Words About Music
Ab-Soul “These Days…”
One of the domineering forces of contemporary hip-hop is Top Dawg Entertainment, home of Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, SZA, Isaiah Rashad, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul. The label is responsible for some incredible albums and mixtapes, from Kendrick’s 2012 masterpiece “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” to Schoolboy’s super fun recent album “Oxymoron.” The label released a string of great material in 2011 and 2012 that they hope to recreate this year, but so far they haven’t been doing too well. Isaiah Rashad’s debut mixtape “Cilvia Demo” was nondescript and SZA’s EP “Z” came and went without much hype. Having released the amazing, wordy, creative “Control System” in 2012, it appears like it’s up to Ab-Soul to save TDE’s reputation until Kendrick announced his next album. His third album is called “These Days…” and it appears to be something of a mission statement. Let me explain.
There appear to be several ways to interpret Ab-Soul’s music, especially on this album. Whereas he’s released music in an underground-friendly manner in the past, he appears to be moving towards a more accessible route with mixed results. On some songs like “Tree of Life” and “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” you’ve got Ab sticking to his multi-layered fast-paced must-read-on-Rap-Genius flow. There’s songs where he mixes pop-rap accessibility with cleverer-than-thou lyricism to usually good results. Sometimes, though, he attempts to full on subject himself to modern pop tropes, which can be okay. But Soulo goes about it in a way that feels pretentiously parodic, like on “Nevermind That” or “Twact.”
Ab-Soul knows that he’s good at what he does, but what he has in technical skill I think he lacks in self-awareness. The track “Sapiosexual” in which Soul repeats “Let me fuck yo mind” makes me feel like he’s trying to pound me over the head with “GUYS LISTEN TO HOW GREAT I AM AT THE WORDPLAY.” He’s best at that when it feels natural, like on “Tree of Life” and “Stigmata.” Soul is a smart dude that knows how to bend and stretch words to his advantage, but there’s always a line. Perfect example: I love rap battles as much as anybody, but did he really need to stick an 18 minute rap battle at the end of the last song? If I was that interested in seeing Ab-Soul deliver lyrical bombs in a battle I’d look it up on YouTube. It’s not something you need to hear more than once.
I think that’s the worst thing about “These Days…”: The replay value is very low. It’s worth deciphering some of his extended metaphors, but the album tends to suffer qualitatively because of it. It’s well produced and well written, but it sometimes feels obnoxious. The last thing I need is someone telling me that the Illuminati is real. The album is likable, but also sort of formulaic and overlong. Hip-hop does not need to be filled to the brim with wordplay and “smart lyricism” with a “message,” but it at least has to be catchy. I find the hooks forgettable, the delivery underdeveloped, and some of the songs are superfluous. The album is 90 minutes long and could easily be 60. Great features and verses aside, “These Days…” only gives me hope that Kendrick will come through with something orgasmic this fall.
SCORE – 6.2
FAVORITE TRACKS – Tree of Life, Hunnid Stax, Just Have Fun, Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude, Closure, Stigmata, Ride Slow, Rap Battle Between Ab-Soul and Daylyt