rappers you used to grow up listening to it in L.A., and you hear all these bad stories about them. Not saying it’s true — now that I’m an artist and I hear so much random s—- get thrown at me. Half of that s—- I know is probably just n——s talking, but at the same time that s—- made me feel like that s—- ain’t real.

Nas always been my favorite rapper, but 50 Cent, he changed my way of thinking about music cause he was so detailed in his music, I knew that wasn’t lying. I never felt Tupac that way, I never felt Biggie that way. I love Nas music, but I never felt and believed like, “This is for real.” Cause I grew up that gangsta lifestyle. And when I heard his detail in his music, that was it.

And then I watched the Beef — I was out of jail, I got out of jail on house arrest and the homie — what homie was this? I think it was the homie Apollo. I can’t remember, but he came through and gave me some DVDs and s—- and gave me websites to go to. Cause I wasn’t big on the internet and I had to do like 60 days, two months, on house arrest, so I’m like, “I need some s—-.” So he came through and he gave me — that’s when I finally found out about Worldstar. This is like ‘07. I finally found out about Worldstar and I was so amazed by Worldstar. I’m like, “What?! All this s—- is on here?” Like, I didn’t get it. Like, “All this urban s—- on this one site?”

And I’m watching this Beef DVD — I never wrote a full song at the time — I’m watching this DVD, dog, and then 50 Cent says, “If you a felon, you gettin’ out the pen or you just gettin’ out of jail, you don’t know what to do, rap.” I started rapping. I swear to God, that’s how I started rapping — on house arrest. 50 Cent said it, and that’s when I was like, “I’ma really do this s—-.”

MUHAMMAD: So was there anyone that you could turn to and be like, “Listen to my …” How did the process begin?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I was f—-ing with some homies and s—-. Some weird dude. I can’t remember his name. I was paying this n—— for studio time. Then that’s when I met Ali. I met Ali through Tyga — the rapper Tyga — cause I was cool with Tyga back in the day. Ali ended up becoming my engineer. I don’t know what happened with him and Tyga, but Ali started f—-ing with me cause I was getting studio time. He just wanted to mix some s—-, you know what I mean? We was both just new to it.

I was getting a little money at the time; I was hustling and I was working at the railroad. I just got back at my job. I went to jail, got out, then I got back at my job and I was getting money. Then I got fired from my job. Then I’m rapping and s—-. Ali mixing; the s—- was terrible. I didn’t even have a rap name. I was calling myself Q Mac Mizzle at the time. And then Ali, he goes to TDE. He hooks up with Punch over MySpace like, “Yo, I’m just trying to come through, f—- with y’all, blah blah blah blah blah.” Punch says, “Come through.” It’s crazy. Random kid, says, “Come through.” This is around — Jay Rock just signed with Warner Brothers, all this s—-. He had the big song, “Lift Me Up” — it was big in L.A. I’d never heard of K Dot at the time — none of that.

Yeah, I come through. Ali’s like, “Yeah, we over here at a better studio. Blah, blah, blah. It’s better than the one we goin’ to. The mic’s better, blah, blah, blah. They gone probably let us use it for cheaper, since they f—- with me and blah, blah, blah.” I’m like, “Cool, whatever.” So I go over there one day, then he tells me soon as we pull up — cause they Bloods over there and s—-, right — he like, “Hey. Y’all get along with Bounty Hunters?” I’m like, “Why you just now telling me now?” We cool with Bounty Hunters, but I’m just like — I’m just looking. He not really knowing about the gang s—- like that. He from around where it’s at, but he’s not a member so he doesn’t really know what’s up.

I’m looking and I’m like, “Why you just now saying that?” Cause this is the time I was still active in the street. If I would have seen somebody that wasn’t, me and my hood didn’t get along with, it was — I wasn’t bout to just kick it there, hang with you and say, “Hey, what’s up,” shake your hand, none of that.

So we walk in there, it’s dark as hell. Ab-Soul was in the booth — I didn’t know who he was — I hear him rapping. And then Jay Rock walks in, say what’s up to him, Punch is sitting down, but the lights is all down. Punch is like, “You rap?” I’m like, “Yep.” I really ain’t ever even wrote a full song yet, you know what I’m saying? Then he like, “Alright. Rap on this.” It was some dumbass beat like some gunshots and some dumb s—- and I rapped on it.

