The main question that has seemed to never have been answered is, ‘who is Ab-Soul?’ Many people seem to have the answer, but there’s been a shroud of mystery to his persona for the past couple of years. He’s like that one act that pops up out of nowhere, drops something hot, leaves, and then tends to flash here and there whenever he feels the need to do so. The last solo project he dropped, it was Control System, and that album still holds a lasting impression to this day – that was about 2 years ago. Since that time, there was a wide speculation that he would have dropped the 3rd installment of his Longterm series and even also a joint EP with JMSN entitled Unit 6, but those weren’t the case. Then it was Top Dawg himself who came out at the end of 2013 who said that everyone in the crew, including the new signees, would be dropping an album – oh joy! So with Isaiah Rashad & SZA dropping digital albums, and ScHoolboy Q releasing his major label debut to follow his own 2 year break since Habits & Contradictions, it wasn’t that much of a farfetched idea to believe that Ab’s debut album was going to follow suit. Or so that’s what we thought. It turns out that the Black Lip Bastard turned Black Lip Pastor will have to wait until 2015 to get his debut out (for circumstances the people on the outside know nothing about), so for now we have another little project to hold us over until that time comes. These days (pun intended), the debate for best rapper in the Black Hippy crew tends to go between Ab-Soul & Kendrick Lamar. Truth be told, I didn’t like Ab-Soul at all when I first heard Longterm Mentality, but because of my personal life situations that came about in late 2012 to early 2013, it was Longterm 2 that gave me more of an appreciation for his solo efforts, whereas he did kick in some good features on other projects, and I did see the value of his lyrical ability, where I do agree that his wordplay has strength over Kendrick. When Control System came about, the arguments for Ab-Soul grew louder where people were saying that Soul’s album was better than Kendrick’s Section.80, and that’s where the anticipation for the album really began to buzz. What I anticipated with this album was that it would carry over from the introspective, detailed and thought provocative content that he brought with Control System (and if you’ve listened to Nibiru – that too). It was a wide open guess as to how Soul would be approaching this album, but that cloud of mystery has worked for him pretty well thus far.
“I ain’t the black lipped bastard no more, I’m more mature
Call me the black lipped pastor, I walk on holy water
And Joseph ain’t my father, holla” – Only 1
It’s only fitting that the newly named Black Lip Pastor has his first song called God’s Reign, and given the nature of the album cover of him portraying a Black Jesus, you could see where this was going off the bat. The addition of SZA has been useful for TDE thus far, as she’s been featured on every TDE release outside of her own this year, and she’s contributed to the mellow vibes that she meshes well with. The theme of These Days sort of emulates something in the Longterm series in terms of his particular thought process at this particular time. He talks about the death of his girlfriend, Alori Joh (which he brought up on The Book of Soul from Control System), and how he’s been since that time as he takes his position as being the ‘God MC’, hence the multiple play on words of being holier than thou on the track. Initially, the track was alright to me. A bit slow in pace and whatnot, but Control System started off the same way, so I had some faith going forward. I liked how at the end of the track, the segue into Tree of Life was played out with Isaiah Rashad speaking while Collard Greens played in the background. This was one of the first tracks heard from the album before the album was even brought to light, and I was very satisfied with what I heard. The play on words with trees in different forms was dope, and over a 90s inspired beat, there could be no wrong done on Soul’s part. The wordplay just kept going and going, and even when the song ended and the DJ Dahi beat switch came in, he kept going, and it was truly appreciative that we could get (what seems to be) the rarity of a dope beat and great lyrics to go with them, and it holds real replay value.
When it comes down to Ab-Soul & ScHoolboy Q collaborations, more times (well, every time), they’re great. Druggys WitH Hoes 1, 2 (and a possible 3rd which may not see the light of day), Pass the Blunt, To THa Beat, Hell Yeah, and SOPA are the examples of such tracks, and so when Hunnid Stax came about, of course the excitement grew. When it came to be when the song came out, I was definitely less excited as the song went forward. The word I’m looking for to describe it – generic. It’s generally a song that’ll be useful in a club atmosphere or will generate a craze during a concert, but besides that, I didn’t have much use for it and that’s a disappointment to me, because I wanted to like it a lot. Whereas it’s strictly for entertainment purposes, I didn’t feel so much entertained, so it’s a skip-able one for me. Another track that I didn’t like at first, but grew on me was Dub Sac, and besides (what appeared to be) it being a song about weed, the hook is infectious. What we’re starting to see more of is the confidence brewing from Ab-Soul, because he’s eatin’ now. The running joke has been that he hasn’t been, because he was always the opening act for Kendrick, and hasn’t got his shine until recent, which explains P.Diddy (or Puff Daddy) saying his bit at the end of Hunnid Stax. The ending of Dub Sac was dope because for the longest time, I was wondering why Punch (president of TDE) had just stopped rapping (he has a great verse on Kendrick’s Faith), but then as his verse came through, it was a refresher to know that he’s still got it in him to lay down some bars.
