Deep in the bowels of YouTube is where gold resides. Pressing play on the right visual from many moons ago will send you roller skating down Memory Lane.
Early this afternoon, Ab-Soul tweeted a video from the very depths of TDE’s history books—footage from his Longterm 2: Lifestyles Of The Broke and Almost Famous listening party. The video was uploaded on July 1st, 2010—almost six and a half years ago.
This is more than just a glimpse into the humble beginnings of Ab-Soul, but a look at a young, growing TDE. This is before any real money or recognition, back when the entire label was going through the broke-and-almost-famous phase of their respected careers (except for maybe Jay Rock).
The TDE insignia is missing from the video’s beginning, a small detail that you see in every TDE video today. In the corner, the video credits dee.jay.dave as the video producer, the early moniker of TDE’s own Dave Free. This isn't the high-quality movie that is common from rap labels today; the footage looks like it was captured during the very early stages of a collective building up their equipment and vision for visuals. Dave would evolve as a video director, now ½ of The Little Homies with Kendrick Lamar. Together, the two have produced some of the best music videos not just within TDE, but in all of rap.
The listening session takes place at Magic Disc Music, a record shop in Carson, California, and a place that was like a second home to Ab-Soul growing up. The business belonged to his family; the day of his launch party the lyricist was also still hard at work, surrounded by friends, family, and fans. The record shop would sadly close, a fall due to the rise of digital distribution over physical CDs. As his family business had reached the point of shutting its doors for good, the music industry was beginning to open doors for Soul Brother #2.
He doesn't look vastly different from the Soulo of today: hair was a short curly fro, face looks untouched by age, and his signature black sunglasses were keeping the light from his sensitive eyes. The entire TDE roster looks to be in the springtime of their youth—Kendrick before the braids and facial hair, ScHoolboy without the weight actually resembled a possible student, and Jay Rock—the TDE OG—looks almost identical to the man he is today.
At the 1:12 mark, for a brief moment, Ab-Soul shouts out Alori Joh, a TDE songstress and his former girlfriend, who sadly took her life two years later. For just a second the camera pans over to her, just long enough for her to flash a smile and wave. The scars from her passing can be heard throughout his music, most famously on Control System’s heartbreaking “The Book Of Soul.”
“I’m just a hype man, they just let me stand up front for a while,” Ab says with a smile.
It’s a well-known fact that during the early days of TDE, ScHoolboy was a hype man for Kendrick, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they all alternated the position for one another. It speaks to how the label moves in cycles, each artist has their turn to stand up front. Longterm 2: Lifestyles Of The Broke and Almost Famous was released during the big boom of rap blogs. Back then it was common for artists to team up with blogs to host and house their mixtape releases. Both DJBooth and 2DopeBoyz came together for the release of Ab’s second installment of the Longterm series. At the 1:40 marker, Soulo gives a shout out to both DJBooth and 2DBZ, sending praise, and acknowledging how we have "all the hot shit." Six years later, that hasn’t changed. Just like Ab’s career, we are bigger and better than ever.
While outside with his TDE brothers, Kendrick praises Ab’s ability to make an album that keeps you captivated and tell his story from top to bottom. A project that gives you insight into the artist. “It makes you feel like you know the nigga,” he says, an interesting perspective since that would become the basis of how TDE crafts their album. Each member is a unique storyteller who is able to tell you their journey through a cohesive project. Watching Kendrick praise Ab for this quality speaks to how collectively he saw this as a strength early on.
All the producers who contributed are also in attendance for the listening party. You get to see the faces who are usually behind the boards. Sounwave, one of TDE’s most prominent in-house producers is introduced as a brother, and Ab reveals that Soun is the one who introduced him to Top Dawg. Without the two being friends, there’s a chance Ab-Soul never signs to TDE. The great Willie B also gets a bit of screen time, he produced “Mayday” on Longterm 2, a song that Ab considered his strongest at the time. The two arguably trumped “Mayday” with the release of “Black Lip Bastard”—it’s a true tragedy the loosie never made it on an album. Tae Beast, Spank, Curtiss King, and Sore Losers can all be found scattered throughout.
My favorite part of the listening session comes at the very end. ScHoolboy and Ab are in the frame, but for some strange reason, their lips aren't synced up correctly. Q is in the back joking about smoking on the job, while Ab starts to break down what he’s wearing: the Diamond Supply shirt from a homie, $5 shades from the Swap Meet, the belt courtesy of Sounwave and shoes from Q. He pulls out his pockets and not even lint falls out. He has no money, not a dime on him, but he’s surrounded by people who are supportive of his music. The perfect image of the broke and almost famous lifestyle.
The Ab-Soul of today doesn’t have to borrow any clothes, and his pockets are likely doing better than most. He just released his latest album, will likely be gearing up for a big tour and will continue being one of rap's most acclaimed lyricists. Let this video be a reminder that it doesn’t happen overnight, but a lot can change with hard work, dedication and luck.
It’s good to look back as a reminder that we all start as artists starving to be seen, starving to be heard. Ab-Soul and TDE are no longer broke, no longer starving, and getting more famous by the day.
By Yoh, aka Cameron Crowyoh, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: YouTube