It can happen to any of us: reckless hedonism of your 20s gives way to the whole-grain realities and sobering responsibilities of your 30s. And suddenly, if you're the 32-year-old psychedelically groovy L.A. gangsta rapper Schoolboy Q, you may find yourself under the spell of a more serene (if no less addictive and expensive) habit: golf.
“I had all these people telling me, ‘Why are you playing golf!? Why you playing a lame-ass sport? You a loser!’ ” the rapper born Quincy Hanley says, warping his box-cutter baritone into the high-pitched mockery of an ignorant hater, one who knows nothing of the joys of manicured fairways and glen plaid. “But like I tell everyone, ‘Bruh: Golf is life.’ ”
They love Q here. “Here” being the Calabasas Country Club, a postcard expanse of glimmering emerald turf, gently sloping mountains, and a 21-acre lake, a few minutes' drive from Q's home in the same ritzy neighborhood. “They” being everyone from the 19-year-old caddies who want photos to flex on Instagram to the baronial white-haired titans of commerce who greet him by name, slap high fives, and give him jovial biceps taps like he just closed a deal to bring in the Underhill account.
Unburdened from the demands of a nine-to-five existence, Q hits the links daily. This morning, he took to the course with Brock Korsan, the senior vice president of A&R at Warner Bros. Records, and Cole Young, the brand director for Malbon Golf, an insurgent streetwear-inspired golf label, for the photos you see here. But his partner for nine holes in the afternoon is Adrian, a fit older Mexican-American man with wind-swept gray hair and black shades, who has become Q's adoptive golfing padre.
10 Things Schoolboy Q Can't Live Without... On the Golf Course
The golf obsession started just over a year ago, and while Q seems a natural on the course, his new habit is actually the culmination of a fraught series of events. He spent his early years on 51st Street in L.A.'s South Central before enrolling at a local community college intending to play football.
By 2009 he had been incarcerated, had a daughter, and gotten a trapezius tattoo that read "FUCK LAPD"—a nod, he says, to its habit of picking him up and then dropping him off unarmed in rival-gang territories. Rap was a miraculous lifeline. A former college-football teammate had become the engineer for the fledgling TDE, home of Kendrick Lamar. Q swiftly ingratiated himself with the West Coast's now dominant rap label.
Beginning with his second album, 2012's Habits & Contradictions, Q—wearing bucket hats and tie-dye, rhyming over Portishead samples—re-imagined what gangsta rap could look and sound like. If other rappers needed shotgun blasts and air horns to add extra energy, all Q needed to do was shout “YAWK YAWK YAWK!”
The tremendous success of 2014's Oxymoron spurred Q's move into a mansion in Calabasas, one of those L.A. subdivisions that come complete with neighbors like Kanye and Drake. He even took his daughter out of public school and began personally homeschooling her. It was the good life, until it wasn't.
“Being in the house so damn much can drive you crazy,” Q says. “Golf taught me patience, and you need that in the music industry, because this shit is evil.”
Setting up at the tee, he gets into position. No one will mistake him for his favorite golfers (Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler), but it's been only a year. His swing is still a little stiff, but it's powerful. He thwacks the ball 220 yards in the air, rounding into form.
“People don't give a fuck about you,” he adds. “All they want is music and to see you living the rapper life.”
For Q, living the rapper life started interfering with the business of rapping. The last time I saw him, in 2014, he downed two Styrofoam cups full of promethazine and Sprite before 2 p.m.—a daily occurrence during his darkest stretches in the middle of the decade. He's disclosed previous issues with Xanax and Percocet, too.
He released Blank Face LP in 2016 to substantial acclaim, toured it, and headed straight back into the studio once that was over, but he wasn't feeling right. He estimates that he made and discarded two full albums (“They were trash”) and completed a third, which he briefly concluded was ready for consumption before labelmates Kendrick and Jay Rock convinced him it wasn't. Darkness set in.
“I'd be in the house smoking weed, just waiting to go to the studio every day. That's not a good life. That brings on depression,” Q says. “You know how bad it is when you're going through all this shit in your head and all you're doing is going to the studio and back home? It's toxic for your kid, too.”
There was also the risk of the ostensibly unthinkable. In the past two years alone, accidental overdoses resulted in the untimely demises of Lil Peep and Q's close friend and collaborator Mac Miller, the latter of whom he still has a hard time talking about. It was a tough couple of years.
Enter the game of kings and the Calabasas Country Club. Between the fresh air, the equally meditative and maddening aspects of the sport, and the club's apparently laissez-faire approach to his penchant for lighting up on the back nine, Q was immediately sold. He augmented his new obsession with boxing workouts, intermittent fasting (he'll eat only between noon and 8 p.m.), and daily morning sessions of Call of Duty (“Video games saved my life, too”).
But it was ultimately golf that parted the psychic clouds, allowing him to lighten up and make the music that he actually wanted to make. Cue Crash Talk, his third major-label album, scheduled for a late-spring release, which features Travis Scott and Kid Cudi and brings both sides of Q into harmony: the ferocious bullet-holes-in-your-coupe gangsta-rap assassin and the hedonistic, gonzo one-man party with an innate pop sensibility. It's Q as killer and lover, reckless shit-talker and responsible father, grown-up gangsta and aspiring scratch golfer.
After another shanked drive on eight—Adrian assures me this is an off day for Q—the group reaches the ninth hole, a final chance for redemption. Q assumes the position and locks in over that dimpled teardrop—and just like that, it's effortless. Steel to ball to the fairway, a magisterial drive that would be the envy of every periodontist at the club. A pure shot with an iron, a chip onto the green, and an eight-foot putt later, he's made par.
“Yeah, I'm back! I'm back now!” Q pumps his fist and whoops and exuberantly gives pounds to Adrian and me.
“I'm playing so bad, and now I get a par—just like that,” he continues. “You can always bounce back, dawg! Hit a good chip shot, get a good putt, save the day, par. That's life!”
But this is golf and there is still a little bit of daylight left, so why not one more hole? We hop in the cart and head back around to the first hole, where Q wants to, needs to, see if his magic touch will sustain itself. He unleashes a mighty swing…and sends the ball wildly off to the right, somewhere toward San Francisco.
“And just when I thought I had it,” he growls, unable to conceal a sly smile. “Back to the bullshit!”
Jeff Weiss is a writer in Los Angeles, where he is also the editor of ‘theLAnd.’
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2019 issue with the title "Tee Time in Calabasas."
Schoolboy Q Kicks it in Calabasas
Photographs by Danielle Levitt
Styled by Mobolaji Dawodu
Grooming by Hee Soo Kwon using Malin+Goetz
Produced by Austin Sepulveda
Photographed at Calabasas Country Club