This was like, probably like my sixth verse I ever wrote. I tried to write it so fast, and it took so long. This whole time I’m zoned out and nervous and, like trying to impress ‘em, but, looking at the time, three hours done passed. I finish it, but of course it was terrible. I don’t know what he saw in me; maybe it was like a line I said where I was just — that’s what he told me, why he wanted me to be from TDE. Cause he said my detail. It was wack, but he said I would have splashes in there. For example, how I would say, “Roaches in my cereal,” I would say something similar to that and he would be like, “Wow, that’s crazy.” So he just told me to come back.

I kept coming back, kept coming back. Then I started — I lost my place or whatever, now I’m living over there. Like, these n——s just accept me, let me live over there. I finish a tape, I’m sleeping on the couch, I start selling drugs — Oxycontin — I’m going back and forth to Seattle from over there. I didn’t want to tell ‘em. Like these n——s don’t — you know what I’m saying? I still had to hustle. Years kept passing, kept passing, kept passing. Top was damn near about to kick me out.

I really wasn’t even officially from TDE. I, like, forced myself in TDE. Like, “N——, this is where I’m at.” They never said I was from TDE, I just started reppin’ it with some corny s—-, some sucker s—-, I just claimed that s—-. Then one day, he told Ali, or somebody else, like, “Man, I don’t know what that n—— doing. He ain’t recording no songs; he ain’t really …” you know what I’m saying. Then that’s when we made up Black Hippy. I figured I could just get a verse off. This kinda saved me for a couple months because, now we doing this group s—- kind of.

KELLEY: You mean it was your idea. Black Hippy was your idea — to help you.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah. So now we doing this. I just wrote one verse. But within doing that, I fell in love, dog. Like, I finally got to work with people. Seeing, like — cause they’d been rapping for years, I just started. We was just vibing with each other, and they kind of taught me how to rap. They didn’t write nothing for me or say, “You should do this,” but I was just picking up pointers, like hear how he do s—-. Even just recording, like, damn, that n—— ain’t even stacking. Or he put this extra stack on this part, oh, that’s how you make that part sound like that,. I would try to make the whole song sound how it’s supposed to sound in one take, like, adlib, doubles, all that. I was terrible.

Then one day, I spit a verse, dog. It was funny. What song was that to? A Tribe song, too.

MUHAMMAD: Word?

KELLEY: What?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Swear to God.

MUHAMMAD: That’s crazy.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Wait, which was it? “Scenario.” It’s crazy. “Scenario,” that was my first dope verse. That was kind of dope. It’s still mediocre, or whatever, but that was dope to them and to me because I was never rapping like that.

MUHAMMAD: It wasn’t connecting like that.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And then it connected and n——s was like — I remember everybody in the studio like, “Damn, you got it.” They all said, “You got it.” I swear to God. K Dot, Soul, Jay Rock was like, “You got it.” I swear to God. I walked out the studio …

MUHAMMAD: I remember seeing you guys — just so many people the moment, “Ah, we’ve arrived!” It’s a good feeling.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, and I fell in love ever since and it was over, bro.

KELLEY: You made Black Hippy happen because you needed them to help you.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, I needed them.

KELLEY: What did they get out of being in a group with you?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Nothing.

KELLEY: Are you sure?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Nothing. I kind of feel like they knew. You know how your homie would be like — for example, your homie broke and he say something like, “Damn.” You know what I mean? He won’t ask you for money, but just almost like you know. You just like, “Yo, you need something?” It’s almost like that.

When Top threw it in the air, I just ran with it like, “No, let’s do the group,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Then there was just like, a “For sure.” “Yep, we a group.” Kendrick put the “Black” in front of the “Hippy.” At first it was just “Hippy.” He was like, “No, Black Hippy.”

MUHAMMAD: Dope. You said that you pretty much put the concepts and the ideas, like the titles for your records, you have them, you have titles for the songs, the albums. At what point did you begin — still hustling and taking care of yourself and making this home out of TDE — decide to put together this body of work that really portrays the life in the way you do it?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I would say 2010. I was working on Setbacks, but I wanted to name it Contradictions. Something told me, “Man, you contradict yourself all the time.” Cause I was always one of those dudes that always contradict myself.

MUHAMMAD: In what way? What do you mean, for an example?

