Album Review: Ab-Soul, ‘These Days…’

Photo Credit: Top Dawg Entertainment
Photo Credit: Top Dawg Entertainment

The self-proclaimed “abstract asshole”, rapper Ab-Soul’s dexterous wordplay and druggy paranoia separate him from Black Hippy cohorts Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and ScHoolboy Q. Previously, Soulo shone brightest on 2012’s Control System, a mind-expanding full-length release rich with hard-hitting personal narratives. The two-year gap between Control System and These Days… is the longest of his career thus far, lending fuel for the album’s title and theme:

“I just wanted it to be a little time capsule of the last couple of years since my absence. The vibe of music and life right now like the last couple of years.”

Unfortunately, the grab-bag approach robs Soulo of his personality more often than it shakes up his sound. Take “Twact”, a trend-hopping piece of tripe that jacks the swag of every YG and DJ Mustard collaboration ever. And the one-two thud of “Hunnid Stax” and “Dub Sac” follow a pair of agreeable opening tracks by threatening to derail the project altogether. Mac Miller phones in a dead-on-arrival hook on “Hunnid Stax”—seriously, he sounds like he’s half asleep—while Soulo does his worst ScHoolboy Q impression on “Dub Sac”, a stinker of a single with some godawful production by Tae Beast and Dave ‘Miyatola’ Free. If Soulo meant to inspire the listener with this tale of rags to riches, he should’ve wrote a better hook:

“I had a dub sack in my bucket, rollin’ round like ”fuck it” Now I got a OZ in this Benz, still rollin’ round like ”fuck it, fuck it’’ OZ in this Benzo, rollin’ round like “fuck it, fuck it” Rollin’ round like “fuck it!” Rollin’ round like “fuck it!” 

I get it—the more things change, the more they stay the same—but there’s too much apathy on the first half of These Days… and the beats just sort of coast along without distinction. Soulo’s producers rely on sizzling hi-hat patterns reminiscent of trap music, Houston-style chopped and screwed vocals, and those creepy keyboard sounds Odd Future made famous , but the most thrilling moment on here comes from the fiery jazz fusion of “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude”. It’s not even original, really, but reciprocation for the similarly styled “Ab-Soul’s Outro” on Kendrick’s 2011 release, Section.80.

That being said, These Days… offers enough quality material to remind us why Soulo’s an MC to be feared. “Just Have Fun” plays the party rap card with gusto and it’s the best song on here—hell, even Soulo seems to agree. On this would-be single, Da$H rattles off a twitchy mantra in the background, reminding us “That’s that dopamine, I mean dope” and to “Do the drugs, don’t let the drugs do you”, while Soulo explains his complex relationship with substance abuse. He longs to escape the pressures of stardom and he’s sick of the shit-talking that comes with fame, but the mind-altering properties of DMT and Percosets appeal to his intellectual side, too:

“I just wanna teach you all about the mind The power in it, the very power of mine It makes sense I take interest in the third eye Due to my lack of sight, I guess it’s a sacrifice Cause I’ve already envisioned what the world looks like So when it’s handed to me, I won’t need to look twice”

Ab Soul

“Just Have Fun” also benefits from a huge hook, derived in part from Drake’s “Own It”:

“When I cross the street I look both ways Gazelle frames, paparazzi in my face ‘Cause niggas talk more than bitches these days And the new drugs got a nigga trippy these days Just have some fun Let’s have some fun”

Drake made it a hot line, Soulo made it a hot song. The hook sounds so simple, so effortless, but also manages to carry a heavy sentiment. Driving the point home, “Just Have Fun” ends on one of several interludes functioning as “the song after the song”, with rock and soul vocal group The O’My’s on a soulful refrain further contextualizing the need for self-medication. As it were, the outro leads straight into that Kendrick interlude…coincidence? I think not.

These Days… improves by leaps and bounds as it progresses. “Sapiosexual” is a warped foray into mental and sexual attraction, complete with a percolating beat from J.Cole that might as well be sourced from Timbaland. “Feelin’ Us” features an expectedly on-point verse from Jay Rock and is the sort of confident, laid-back anthem “Dub Sac” tried to be. “W.R.O.H.” closes the proceedings in epic, hyped-up fashion before an endearing 18-minute battle rap between Soulo and Daylyt plays us out.

And earlier on, the track “Nevermind That” demonstrates Ab-Soul’s tricky sense of self-awareness. Every time Soulo and guest rapper Rick Ross start to kick it up notch, they’re interrupted by a laughably generic R&B hook:

“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 (nah) Money, power, and respect, powder in my— But nevermind that, baby just move your body Nevermind that, baby just move your body”

It’s as if Soulo knows just how stupid rap can be these days. Maybe he’s just fucking with the formulas for the hell of it. Sure enough, hip-hop fans across the Internet have speculated that perhaps These Days… is actually one long parody of modern trends, and that says more than I ever could about the issues with this project.

3/5 stars

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Nick Porcaro is a 24-year old graphic designer, musician and writer based in Jersey City, NJ. Nick graduated in 2012 from UArts in Philadelphia, PA with a BFA in Graphic Design. As a musician he’s played guitar for over 10 years, in addition to dabbling in bass, drums and vocals. Nick currently plays rhythm guitar with Max Feinstein and has worked with Matt Scuteri, Sara Martin, Shakedown Inc., and The Nerd Who Ate St. Louis. When he’s not freelancing for the Wilma Theater, Nick is writing songs for his debut solo record.

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