Why you should care

He’s the underdog to root for on music’s biggest night.

No matter how much success ScHoolboy Q experiences, he’s still stuck in the tremendous shadow cast by Kendrick Lamar, his Top Dawg Entertainment label mate. It’s a shadow cast not only over him, but also over nearly the entire music industry. But the gruff-voiced emcee who plays the yang to Lamar’s yin has a tremendous opportunity to accomplish something that Lamar has yet to achieve: taking home a Grammy for Best Rap Album.

He may lack the mainstream appeal of fellow nominees Iggy Azalea or Wiz Khalifa, but when it comes to putting together the best pound-for-pound rap album of 2014, ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron deserves the gold-plated gramophone trophy more than his hip-hop peers. Oxymoron is a straight-up West Coast hip-hop album in a time when rap music has become less about coastal identity and more homogeneous. ScHoolboy Q has played a large part in giving California back its individuality with street narratives that aren’t ones you would find in the impoverished confines of New York, Chicago, Miami or Atlanta — they are particular to his California upbringing on Figueroa and Hoover Street in L.A.

Being a creative lynchpin isn’t too often rewarded in the Best Rap Album category.

Alvin Blanco, deputy editor of Hip-Hop Wired

From the moment ScHoolboy Q’s daughter, Joy, says “Fuck rap, my daddy a gangster” before the album’s menacingly dark opening ring on “Gangsta,” it is evident that Oxymoron won’t fit into a neat little mass-appeal box. Heavily influenced by ’90s-era gangsta rap, Oxymoron is often amusingly crass, yet the album offers enough insight to keep its narratives from venturing into caricature territory. For every trunk rattling “What They Want,” there is a chilling account of Q’s life before rap, like the grimy “Hoover Street,” a brilliantly descriptive track that lends Q’s album an authenticity that fellow rap album nominees don’t necessarily express.

Hip-Hop Wired’s deputy editor Alvin Blanco says that while ScHoolboy Q is as worthy as any fellow nominee, he isn’t so confident that the trophy will end up the California rapper’s possession on Sunday. “Being a creative lynchpin isn’t too often rewarded in the Best Rap Album category,” Blanco says. And with two white peers in the category — longtime star Eminem and pop-friendly Iggy Azalea — crossover appeal and mass name recognition will mean everyone else “is battling for third place.”

Hear Q explain the lyrics of “Hoover Street” on Decoded.

It’s hard not to root for a perennial underdog like ScHoolboy Q. He’s the antithesis of whatever you believe a popular rapper should look, walk and talk like, yet he accomplishes far more by being a flawed individual with a certain edginess to his music. Oxymoron may lack the gloss of Azalea’s The New Classic; the glitz of Wiz Khalifa’s Blacc Hollywood; the consciousness of Common’s Nobody’s Smiling; or the abstraction of Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet. But what it does is go against the grain — which is what all great rap albums do.

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