We’ve all heard the phrase “no junk, no soul.”
It's an astute, if not brash observation on the perceived decrease in talent from some of our favorite iconic musicians after they’ve gotten clean from the drug-addled lifestyle that seems to come with the territory of their chosen profession.
We’ve seen ample evidence from sober artists that drugs aren’t a necessary ingredient in great music, but at the same time, we show little to no concern for the many artists that have fallen prey to addiction and the mental anguish that comes with it. In fact, with phrases like the one above, we’ve all but encouraged a “live hard, die young” lifestyle in the interest of more experimental, soulful music.
Throughout Ab-Soul’s career, the TDE lyricist has heavily mentioned his affinity for drugs of pretty much every category. Like many of his contemporaries, lean is a heavy point of focus in his music, as are drugs like Xanax, Percocet, and all the acronymed entheogens and hallucinogens you can think of.
While Soulo's rate of drug referencing is arguably no higher than any other current rapper, the combination of his pensive nature and past traumas make lyrics like those on “God’s a Girl?” from his recently released Do What Thou Wilt. a bit more troubling than the average Actavis shoutout.
"Top want me to go to rehab / Told him I would go too / Probably just relapse / Cause that's what ill niggas do / Won't even pop a bottle without poppin a pill / Can't have a meal without picking up the bill / Should be more concerned with my health / But I'm gonna die trying to get this wealth"
"I'm just with my niggas hanging, case of champagne / Need some water but I'd rather be a martyr for the cause / Nigga y'all niggas still don't get it"
On “God’s a Girl?,” Ab is displaying the type of disturbingly remorseless self-awareness that fellow artists like Danny Brown and countless others have showcased, a sort of prideful acceptance of their role in this crazy realm of selling art for money and recognition, and frankly I’m concerned.
I know, I’m just a guy that listens to his music and shares my thoughts with the world, why should I care? Hell, I’ve only met Ab-Soul once and I can almost guarantee he doesn’t remember me, so what right do I have to be doting a man who’s only a few months older than me and has accomplished things I’ll never dream of?
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It’s true, I’m just a fan. But we’ve seen fans affect the lives of artists directly on several occasions, and indirectly on a constant basis. Soul himself has stated in interviews that he’s well aware of what his audience desires, and in lyrics like those featured above, it seems that he’s accepted that part of the expectation is to continue taking—and rapping about—all of the drugs under the sun until they take his life early, as they’ve done with the lives of so many great artists in the past.
We must do better at recognizing that artists are people just like you and me, and a cry for help in lyrics should often be viewed as more than just lyrical fiction.
As a former addict myself, I’ve seen that mentality firsthand on a personal level. I’ll tell you right now—opioids absolutely can make creating art easier. That’s a blunt truth, but it’s a truth so many have fallen prey to, and it needs to be addressed.
A relaxed, warmth-filled buzz supplied by Actavis, Percocet, Oxycontin and the like has been the basis for more art than we’d probably be comfortable being aware of. But as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been through this and, at the risk of sounding like an after-school special, it’s 100% possible to be creative without the aid of narcotics, even after you’ve grown accustomed to their assistance.
When it comes to the sovereignty of your own physical body, I will always be at the front lines of the debate to state that you should be able to do whatever the hell you want. So, Soul, if you’re reading this, this isn’t proselytizing. This is genuine concern from someone who’s seen countless iconic careers cut short because they gave into the role of drug-fueled artistic martyr just like you talk about in your music.
You don’t have to be a martyr to leave a mark, and especially in the case of someone as talented as Ab-Soul, you’re better to us here, continuing to make thought-provoking art, than on a RIP T-shirt.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Art Credit: Luke Lewin