SCHOOLBOY Q: For example, I would say, “I don’t f—- with this,” then I start f—-ing with it. Or, “I’m not gone do that no more.” Start doing it, you get what I’m saying? Like on street level type s—-. And something just told — it just came in my head. I’m like, when you have — me anyway, I’ve always had setbacks in my life. Every time I start doing something good, another setback come.

Like I said, I’ve done everything — school, gang-banging, athlete, dope dealer, punk fake hustling, good kid, only child, mama’s boy, gun toter — all of that. I kept wondering like, “Damn, I’ve always had a setback because I always contradict myself.” Everything I said I wasn’t gonna do, I did. Every time I said I wasn’t about to miss practice, I missed it. Now I ain’t even eligible for my next year to play. There was just always something that were setbacks. That’s when I was like, “I’ma name this Setbacks. I’ma name my next one Contradictions.” Then that’s when Oxymoron came in. Soon as I recorded Setbacks — I finished Setbacks, the word “oxymoron” came to me, cause — and then I came up with the other two titles. I don’t want to say ‘em.

MUHAMMAD: We not gonna ask you.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, but I came up with the other two titles around that time, too.

MUHAMMAD: I might have missed it, you may have to tell me — for Setbacks and Habits, you have songs like “I’m Good” and “Blessed.” Those songs are kind of like — out of everything you talk about in the life that’s really unfortunate but it’s just the way it is in America, like drug dealing, hustling, gun violence, kids having to make a choice of, “Do I try and go the good route or do I just — it’s here for me and I can get it fast and get it quick?” — all the stuff we talk about, which has the darkness, but then you put that ray of light. That’s the one thing I really love and I’m feeling like, for Oxymoron, I’m like, “Man, is this album so dark, there’s just not that glimpse?” I feel like maybe, is it “Yay Yay?” I was like, is the sunlight in there?

SCHOOLBOY Q: That’s even still dark. If anything, that’s a burgundy song. I see that as burgundy. It, like, has a little color to it, but it’s still dark. You can’t really see through it.

MUHAMMAD: Am I missing it? Or is there …

SCHOOLBOY Q: No, I’m doing that on purpose. That’s why all of my album covers is gray and black, cause that’s the feel.

MUHAMMAD: So how come in Oxymoron — because in Setbacks you had “I’m Good,” and then, “Blessed” on Habits & Contradictions. What’s going on in the time scheme of Oxymoron?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Whatchu mean?

MUHAMMAD: That there’s just not this glimpse of …

KELLEY: Like the ray of hope.

MUHAMMAD: The ray of hope.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Cause I find in the midst of all of that you put that in there. You sprinkle that in there.

SCHOOLBOY Q: I did though, but it’s just way darker. It’s just in a different way. I didn’t want to keep doing it the same way, you know what I mean, piano, some sad s—-. I’m like, “You know what? I want to keep this album a gangster rap L.A. dark album from a good student’s point of view.” A person who studies music. I didn’t want it to just be all bangers, you know what I’m saying? “Shoot this motherf——-” every record. I want to explain why I shot that motherf——-. I want to explain why he shot at me. So songs like, “Blessed,” is a record like “Blind Threats,” is a record like “Prescription.” Songs like, “I’m Good,” is a song like “Break the Bank,” just a different way. “Break the Bank” is like navy blue, navy blue and gray or navy blue and black.

KELLEY: How does it feel to put your life, put your everyday, put your family to work like that. Is it freeing? Do you feel like you have to pay attention to your everyday in a different way or think about yourself or your past in a different way? I mean, it’s a common — it’s an artistic problem.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, I don’t know. I just think. I just think. I tour a lot. Like, I tour a lot. I do at least — out of 365 I’d say I do 180 to 200 shows a year. So I have a lot of down time in the tour bus.

KELLEY: Do you mean you’re by yourself a lot?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah. My homies — I don’t know what’s up with them but they always been homies where they would give me my space after a while. I never tell them to get away from me, but it’s always a point in time. Sometime I even have to come, “Where y’all going?” Like, “Why y’all leaving me?” I guess they feel like they smoking too much of my weed. They always leave at a certain time, like when we on the bus and go to the front or something or go to sleep, and I just be up. Ask anybody. I don’t use alarm clocks. My mama always said, “You don’t need no alarm clock; your alarm clock is in your mind.” I can go to sleep — been up 24 hours — go to sleep for an hour and wake up on time without no alarm and be downstairs and ready to go, you get what I’m saying.

KELLEY: That’s a skill.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, it’s all in your mind, though.

KELLEY: I can’t do that.

SCHOOLBOY Q: You could do it, trust me. I been doing it since I was like 10 years old, seriously; it’s really easy. My daughter does it.

KELLEY: What?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I think it’s probably just in our blood. She’ll be up all day, go to sleep, be ready for school. No complaints, ain’t sluggish. She wakes herself up. I’m always up before them. They never have to call me. Sometimes I end up having to call them. It’s just crazy.

MUHAMMAD: Not a lot of artists are like that though.

SCHOOLBOY Q: I swear to you, I’m never late to nothing — not even my shows. I start my shows on time. I may go over, but I never — I never shorthand nobody. I done paid back everybody I owe money, from back in the day to today. I just try to wash my hands, man. After — you done did so much wrong, bruh. I’m not still saying I’m perfect. I’m not perfect. I still have flaws, like, big flaws.

I spend too much money. Be gone for too long and forget about what’s really real with family — have to take care of family. Don’t call in enough. Skip sessions, studio sessions, because I just ain’t feelin’ it when I could just sit in there and just get it right. I back and forth relapse on lean sometime. Thank God they getting rid of it now. I’m not perfect. But, yeah, my homies give me space, and I just come up with this shit.

I just don’t rap for no reason. I’ve never been the dude that’s like, “Come to the studio, let’s do some s—-.” I can’t do that. Even if I’m talking about partying — for example, a song like “Druggys Wit Hoes.” I used to be a drug addict. Molly, ecstasy, I used to have to do that s—-, so that s—- is real life what I’m talking about.

KELLEY: I guess it’s a thing for people who don’t make art that they might be jealous that that’s how you make your money, you know? I think some people would perceive it as a freedom, like an extra, a gift — a gift to be able to think about and better yourself all the time and not work a 9 to 5.

SCHOOLBOY Q: You know what it is? It’s really passion. You gotta have a certain passion for whatever you do, whether it’s interviewing, baseball. This is one thing, too. These two most n——s is getting money, pump my brakes.

I was with Dr. Dre in the studio, and he asked me, “What’s your thing? What’s your whole thing about?” He just meeting me. And I’m like, s—-. I didn’t even know what to say. Like, this Dr. Dre. I f—-ed up, and I’m like, “Uh, I’m the opposite of Kendrick.” That’s all I could say. He like, “Yeah?” He gave me a funny look. He like, “So you about to work on your album, right?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He like, “What’s your motivation?” Or some s—- like that. And I’m like, “S—-, I’m just trying to get this money.” He pumped my brakes so fast like, “Bro, it ain’t gone work.” Like, “You gotta have the passion. Make sure the passion is there.” He said lot of artists that he worked with before in the past lost the passion after a while.

Always have the passion first, before thinking about getting this money, cause when you have the passion for it, sooner or later, you getting checks and you ain’t even know it was in your account. Cause you had so much work and you always thinking, “I got some work to do,” and you always going to the studio. That’s another way to save your money — working hard, also. You know what I mean? The more harder you work, the less you’re out spending your money.

Diddy calls me. Cause you know I go by Puffy and s—-, everybody calls me Puffy. So Diddy calls me — out of the blue he calls me, “Yo, n——, this Diddy,” blah, blah blah. “What’s up, n——,” blah, blah, blah, blah blah, talking s—-. I’m like, “Damn, this is crazy. Diddy’s talking to me right now.” He like, “What’s up, n——, I been hearing about it. N——, you done sold out SOBs twice,” cause I had SOBs and I had two shows and I sold it out twice, back to back. He was just like, “Man, that s—- crazy, bro,” blah, blah, blah. “N——, you out here, bruh, you making noise in New York, I hear you on the radio,” blah blah blah. “N——s saying you taking my name. I thought you was dissing me,” blah, blah, blah. He like, “So what’s up with you? Who you with? Who you signed to,” blah, blah, blah. I had just signed with Interscope at the time and TDE and I told him. He like, “Yeah, that’s what’s up.”