One thing about this album is that when the tracklist came out, it was very feature heavy, which was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. My friend Dwayne made a good point about that when he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that a ton of features is often used to ‘save the album’ because it’s not that good, and that could be true for a lot of albums if you look at the tracklists. There aren’t a lot of albums that have a crapload of features that’s actually good (the last ones are probably My Name Is My Name & Jesus Piece). One feature that had a lot of hip hop puritans excited was Lupe Fiasco, because Ab-Soul even said himself that he was Lupe Fiasco on crack, and since both of them are lyrical as hell, it was bound to be a flurry of intensity, and World Runners is definitely that, but I hate the beat. It felt so flat to me and it’s a shame because the concept was of some interest – you know, ordinary people running the world and all that jazz. I like how in the hook, Ab referenced back to one of his songs from CS, Illuminate, but I felt like the verses could have been better, as if the idea was a rushed idea and thrown together. It didn’t feel complete, but Lupe came through and put down a good verse. It comes down to production as the biggest reason why I didn’t enjoy the song, as much as the lyrics themselves are the ones to be taken in for their structure. So far, this album was a definite mix in reaction from song to song. The consistency of delivery was questionable, but it was still too early in the album to tell if it was going to be an overall disappointment, or if it would improve before it ended.
Nevermind That jumps in out of nowhere with a wicked beat that emphasized the bounce from the get go, and this song was really dope in how it was formed out because where it appears that Ab is saying some concrete stuff, there’s a TV static sound effect that cuts in to ‘distract’ you from that and just feel the beat. Pretty much like how music videos are meant to be a distraction from real world events. It’s smart how it was laid out.
“My aim is to ill instill in the powers that be
The power in me, to move matter with my brain
Powder ain’t my name
Money, power, and respect, powder in my-“
BJ The Chicago Kid has been a great TDE collaborator for a lot of years, so it’s great that it can continue on this album, in particular this track (he was also on Control System). The addition of Rick Ross was random, as he brought his Meek-Mill-ish flow that he usually does, but it was suitable for the track and it’s one of the more enjoyable ones to listen to, because where there’s the conscious effort of soul, it’s masked by the mindless rap that ties into the theme of the song itself. Between this song, and the two others to follow Twact & Just Have Fun, I knew that this album was taking a different approach that was in a more appeal-to-the-masses style, especially with Twact, because it granted that Ab is from the West coast, it sounds like a track YG threw away from My Krazy Life. Just Have Fun sounds like something from Side A of Danny Brown’s Old album, and it’s funny that Ab has affiliations with the two, so the influence comes out, but although I may not care for them on the album, they’re definitely good for club environments, which I feel are their purposes. Even at the end of Just Have Fun and the hymn-like rendition of These Days comes in; Soul even uses the Migos flow, much to his chagrin (“Swear to God this is the only time I use this flow”), but he at least used it in a way that was lyrical with context that was great to go with the theme, in which he returns to the idea that he’s a Black Jesus.
For those who’ve been following along TDE for a while (so 3-4 years), if you remember on Section.80 when Kendrick Lamar & Ab-Soul had Ab-Soul’s Outro, on a spoken word vibe with a jazz ensemble behind it, it was wicked. Well, the script was flipped and now it was Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude that would be a symmetrical version of the original, and granted that Kendrick’s album is to be released later this year and we hadn’t heard anything new from him since good kid, m.A.A.d city (and the Control verse) there was a lot of excitement for what was going to take place. Terrace Martin returned with the production to fit the style of the original, and it was at this point where Kendrick started to take off.
