There’s no mentioning Ab-Soul without talking about the TDE pedigree. Like Murderers’ Row there’s Kendrick Lamar who redefined mainstream, Schoolboy Q who made it all so indie friendly, and finally Ab-Soul – the enigmatic third man, the Babe Ruth of the bunch. His album These Days... is dark and sullen, thriving almost exclusively in the absence of light. It’s far out like a Bambino slap to right, and that’s exactly how Ab identifies with rap – as a superstar calling his own shots.
It is a personal and self-motivated project, one guy’s attempt to put into perspective all the strange and unusual things he’s experienced as a talented rapper with an equally talented squad backing him up. On it you’ll find all the buzzwords (money, drugs, women, so and so forth), but it’s delivered in a way that is both fresh and innovative. Even more so than Kendrick and Q.
The production is pretty standard, nothing to brag about, but solid and unobtrusive. It allows Ab to remain illusive and mysterious with much of the album bandying back and forth thematically between street anthems and conscious introspection. And Ab is at home in this paradox more than with his previous albums. It’s a heartfelt effort that’s more sensitive than the other TDE projects were willing to get, the sly poetry and the tragedy making it a dramatic and resounding statement.
Post-apocalyptic visions dancing listlessly around the third eye. The collaborations add an otherworldly grace, which casts this dark cloud over the flashbacks - saturating it in that mysterious Ab-Soul way. It’s an examination of some of the things that motivate one of TDE‘s most illusive forces:
Not exactly the Terrence Malick film you were thinking of but the same theory in principle, which is to say that these are some of the idols that Ab worships. The flow is righteous and dark, and while the beat is fairly simple it’s testy enough to keep all lyricists within earshot on their toes:
Another ode to the green goblin, the one that satiates all the indulgences that come with being a rapper. A decayed beat and swollen hook by Mac Miller add a thick layer of smoke to the party, which paves the way for another TDE heavy hitter. Still it’s Ab’s ship and he steers it with a deft hand:
Every stoner’s dream is to turn a gram into a sack and then if things go well a sack into an ounce. After that well the sky’s the limit. And if you have a beat as smoked-out as this then that dream can turn into a brazen fuck-all mentality – a spark worthy anthem for all the Black Hippies out there:
Ab moving curiously like a black cat prowling in the late night. Having an expressive personality like Lupe Fiasco by your side might be enough to eclipse your shine but nothing doing here. He takes the reigns handily, and like a true boss big ups the magnanimous Morgan Freeman in the process:
Making athletic moves like a Jesse White Tumbler. He’s predictably flashing his hoodpass but in a way that doesn’t retard his own creative integrity – dropping the type of left field knowledge that defies your run-of-the-mill braggadocio. Mentioning the odd film Powder makes his verse even more obscure:
Accompanying Ab on this “get high” anthem are a pair of court jesters who can turn an average night into a rager with just one flip of the celly. The beat is grimy and pitch black – a song to play while you, your buddies and a bunch of girls are getting wasted on a huge bag of miscellaneous drugs:
Just one in a handful of songs where he plays it solo. And instead of faltering under the pressure like most in his position would do – posturing in order to appease the hype beast – he resorts back to what he knows best, which is playing it cool, getting high as a kite, and letting the pen do its thing:
Arguably the longest interlude of all time but one that tells you exactly what the TDE family is about. These moments are easily overlooked, but are telling when it comes to expressing subtleties – and in this case not so subtleties. Time is short and they’re looking to capitalize here and now:
Rappers love to moonlight as r&b singers and nine times out of ten it blows harder than Superhead on date night. Few can pull it off, and it’s a mighty ambitious move here, but you got to respect the honesty. Aiko softens it kneading the beat proper, which gives Ab the latitude to get lost in remorse:
Being a sapiosexual doesn’t mean settling for the first hobgoblin with a Phd. It just means that above all the mind is what matters most. Ab looks to clear that misconception up by explaining in vivid detail how his girl needs to be as smart as a whip and as flexible as a Chinese acrobat:
Master your craft and you too will feel like a holy man worthy of martyrdom. It’s a display of supreme confidence that takes a seething dump over the garden variety mush mouthing in today’s scene. Batting third in the line-up was a lucrative move for TDE as it’s provided them with some unexpected power:
Enjoying the fruits of his hard labor and making sure the world knows that he appreciates every waking moment. It’s got a thick retrospective feel to it – a side step from the brooding beats preciously laid out – and with it comes all the thank you’s he can muster with a special shout out aimed at moms:
The soundtrack to the hidden level in Mortal Kombat, a dark place where a few soldiers can practice their fatalities. It’s safe to say that Ab is a left brain nutty professor – as if he were a byproduct of Cypress Hill - and it projects well especially with Danny Brown punctuating the song:
Whatever controversy brought him here is of no importance. He’s taking his fame and fortune and running to the hills with it. It’s a dangerous game that buries rappers faster than they can be churned out yet a place where Ab seems most conformable, a dark knight’s anthem with a bit of drink on the side: