There are a lot of running debates around the DJBooth offices, but the one surrounding Ab-Soul has been brewing for a minute now. Anytime we all got on a call it was only a matter of time before Yoh and Lucas began arguing about the relative merits of Ab-Soul, and now that Solo's new album is finally in "almost here" territory after years of waiting, it's the perfect time to put that debate down on (digital) paper.
Where does Ab belong in the TDE hierarchy? Or better yet, in rap's hierarchy? Just how dope is he? Are you excited about this new album? It's time to get debating...
Ab-Soul is Mushrooms
Lucas: Ab-Soul is mushrooms. Not the kind that you buy from a dirty hippy three tents down at Bonnaroo, but the kind you put on pizza or served next to a steak. Real mushrooms.
Tastes and palates change - I used to hate sushi and now I pop them like they're Mentos - but some foods, no matter how many times you try them, always taste wrong. I can eat mushrooms if they're really mixed in with other ingredients, but by themselves or as a topping on pizza, I definitely notice, and I'm definitely not thrilled about it. No amount of exposure therapy, no amount of convincing, has or ever will ever get me into mushrooms.
It's the same thing with rappers. I can adjust to different voices and styles, I know some rappers only fit certain moods, but if their flow feels off, if the texture of their rhymes just doesn't feel right, there’s no hope. There’s no hope for me and Ab-Soul.
The biggest gap between us is Ab's flow. It often feels stammering, with long, drawn out bars that defy consistency and he falls in and out of pockets like pennies. He exaggerates his lines, often placing an emphasis in strange places, often towards the end of the bar, as if the line he’s delivering is so great, so amazing, he needs to ensure you recognize its greatness. I don't think that's his conscious intention, but it's the effect.
Some of Ab-Soul's most talked-about work has stemmed from collaborative cuts, but that is also where I most notice the mushrooms on the pizza. Take “The Heart Part III.” I love Kendrick’s flow, I love the exhausting determination in his voice, I love the passion. He builds the track up like a killer sand castle and, all of the sudden, Ab-Soul jumps on the track and I'm immediately bounced from my zone; all of that momentum is gone. The same goes for his verse on Smke DZA’s “Hearses." That Sea World line makes me cringe, but what really takes me out of the song is Soul's almost loud whispering.
Compare that to “Long Term 2,” one of the only Soulo cuts that goes down easy, and it’s night and day. I know it’s an old cut, but listen to the crispiness of his lines. When you combine his wordplay, which I’ve always enjoyed, with that delivery it’s great, but unfortunately it doesn't happen enough. Like mushrooms on pizza, I can stomach Ab if he’s surrounded by gourmet ingredients, but when he’s left on his own the results are underwhelming and you end up with something like These Days.
I can’t get excited for Ab-Soul’s new album because not only was his last release a disappointment (even hardcore fans have admitted as much), not only are there three more Top Dawgs worthy of my anticipation, but because not matter how you slice it, a mushroom will always be a mushroom.
Ab-Soul Could Be Lupe Fiasco on Drugs
“I used to wanna rap like Jay-Z, Now I feel like I'm runnin' laps around Jay-Z” - "Illuminate"
“I figured it out, I’m Lupe Fiasco on Drugs” - "Showoff Freestyle"
Yoh: These are the two lines that first come to mind when I think about Ab-Soul’s new album. The bars are old but significant. To even relay the thought of rapping circles around Jay Z into a microphone takes a level of insanity only rivaled by Young Money proclaiming their desire to sleep with every girl in the world. I thought he was a madman. I had the same feeling when he first rapped about being Lupe on drugs, a line that has stuck with me since the words left his mouth. It made my question if Ab-Soul really contained those traits. If he did, would that put him in the conversation as these two greats?
Before the release of These Days, I believed that Ab-Soul was the Gohan of TDE. Early in the Dragonball Z series, Gohan was seen as the weakest fighter, especially when standing next to Goku (Kendrick), Vegeta (ScHoolboy Q), and Piccolo (Jay Rock), but Gohan was also always the character with the most potential. His powers just needed to be unlocked and when they did, when he finally displayed the power buried deep inside, he would have no equal.
I would listen to Ab-Soul’s Longterm 2 and hear an album that was on-par with Kendrick’s Overly Dedicated. I would listen to Control System and hear an album that displayed the same prowess as Section80, but being in the shadow of giants can dim the brightest lights. I was hopeful that These Days would be equivalent to Gohan fighting Cell and going Super Saiyan 2 allowing him to prove his prowess, but what I got was Yamcha being killed by a Saibamen.
The pressure is on with this upcoming album and Ab-Soul has to be aware of it. With TDE growing larger, with their collective of artists improving and evolving, he has to not only display growth but burn away all the misconceptions of his abilities as a rapper. These Days was not an adequate introduction, but it was the project that had the most eyes staring and ears open. Out of all the artists on the label, Ab has the most left to prove.
For that very reason, I’m excited. The saying about pressure’s ability to turn coal into diamonds represents my premonition of what his next offering will present. He has to not only live up to his past work but the works of TDE’s other members. The members of Black Hippy are a group of artists who have never danced around internal competition. ScHoolboy didn’t shy away from saying Oxymoron was better than GKMC, he wanted you to compare them, he wanted to be seen as not only an elite artist but better than Kendrick. If Ab finds Zay, Q, and SZA all dropping alongside him this year, the last thing you want is to not being in the conversation.
Ab-Soul has to finally show this year that he is Top Dawg’s big dog, and I believe he can do it.