He asked me, “What’s your thing?” Just like Dre told me. F—-ed up again, showing out, thinking cause it’s Diddy I could get it off on Diddy. It didn’t work on Dre. “S—-, I’m just trying to get this money. I know you know what’s up.” “Hang on, hang on.” He pump my brakes. Told me, “I don’t know all that much.” He pump my brakes so fast, told me he didn’t know all that. “Make sure it’s the passion,” he told me. “You have the passion to do whatever you doing, dog. Don’t worry — don’t focus on getting money.” He was like, “You know when I just started focusing on getting money?” I said, “When?” He said, “Now. My passion is business now. You a artist; your passion is music. At least, that should be your passion.” And then that was it, after that. Like damn, I’m a fool. Next — if Jay Z run into me and he ask me, “What’s your thing?” I know exactly what to say to that. Nas see me …

KELLEY: What exactly are you gonna say?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Oh, man, it have to be in the moment. I don’t want to say it now.

KELLEY: Alright, alright.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Nah, I know exactly what I’ma say, though.

MUHAMMAD: What do you say to that 15 to 18-year-old who’s in that environment where there’s prostitution, there’s the drugs, there’s the fast money, there’s the — you gotta go roll with your man to go handle some business, finish somebody off. Whatever. Who has that, but also has that good spirit. Like, they’re obedient to their mom, they’re respectful to their mom. They not just fully, to the core, coming in the home crazy, but there’s no direction. They don’t know what they want to do. What do you say? I know you say it in the music, but outside of the music.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Man, it’s hard to say. Cause when I was trapped in — Scarface and them was not playing. Your mind really play tricks on you. Like, you really believe some stuff is — can happen for you in a certain way. I really don’t know what to tell ‘em besides just learn from everything that happens bad to you, everything you done wrong. Cause I can’t make no decision for you.

Plenty people told me not to get a gun. “Don’t gang-bang.” “Don’t do this.” He done heard it before, you know what I’m saying? He just gotta really be aware of what he doing. Once that s—- click into his head, one day, run with it. Don’t let it click in your head and then back to contradicting yourself. Just like when I actually wanted to quit drugs. Just stopped. When I wanted to start rapping, I just started rapping. When I didn’t want to keep gang-banging, I stopped going to the hood like I used to.

MUHAMMAD: Mind over matter then.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, straight up. You only can learn from yourself. Nobody can teach you s—-. You can take some tips from people, but nobody can teach you s—-. Nobody. Your mama can train you. Some of my worst homies, they mama was on ‘em like white on rice coming up. Go to they house, “No, he can’t come outside right now. He’s doing homework.” Go to the house, “Oh, no, he’s doing multiplication.” On a Saturday. “Oh, no, he just was outside for 15 minutes, he has to come in now.” Them n——s is all life in jail, some of them dead, some of them still on they block with they mama and they mama not telling ‘em what to do no more.

My mama, she let me go free. I think that’s what let me — kind of save me. She sheltered me with protection more than anything. Security, like food on the table and clothes on my back. We always had more of that than other kids cause we was all in one house and we all come together. They was just all doing bad.

She let me go. Sometime I would be the only kid — it was a whole bunch of us on the block, all my homies — sometime I would be the only kid walking up the street playing a basketball, because all they mamas got ‘em locked up in the house. Trying to teach ‘em how to do math and homework, but not teaching ‘em life skills and what to say when somebody call you a “b——.” My daughter came to me and said dude called her a “b——.” She’s four years old! I ain’t call a girl a “b——” till I was seven! I said, “Kick him in the nuts.”

I’m not saying I’ma go up to the school: “Who said it?” You gotta learn for yourself. Four years old, five years old, 30. I make my daughter make her decisions. Christmas? I don’t do Santa Claus. None of that. “What you want? No, you ain’t being good, you can’t get nothing like that.” Teach her right from wrong, but at the same time, she gotta learn on her own. But to that kid, yeah, you gotta pump your brakes.

MUHAMMAD: There’s a lot of kids though — you know — that may not have parents, that don’t have that way about giving their children the proper resources to manage their environment. So they really rely on they homies.

What do you say to that kid who’s getting those life skills, but they getting it from the street level, do you know what I mean? And from the environment or homies who just gonna have them in a bad situation. They didn’t have the preliminary — mom or dad, whatever — saying, “Think about this situation. Even if you gotta roll with a sea of people, really use your head.” What if that kid is just — I’m out there, 16, it’s just me and my homies. Is there anything you can say based off of your life experience that may help them at that moment?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I remember Tyler the Creator tweeting this. He said, “Man, we all have talents.” What am I saying to the kids is if you don’t know what to do, find your talent. Find what you’re really creative in. It’s sitting here talking — if you talk too f—-ing much, go be a reporter! Use your best abilities. Like, you gotta go hard for yourself. Whatever you doing, you just gotta capitalize on it. You can be successful in life. It took me 25 years to be successful. I was a loser. You get what I’m saying. 25 years, bro.