“These Days ain’t shit changed
Different toilet, same shit… and I drank a whole gallon of laxatives by accident just to shit on you has-beens
Had it been for my past tense, I wouldn’t be rapping
See these streets made me, broke me down, built me up, drove me crazy
Made me hungry, made you hate me, but fuck love”
To say he ‘spazzed’ is really an understatement, because it sounded like built up frustration from his Grammy snub finally came out in one verse. Ab-Soul contributed in a way that was explaining that it was his time to shine and that the nature of TDE is not only to take over, but also to stay on top. This was the point of the album where I felt that it was going to get better, and in way, it did.
The first evidence of it getting better came with Closure, and it’s the one thing that a lot of people can never seem to get, especially when it comes to relationships, and that’s pretty much what this deals with. Now, everyone knows (or have no idea) that Soul’s main squeeze is currently Yaris Sanchez, and beforehand it was Alori Joh before her untimely death, and this song serves with the events of what has happened in his love life prior to that happening. To move on seems damn near impossible, but he’s at least moved in a direction to try and get that part of his life together to some degree. Who better to have on a song about relationship woes than Jhene Aiko? It seems to be her niche, and it’s been working for her thus far. I’m definitely a fan of the personable tracks that brings out a sense of vulnerability in an artist, because when they open up about the more deeper stuff, it brings the artist closer to his audience in terms of getting to know them more. Some people may not care to know who they are as people, but I find that it helps the audience relate more, and to some extent I’m sure there’s a lot of people who can relate to his words on this track.
“I called you back I’m glad you didn’t answer baby
Cause every-time we talk I always feel the static baby
Could be the distance
You spoke the truth into existence to degrade yourself
Told me keep it G as if you told yourself
Knew that I was on the move
I got to prove my theories to be true”
One of the hardest things to do is be in a relationship while you’re in the music business (not that I would have any knowledge of that), but when you’re touring or making music, it seems as if there’s not a lot of time to get back to the person you care mainly about on a consistent basis. I commend those who have kept their relationships strong, and for Soul to bounce back after the loss of the love of his life to try to fill the hole in his heavy heart, that’s something to take of note – takes a lot of strength.
In an instant, the mood switches up. J.Cole has been on his producer game, and although there aren’t a ton of examples outside of his own work, he’s definitely provided some dope ass beats to some artists that carry his own style. Sapiosexual carries on with that trend. The only word I could describe it is – jiggy. That significant bounce is hypnotizing. Soul has this thing of sending people to the dictionaries or Wikipedia whenever he talks about certain things in his rhymes, but the title itself, I had no idea what a Sapiosexual was, so I looked it up.
One who finds intelligence the most sexually attractive feature; behaviour of becoming attracted to or aroused by intelligence and its use.
So, knowing that, the lyrics in the song make more sense when he’s telling a woman to let him fuck her mind, because at first I was like what…is he talking about? I had a feeling it had something to do with the 3rd eye or something else that he refers to, but intelligence isn’t that far off. I mean, shit, intelligence is a sexy beast ain’t it?
More dictionary definitions (biblical, in this case) were due as Stigmata approached, and that’s actually a condition that has to deal with physical marks & scars that were first brought up pertaining to Jesus’ crucifixion (holes in hand, scars on back, holes in feet). The self-proclaimed God MC compares himself to taking the lashes and discipline of being a righteous man for him to resurrect himself and truly deliver his message to the people. Also, I like how he plays on ‘astigmatism’, which is a medical condition that deals with eye vision, which he has a history of since he was born. He ties both ideals as he puts his life into perspective on how he was able to come to this position where he can be put on a pedestal to preach his word.
“Shades in the night, that’s a scary sight
I’m never in the dark though, my squad the brightest circle
Watch with the internet alone I enlighten the whole globe
That’s iTunes from a nigga with astigmatism
I got it from my moms, thank you Steve Jobs
You took my grandpa job and you gave me a job
Not just a physical but digital way of displaying my rhymes”
Soul’s family owned a record store, and since the innovation of the iPod and mp3s…you see where I’m going with this. I guess we can all thank Steve Jobs for his generation changing invention. I’m a fan of Action Bronson, but on this track, I didn’t feel like he was needed for a feature, and Asaad, who I have no idea about. I didn’t feel like one verse was enough, because the beat was chilling, and there was concrete substance to build on. I would have liked to see that continue, but what are you going to do?
The song that I compare Feelin’ Us to would be Money Trees, and that has nothing to do with the fact that Jay Rock has an appearance on both of them, but it’s like a feel good track, smooth vibe, and carries a positive notion around his coming up, unlike the many rappers who used their abundance of haters as their motivation to succeed.
