ALBUM REVIEW: Ab-Soul “These Days…”
Those familiar with Ab dash Soul may consider him the elusive and otherworldly member of TDE. Always donning sunglasses and frequently a fitted cap crown, Ad-Soul can fade into the background for those unfamiliar. His past projects have included themes uncommon in mainstream rap – outer space, conspiracies and the like. But with the spotlight on TDE (arguably because of Kendrick‘s stellar debut album and guest verses), everyone is paying attention to Ab-Soul like never before. ScHoolBoy Q released an amazing album in Oxymoron. The newest signees, SZA & Isiah Rashad both released impressive projects, See.SZA.Run & Cilvia Demo, respectively. After a little public angst over his project not being released (see: Twitter), Top Dawg of Top Dawg Entertainment pulled the trigger on the promotion for Ab-Soul‘s latest release. Check my review for These Days… below.
Before I talk my shit, let me start with being honest. I never really liked Ab-Soul‘s brand of hip-hop. Not that I thought he wasn’t a talented rapper, I just couldn’t totally get jiggy with his previous releases – Long Term Mentality, Control System. But, I have a new appreciation for him after listening to These Days…, perhaps even for the obvious reasons. I could relate to the material more. The production is more familiar to TDE and the left coast sound. Additionally, his content is more accessible. I was impressed by this album and I plan to revisit previous releases.
The album features a seemingly random menage of features: Rick Ross, Lupe Fiasco, Action Bronson, Danny Brown, Ravaughn, most of TDE, and more. J.Cole even makes an uncredited ad-lib appearance courtesy of a track he produced. But Herbert Stevens IV makes them all work. In an interview with Life+Times, Ab-Soul shares that he wanted this album to have something for everyone, and he achieves this perhaps getting slightly lost in the struggle to appeal to various listeners. The album opens with “Gods Reign” featuring the airy vocals of SZA, clearly the reference point for the album artwork and the stand-in for a title track for the album. Ab-Soul gives us a peek into where his head is at now after the death of a girlfriend and a binge of various drugs. However, it doesn’t sound tortured or particularly sad mentioned with enlightening baby mamas and booking tour dates. Check it below.
The first half of the album features production and content familiar to original Ab-Soul fans including “Dub Sac,” a soulful two-part track detailing personal drug use and the effects of the drug game on his family and upbringing. SZA makes an uncredited airy appearance that reminds me of a different time in west coast rap music. Lupe Fiasco and Rick Ross both make appearances in the first half of the album, with the latter’s appearance much more impressive. But then again, when is the last time Lupe Fiasco impressed anyone.
The weakness in the album comes with the odd inclusion of an alter-ego Jimmy (aka The White Ab-Soul) and the overused “Migos-flow.” Like, why? Right as you start to side-eye the project, Kendrick Lamar shows up for a jazzy mid-point interlude prime to make you salivate for Kendrick‘s sophomore album. “Sapiosexual” includes a credited SZA appearance but it seems juvenile and outdated. I was under the impression we were done with the fuck-your-mind analogies in the early 90s (see: dead prez “Mind Sex”). The second half of the album continues to be lyrical, yet slightly uninteresting until “Ride Slow” featuring the always entertaining Danny Brown. Definitely not a fan of Danny Brown, but I’m always intrigued by his inclusion on “traditional” rap beats. And then the album closes with Ab-Soul rapping acapella in a battle with another rapper (battle rapper, Daylyt) showcasing his play on words, overall lyrical dexterity, and what appears to be the camaraderie within TDE.
Perhaps Ab-Soul‘s album suffers from sequencing issues. The overall flow of the album is sporadic with the most interesting tracks occurring before the Kendrick interlude. Is this an instant classic? Nah. But it’s a decent rap album and I’m impressed by Ab-Soul‘s latest project. I expected accessible music, but I still prefer the cerebral mood of Control System. Ab-Soul‘s need to please so many different listeners has me wondering what type of artist he would be if he only made the music he wanted. There are lyrical gems reminding me that Ab-Soul is a lyricist first, but tracks like “Sapiosexual” and “Twact” leave me wondering what’s on the cutting room floor.
Standout Tracks: Gods Reign, Hunnid Stax, Nevermind
Skippable Tracks: Twact, Sapiosexual