MUHAMMAD: It’s interesting you say that, but you know, I think you were just evolving to where you are now. You had to go through that to get to this point. And I think where you are and what you’re doing with your music is really inspiring cause it’s so true. I think the 25, 26 years has filled you up with enough stories — you got two more albums you already said you already got planned out. So let’s say your life story was completed in your music. And the world is all cleaned up. Describe what that clean, that beautiful — I got no more records to spill because now the world is glorious. What’s a glorious, glamorous world to you?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I never — I don’t know. That’s crazy. Like a glamorous — I never thought about that cause I don’t believe it’ll ever happen.

MUHAMMAD: Really?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I don’t believe we should even try stopping it. I think we — the way to stop anything violent or anything wrong is by really just paying attention to your own circle. You only can help the world by helping the people next to you. You get what I’m saying? Why would I try to — no disrespect — but why would I try to help you out when I got a homie right now that I grew up with, he’s doing bad. Why would I go out my way to help somebody else when I can help them? You know what I’m saying?

MUHAMMAD: I think — in the Ten Commandments, it says, “Honor thy neighbor.”

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: And that’s — to me — a testament of just what you talking about.

SCHOOLBOY Q: And I’ll say that on “Blind Threats.” I believe in God. But when you in that lifestyle, sometimes you on and off with believing in God. I say, “The Ten Commandments, I could mark five checks / But I sense flaws, the Bible preaching blind threats.” Like, “Streets held me down, got faith in a Pyrex / Faith in a four-five, I call it the clarinet,” you get what I’m saying?

My gun always worked. When I wanted to get some money, when that rock came, that always worked. When I prayed, that didn’t always work. So that’s where that song come through. That’s why I called it “Blind Threats” cause the threats that was made when I was — how I was feeling at that time — the Ten Commandments: “Thou shall not kill, steal, adultery,” it’s like blind because we all do it. We all do it. I’m still not married to my girl, you know what I’m saying? I break that commandment everyday, technically, right?

KELLEY: I remember one of the commandments on the wall [at TDE’s studio], the motivational poster or whatever: substance.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, substance, yep. That’s why I got two — I didn’t put everything in this album. People always say they put they whole life in one album, but I don’t believe you can put your whole life in one album. Yeah, right. It’s only 16 songs. Like, how? You didn’t go through s—- if you can put your whole life in one album. You honestly suck to me. I hate rappers that do that — like, say that type of s—-. You suck. You put your whole life in this album? Seriously? When were you born, 2004?

That’s a part of it. Kendrick, he didn’t give you everything, Ab-Soul ain’t give you everything. Jay Rock ain’t give you everything. This was all our plan before we even started. We know you gotta save some s—-, like, you gotta keep it going. Whether it’s a story line or just substance.

MUHAMMAD: Plus, you still experiencing life.

SCHOOLBOY Q: True. That too.

MUHAMMAD: It’s stuff you may have gone through through the first album and it’s not ‘til you get to your fourth, fifth album that — you think it was real and your experience was real then. And then you get to that fourth, fifth album, youlike, “Wow.” A whole nother.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, I’m already knowing.

MUHAMMAD: You just gotta be in tune, to feed off of that creatively to deliver it and be honest about it. Honesty is missing in a lot of places, so the whole art form in itself is suffering. But then you come with your side of things — nothing false in it and it’s so real — and people, they feel that. It balances things out a little bit.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Man, it’s crazy. I honestly don’t believe nobody under 24 will really understand it though. Because the way music is now — the music is so soft. Like gangster rap music is never respected now. They call it no substance now. I know this is way off subject but, like, what makes you think Waka Flaka and them is not — Gucci Mane is not speaking substance. Like Gucci Mane is from the hood, he’s talking about hood tales, you know what I’m saying — that is substance. People mistake gangster music for no substance now.

All you have is a bunch of soft records. Drake is one of my favorite artists, but he’s the main focus of hip-hop, kinda, right now. Kanye — there’s nothing aggressive about that, you know what I’m saying, but he’s one of the biggest. He’s one of my favorites, also. Eminem even switched it up. Then you have people like Kendrick, it’s the good kid — even though his s—- was still on the gritty side — but it was still good kid, you get what I’m saying. Nobody’s coming from my perspective anymore and making it an art, anyway.

MUHAMMAD: No, they’re not. And I think the advantage that you have is when you make a song like “Hands On the Wheel,” it’s the sonic aesthetic to that song that kinda helps take — there’s nothing different about who you are and who you have been — but it just takes it to a level that makes it palatable to people where maybe some of the other songs may be a little bit too, too abrasive to really swallow it — the substance of what you present. This album, as dark as it is, it feels complete.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Man, I was amazed. When I did my last song — the last song I did was “His and Her Fiend,” where I’m talking as the oxy pill and she’s talking as the fiend.

MUHAMMAD: There’s so much space in that song.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You doped up. When you doped up, you blank out.

MUHAMMAD: Yo, it tripped me out. I was like …

KELLEY: You thought I gave you a bad version?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I’m not even tripping.

MUHAMMAD: I just kept going back cause I was like …

SCHOOLBOY Q: Trying to understand it, right? And just trying to …

MUHAMMAD: It was just so — it was space in there.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Listen to that record — I know it’s gonna be hard to do it, but just try — listen to that record when you sleepy a little bit. Cause it’s like being off the dope, you know what I’m saying, when you off the dope?

MUHAMMAD: I don’t know that feeling.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I’m not tripping if somebody don’t like that record. I was talking to a certain, specific, you know what I mean.

MUHAMMAD: No, the thing about your music — I’ve never smoked anything, never been — you know what I’m saying?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, yeah.

MUHAMMAD: I don’t know what that feels like, but I feel like I’m real close to it when I’m listening to it and it’s just like, “Hold on.” That’s why I had to keep going back on that song.

SCHOOLBOY Q: “Can I show you this world, baby?” Like I told you, the dude was the devil, that gave me that pill. I was the devil in Seattle when I was giving — selling — people those pills. I was the devil.

KELLEY: Who were your customers?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Doctors, teachers, uppity people. This is an expensive drug. I was getting $80 to $60 for one pill, you know what I’m saying?

KELLEY: What?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Oxycontin was crazy. It’s heroin. It’s synthetic heroin. Like I said on “Oxymoron” — I say, “Your brain gone numb, synthetic heroin / Without the injections, they’re the same love and affection / How could they say feeling good is an addiction / But the world is full of s—-, so I don’t listen / In fact, ‘We living to die’ is a contradiction.”

That s—- is for real, Oxycontin is for real. People would come through like stealing they mother’s purse or something, like, a flat screen TV.

KELLEY: Right.

SCHOOLBOY Q: You know what I’m saying? Like a real flat screen TV. A nice flat screen TV worth — it’s not uppity like $10,000 but it’s $4,000, $5,000 worth Coming through like this, though.

MUHAMMAD: I’m like what are you…

SCHOOLBOY Q: A teacher, though, I swear to God. A teacher! Like, it’s crazy!

MUHAMMAD: I don’t want to make jokes about the situation, but what do you do with that?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I mean, s—-. You take it and you put it on your wall! N——, you need a TV. You take that motherf—-er and you go like this! Now you got a TV in the living room, you got one in the bathroom, you got one in the kitchen. N——, you a drug dealer, you want all that s—-. The purse? Run it! Give it to my Auntie, you get what I’m saying? You feel me?

KELLEY: I mean, it’s Dickensian. You’ve got stories. You have more than one story to tell. Do you ever worry — I guess this is a question for both of you — I think that maybe one consolation for people who aren’t famous or well known or whatever is that they can go wherever they want and do whatever they want and their life is not examined. The perception is that people that have hit a certain level of fame are constricted in some way. They can’t just go outside whenever they want, they can’t do whatever they want.

SCHOOLBOY Q: S—-, I give my security vacation. I go everywhere by myself. I have to tell a million people, “Not right now.” Or, “Sorry, I don’t want to do that right now.” But I always shake they hand, look ‘em in the eyes. I grew up with, you come in the house, you take your hat off, you know what I’m saying? You take your glasses off when you talking to somebody. I grew up different.

KELLEY: You don’t worry about being exposed or, like, what might happen if you tell the truth about everything?

SCHOOLBOY Q: I tell the truth. That’s the thing about me. Everybody expect that from me now. So you can’t do no wrong by me. If I get knocked out and they put it on Worldstar, I’ma retweet it. That’s just the person I am. You can’t embarrass me. You can’t do nothing; you can’t expose me. I done already exposed myself. I done put my daughter on the song where I’m in a coma. Can’t they take your kid for that? Like, I done took it way too far, if that’s the case. I made my daughter say, “F—- rap, my daddy a gangster,” you know, TMZ had me on that s—- and they was doggin’ me. Have y’all seen that?

MUHAMMAD: Uh uh.

KELLEY: No.

SCHOOLBOY Q: They’re talking about how bad of a father I am cause I smoke weed. Me smoking weed helps me with my daughter, blah, blah, blah, have more patience with my daughter, and they just sitting there scolding me.

MUHAMMAD: What’s crazy is there’s millions of people doing the same thing. The building I live in is a pretty clean building and there’s a lot of family in that building. I’m probably one of maybe three people that’s single in there. And I smell the sensations, you know, walking through the hallway.

KELLEY: It’s the exact same in my apartment.

MUHAMMAD: It’s pretty normal. People holding down their kids. Good people. Did you respond to the TMZ people at all?

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah. I was so against it, cause my daughter, she saw it. Cause I was watching it. She saw it and she was really hurt by it. You know kids, four years old, they know everything now. They know how work a iPhone. She’s seeing it and she’s like, “No, you not a bad daddy. You not a bad daddy.” Bout to cry. And I’m sitting there, “Ah, don’t even worry.” They’re sitting there saying I’m a bad daddy.

But anyway, Top calls me — the CEO of the company — and he like, “Man, can you do this for me?” I’m like, “I don’t want to do it.” He like, “Come on, just do it, just do it. It’s cool, it’s a good look.” I, still to this day, I don’t think it’s a good look. I call in and I do the FaceTime thing and they ask me. And I just basically, I held everything back. I didn’t even say what they did and how they made my daughter feel. It ain’t even about me no more. It’s like, y’all n——s just speaking because — just to speak.

On top of that, they tell me — it was like one dude, he must have been a fan cause he was going in on them, like, “How y’all gonna say …” He had to be a fan, he’s just exposing everybody. This was crazy. He exposed the dude like, “Bro, you just put an Instagram up with your son holding a keg of beer.”

KELLEY: There you go.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Are you serious? Don’t people die with that? I been drunk before. You’re not the same person. I don’t even smoke weed in front of my daughter. I don’t hide it. She see it, she knows I smoke weed, but when I spark it up, she’s not in the room. She ain’t never seen me inhale nothing, never, ever, ever, ever. She smelt it but she never seen me inhale it.

I call in or whatever, do the FaceTime thing, we do it. But now every time they see me at TMZ — I see ‘em all the time. Airport. They be waiting outside of my shows. I don’t do none of that. I don’t talk to ‘em; I walk right by ‘em. Kept it moving. Y’all ain’t gonna do nothing but twist my s—- up. “Oh, I interviewed ScHoolboy Q and he smelled like a pound of weed walking through New York City.”

MUHAMMAD: It’s so off-message.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Yeah, it’s like, what is that about?

MUHAMMAD: Listen to the music. Obviously there’s a lot of depth to it.

KELLEY: Does Joy get publishing?

SCHOOLBOY Q: No. But she does get unlimited trips to Disney Land. She likes Burberry, the clothing. She loves Jordans, she get all them; candy whenever she wants it. She has her own room, big house, dog. She’s alright. Hair did when she asks. She’s good. I think she’s good right now. She’ll get some publishing later on though.

MUHAMMAD: I just want to say I love that you stick to the you can do anything and mind over matter part of the message. Cause I think that’s important. Thank you for sharing your life story, your experiences with it, through the music, through the artistry cause it’s dope man.

SCHOOLBOY Q: I appreciate it.

MUHAMMAD: It’s a sound that — it’s been missing. I like the fact that this album is even more concentrated. It’s darker but it’s really packed.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Thank you, man. I appreciate that. Real talk. I’m glad somebody appreciates the work. You can see why I took two years.

KELLEY: Yeah, it sounds patient. Thank you.

SCHOOLBOY Q: Thank y’all.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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