“I ain’t even have too many haters
All my niggas knew I was gon’ make it
From performing at Pep Rallys, showcases, talent shows
That I had to sell tickets for, just to get up in that ho”
Worldwide tours (or more so North American) and actually ‘eatin’ have propelled Soul to a more confident level, as I stated earlier, but you can actually hear it now, and I’m sure from now on, he’ll be headlining tours instead of merely being a guest. It’s like a TDE version of We Made It as Soul & Rock talk about celebrating their come up and how the world has taken heed of their blow up and develop a serious following behind them (individual & as a label).
Ride Slow has to be my favourite track on the album because there were so many elements around it that make it enjoyable to listen to: Mac Miller on the haunting beat, 3 verses from Ab-Soul, Danny Brown doing what Danny Brown does best – eat features for lunch, and even an addition of Earl Sweatshirt on the hook was fitting enough since he’s on that monotonous flow & vocal vibe anyways. Ab-Soul recorded some of this track while on Acid, so perhaps that enhanced the delivery that he came with, which I thought was dope. The Tupac Hail Mary homage was a nice touch as well (you sometimes forget he’s a West Coast rapper, because he doesn’t traditionally sound like a West Coast rapper). The song’s stretched out length is trance-like especially when the beat switches up, but it’s all around dope.
If Unit 6 never sees the light of day, W.R.O.H was definitely the ultimate troll when the tracklist came out, because just about everyone (including myself) thought that the EP was the last track, given that it’s 23 minutes long. That wasn’t the case, unfortunately. For the first 4 minutes, we did get another dosage of Soul & JMSN, which was wicked because the sound that comes with is a different feel and suits Ab-Soul’s outwardly perspective that he brings to rap. Everything comes together at the end to sum up in his own traditional saying ‘we really out here’.
“Cause I ain’t got no fear, under the atmosphere
Trying to stay high, as long as we down here
Listen closely, see what we bout here
Who really bout that, you’ll see when the smoke clears
Cause we really out here!”
It’s not the ending, but clearly the beginning of what’s to be a long-lasting tenure by not only him, but also the whole TDE camp, which is fine by me and thousands of other fans.
Just as I thought I was about to be plugged into more JMSN collaborations, there’s a break and then there’s a rap battle between Soul & Daylyt (whom I never heard of before this) that takes place. Now, the reason why a lot of people say that Ab-Soul is the best rapper in TDE is because he has a more lyrical embodiment than the others, and this rap battle certainly proved a lot of that, because there’s a flurry of metaphors and word flips that all till now cause me to screw up my face a bit. Daylyt is a known battle rapper, so obviously his delivery and emphasis when he came with his punch lines hit harder than Soul’s, but I’m not going to lie, Soul put up a great fight of his own, and I could honestly call this a tie. It was definitely a nice touch to finish off the album by bringing it back to the basics of how Hip Hop really originated and what it stands for – a meeting of 2 minds in a box to spar like two heavyweights going for the knockout. It’s what the game’s missing where actual rappers can go with battle rappers, because it’s still a rarity that battle rappers can make decent music, so this was an impressive showing by Soul.
You know when a hurricane comes through and you’re left with the remnants? Those are the weaker storms of what’s left of the hurricane after it makes landfall. That’s how I feel about this album. Where there was some strength, there were more showings of weakness, especially when it comes to Soul’s standards and being the follow-up act to Control System. As I said after the KL Interlude, it started to get better, but those handful of tracks didn’t save the album as a whole, because there are definitely songs that I could do without. A lot of people will say that the album is ‘different’, but that’s usually an excuse to force themselves to like the album when it’s a complete change from what they were initially anticipating – aka ‘bullshit’ (See: Yeezus). The truth is that Soul does take a more entertaining approach while maintaining his conscious level, and because he’s growing out of the ‘broke-and-almost-famous’ level that we embraced him for, and took a more modern twist to appeal to a wider audience instead of his usual core (hence, using the Migos flow & having club-banger type of tracks), whether or not it’s a sign to come in the future is left to be determined, but it’s an unsettling reaction. Soul is focused, and there’s evidence of that, but only time will tell what’ll happen when we finally get the debut. Hopefully there will be less features so it doesn’t seem like a thrown together project. Check out the album anyways because there are quality tracks that deserve the attention, but for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX