There's a great moment on Schoolboy Q's new album; it happens on closer ‘Attention’. Talking about a shooting he witnessed while with his daughter at the laundromat, Q reflects “I can finally understand why my uncles was never sober/Deadbeat dad on the gas, that gas my motor”. This so well summarizes Q’s talent for self-evaluation and honesty. He gives us something from the heart that's cleverly conveyed as well.

This isn't just a great moment on the album; it might be the only great moment. After a run of albums that ran deep with ambition and cinematic opulence, Q has struck out with what seems to be a bid for commercial success. While Oxymoron and Blank Face LP debuted at number 1 and 2 on the Billboard charts, respectively, he apparently needed something more or thought that we wanted something else. Even though I never embraced Blank Face quite as much as I wanted to, its spectral atmosphere makes it unlike just about any other album achieving serious chart success or being nominated for Grammys.

Q excels in taking chances. So the design of his latest album, CrasH Talk, as a leaner album heavy with trap production isn’t objectionable by any means. His unwillingness to retread previous ground is admirable, and If anyone is capable of making an Astroworld-type album that brings trap into a new zone, it’s Q. But the only thing that's unique about CrasH Talk is that he’s never made an album like this. Without knowing who made it, you might think it's from someone who's been rightfully passed over for the XXL Freshman List.

If first single ‘Numb Numb Juice’ was too short and undercooked to make fans salivate, followup single ‘CHopstix’ was where cautious optimism turned to eye-rubbing disbelief. Travis Scott, Mr. Astroworld himself, gives a hook that’s so bereft of any kind of inspiration that it almost crosses over into a deconstruction of examining just how uncreative you can be with turn-up music before you get called out. And that’s not even getting into Q’s limp verses or DJ Dahi’s boilerplate beat, adding up to a sex-based song that’s anything but arousing.

‘CHopstix’ is thankfully not indicative of the rest of the album, but there’s also never any sort of theme established. True to its title, the album feels like multiple trains of thought smashing into each other and leaving hardly anything salvageable. When talking about the album with Zane Lowe two years ago, Q implied a theme of maturity; “I gave you me, but I never gave you the other side of me: the father, the dude that’s actually happy, the dude that doesn’t be in the hood just hanging out. The dude that’s trying to put his homies in position now. I’m not a deadbeat father anymore.” That sounds much better than the confusion and artistic compromise that resulted.

He presents his fatherly side, but in a distressingly one-dimensional and embarrassing way. On ‘Tales,’ which is like a chilling glimpse at what Rap Or Go to the League would look like if done wrong, he delivers “Probably miss my mom funeral, my daughter a ho/ Because the man of the house ain't the man no more,” playing into the creepy, normalized notion of fathers having autonomy over their daughters’ bodies. There’s some sweetness towards the end of ‘CrasH’ (“So, girl, be proud that your skin black/ And be happy, girl, that your hair napped/ 'Cause the school system won't teach that/ Where your father been, you gon' reach that”), but it's preceded by curmudgeonly lecturing of younger rappers (“You buy a chain, but won't buy no land/ That hashtag should say, ‘Desperate’”). Hilariously, this indictment of materialism is followed up by ‘Water,’ a celebration of jewelry featuring Lil Baby, a.k.a. the last thing you’d expect to show up on a ScHoolboy Q album. He sounds so not at home in this environment, it’s as though he’s lost a bet.

He does a better job of making trap on his terms with ‘Die Wit Em’, which features a hook that actually feels dangerous and a beat that, if standard, works far better than those of neighboring tracks with their overpowering drums, digital extravagance, and incompatible piano. But it sounds like someone doing Q doing trap, not him actually taking the genre (or his sound) to any interesting height. He’s talked about gangbanging and escaping into substances in so much more captivating ways that there’s no point in listening to defanged tunes like ‘Gang Gang’ and ‘Drunk.’

His paternal instincts come through again on that track (“Heard your record, I'm your father”), and his self-proclaimed authority would hold weight if his verses could back it up, but his performance is beta to the point of occasionally forgetting that it’s supposed to be his album. On the intro to the 21 Savage-featuring ‘Floating,’ he just sounds Savage, but without his penchant for truly cutting insults (“He a broke Ford Focus ass n—“). He tries his hand at Vince Staples on ‘5200’ without understanding Vince’s skill at going hard and being hooky at once. There’s at least the seedling of a good track on ‘Dangerous,’ even if Kid Cudi and the ghostly guitar tones do most of the work, but it cuts off right before it has a chance to show any real ambition.

What spoils CrasH Talk the most are the moments when Q tries to act like a sage but instead seems sullen and dramatic. ‘Lies’ is an exposé on dishonesty that answers the question of if there’s a hook that not even Ty Dolla Sign can save (answer: yes, and it goes “Stop tellin' lies on me. That shit ain't okay”). Later, ‘Black Folk’ brings us “You know a fake n—, his favorite words is, ‘He fake’”. The 32-year-old Q sounds so desperate to not seem out-of-touch that he’s overlooked the thin line between sounding youthful and sounding immature.

The verdict isn’t that Q can’t do trap or songs with a more hype energy. It’s that he needs to put his mind into it, just like he’s done for his best work. On the first verse to ‘Attention,’ he talks about attending the Grammys and the recognition he received from idols like Jay-Z and Nas, reiterating his love for making music along the way. CrasH Talk is an unfortunate example of what can happen when someone gets the creative validation they’ve desired, only to find themselves at an impasse.