Though he has yet to achieve the name recognition of labelmates Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul has built a reputation as Top Dawg's finest pure lyricist on the strength of independent albums Longterm Mentality and Control System.
Now, he's preparing to turn that duology of stellar LPs into a trilogy with the release of These Days... Heralded by Booth-approved singles "Tree of Life" and "Stigmata," as well as the similarly-acclaimed title track, the 15-track set includes guest rhymes by Ab's above-mentioned Black Hippy crewmates, as well as appearances from the likes of Action Bronson, Danny Brown, JMSN, Lupe Fiasco and Rick Ross.
Beats come courtesy of Blended Babies, J. Cole, Larry Fisherman, Terrace Martin and many more.
UPDATE: Fans can now stream the album below.
These Days... Album Review
First he let us know that his mentality is Longterm, always one step ahead. Next came his struggle to overcome the Control System that both internal and external forces held over him. These Days… is Soul clueing his fans in on where he’s been, how he’s changed and stayed the same, how he’s wrested back control, how he sees the world through a new set of eyes. He might be legally blind, but his third eye is 20/20.
As is customary with any new TDE release, the whole gang contributes heavily to the lead artist’s project. Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude is essentially a reprise of Section.80’s Ab-Soul’s Outro, with the host and guest roles being swapped, as Kendrick and Soul prove why nobody can fuck with TDE lyrically while Terrace Martin continues to “fuck ‘em up” on the horns. It’s always nice to hear these two rap for two minutes each over a dope beat, but this track shares a bit too much with its three year old companion. Fresh off one of the year’s best releases in Oxymoron, ScHoolboy Q stops by for a 16 on Hunnid Stax, and Jay Rock continues to tear up his guest verses on Ride Slow. TDE newbie SZA sings a fabulous hook on God’s Reign and provides background vocals elsewhere, while Isaiah Rashad is limited to a quick request for more weed at the end of a track. Production wise, TDE is all over the album, as the usual in house suspects-DJ Dahi, Dave Free, Tae Beast, Sounwave and Rahki-lend their signature beats: moody, musical instrumentals that are ideal soundboards for Soul’s diverse set of vocal skills.
Since his first mixtape, Longterm, was released in 2009, Ab-Soul’s music has been a delicate balance between light and dark. He’s letting loose metaphorical stools one minute, and talking about Pineal Glands the next. Soul’s music is sometimes that of an enlightened skeptic, head resting on the clouds, marveling at all he sees, but questioning it all too. At other times Soul is simply a 27-year-old man from Carson, California, chasing women, getting high, and rapping much better than most everyone else on either coast and everywhere in between. Soul illuminates the light and the dark, as his vocals take on a prophetic tone when dealing with headier subject matter and murkier beats, but can also sound melodic and almost childish when harmonizing about weed, women and the happier side of life. It’s a balance that Soul knowingly tiptoes, and it’s a unique talent that lends each of his projects depth. He’s a “genius idiot”, an enlightened ignorant.
Darkness can come in the form of hooks and verses. It’s not so much in what’s said but more so in how. SZA’s pleading hook on God’s Reign sounds like she’s struggling with the same sort of control Soul explored on his last disc. The last two minutes of Just Have Fun, aside from being the album’s finest minutes, deals with Soul’s notorious drug abuse and the inevitable downs that come with chasing highs. The album is rampant with distorted vocal touches. A screwed and chopped word or two. A helium induced Mac Miller (Delusional Thomas) verse. This sense of entering the shadows is also expressed via the instrumentals. The hi-hats and steady moan on Nevermind That. Closure’s cavernous spaces between crisp snares. Lead single Stigmata is a skittering mess, its frenzied beat a perfect fit for Soul’s deep background harmonies. Ride Slow is Tupac’s Hail Mary meets the infamous bells from the Harry Potter film score. It’s ill advised to listen to this one alone in the dark.
Both his peers and established legends influence Soul’s music, which is uniquely manifested on These Days… Stigmata borrows a portion of its hook from Nas, who Soul recently stated he tries to honor with each new release at least once. Soul is vocal about his past and present drug abuse on the album, and his struggles with exorcising personal demons is reminiscent of Eminem’s material. Closure is straight deeply personal playbook that Marshall uses to this day. Soul’s flow is a little bit of early Jay-Z, a little bit of 2004 Lupe and a little bit of a Bone Thug. But he’s inimitably and unapologetically Ab-Soul. He prefers mind fucks over foreplay (Sapiosexual) and loves to get Twact, but also is “more than a man, died and rose again.”
Where Control System had him struggling with regaining control, These Days… is Soul figuring out how to maintain control in the face of mounting pressures, again, both internal and external. These days, Soul’s money tree has blossomed and with it, expectations have grown and relationships and trust are harder to come by. But for now at least, Soul is in control.
[By Alec Siegel, a human being whose heart is in Chicago but whose body is in Boston. He still writes with a quill and listens to records, and can often be found with fists full of Nutella. You can contact him via pigeon mail or shoot him a tweet at @bigasiegs.]
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins