These are strange times. We’re living in 2014, when the future is today and February 25th seems very 2013, or 1993, or something not now. It took him a lifetime of living for Schoolboy Q to make Oxymoron; running down streets with no lights, sharing a gun with his grandmother, escaping through drugs both sold and swallowed. It’s at this very moment this story is finally told—in heart-wrenching detail, through a raspy voice, to critical acclaim—that DJ Mustard takes over the world using a keyboard that only has four keys and is hailed king of the summer or something.
At a VICE-sponsored show on Central Park’s SummerStage Wednesday night, Schoolboy somehow soldiers on. He’ll never be shiny and new, not with his beard like that and his hat like that; even with his gut like this. (At the moment, he’s lost his lean weight and is looking, well, pretty lean. For him.) He brings out friends, Ab-Soul; all of the A$AP members, from Rocky to Yams, who was too blacked-out to make it to his own DJ set an hour earlier. Zooted-duo Flatbush Zombies stand behind the booth, Zombie Juice channeling Tommy Chong and George Clinton. And, not least, Action Bronson wanders out to help Soul with “Stigmata” and to envelope Schoolboy in his arms. He holds a leather toiletry bag in his hand the entire time he performs.
But it’s been said that the most important things in life are done alone. So, like an action hero off to detonate a bomb on the moon, Schoolboy walks out in front of the crowd, himself, and for the next forty-five minutes there’s no changing that. (The A$AP members, a sea of t-shirts in various shades of black, were held off.) Maybe, actually, he’s a matador, shoulders slumped forward, a combination of bloodsport and nimble feet. There are times he resembles Bono in a jumping castle, or—at his worst—Big Sean, calling the crowd to swerve, swerve, swerve during "Hands on the Wheel." Whatever Schoolboy Q is, he’s great at it, calm, cool, collected like rainwater. He pulls a joint from the front row, so much smoke around his face it looks like his head’s been blown off. He asks, “How many ladies came with they boyfriend?” When a girl in front of him screams in recognition, he says, “Shut up,” smiling. “You shut up, too,” to another. And then he goes into "Studio," his latest release, which sounds like a cigarette at its smoothest.
One could imagine Schoolboy feeling overshadowed—Complex put his album five slots behind YG’s on their Albums of the Half-Year list—but it’s clear that his moment isn’t over. Kids push to the front of the stage in their finest bucket hats; some are so desperate as to rock fishing hats, a tiny but huge distinction. They scream “YAWK YAWK YAWK,” and it takes six bodyguards to pull Schoolboy Q from the arms tugging at him. “Don’t you ever try to take my motherfucking hat,” he says, clicking his tongue. So, no, just because radio has found a new boyfriend doesn’t mean he’s been forgotten. There are things to worry about, and there are things to actively not worry about.
Last week, following a show in Denver, his SUV had been shot at; news stations are still talking about it five days later. But Q was over it: "I know you probably heard about the incident the other night and shit. They wanted me to mope in the corner all sad. But fuck that, I'm here. Put both hands up in the air like this.” He places his arms way above his head, joyous, as if in an Herbal Essences commercial. “Let's have a hell of a night."
Jeff Rosenthal is half of the New York-based band of brothers ItsTheReal. He's on Twitter - @itsthereal
Want more show reviews? We lost our minds at Yeezus, rediscovered our youth at Taking Back Sunday, and sent a guy who'd never heard of Macklemore to a Macklemore concert in Vegas.