Not that it really matters, but I want it to be known that it bums me out on multiple levels to write this piece, even if it was completely my idea.
Ab-Soul has been one of my favorite emcees since his first Longterm mixtape, and although I’ve been just as captivated as the next person witnessing the meteoric rise of Kendrick Lamar, Soul has long been my favorite emcee on the TDE roster.
Ab’s unorthodox convergence of dense, esoteric musings and simplistic street talk make him a best of both worlds artist. Soul can send you down a wormhole of research on Nibiru and pineal glands or give you the perfect soundtrack for smoking weed and having sex, often on the same track.
Admittedly, this is the same quality that’s made Ab-Soul incredibly difficult to put into a box, something that seems to be a prerequisite for commercial success, Kendrick’s still awe-inspiring reign aside.
In the few years that Kendrick and also ScHoolboy Q have begun tasting the sweetest fruits of TDE's collective labor, Ab-Soul’s rise has been much more grassroots, leaning heavily on the cult-like following his equally cult-like demeanor attracts. Musically, this is apparent by the fact that his last two releases have been exclusively digital, with physical copies of both These Days... and Do What Thou Wilt. only appearing on the ethereal shelves of the TDE online store.
I remember receiving my pre-ordered copy of These Days... in the mail and being taken aback by the album's housing in the same plastic slip packaging as a mixtape you would receive from a struggle rapper at SXSW (but with much better artwork). A lack of physical presence on shelves is hardly upsetting in 2016, though. In fact, for an emcee like Ab-Soul, it’s probably a very smart business move, which would make sense coming from the hyper-meticulous TDE think-tank.
What is upsetting is how this has seemingly manifested in Ab-Soul’s visual game.
While watching Ab’s latest video for “Womanogamy,” I was overcome with frustration and disappointment at what seemed like a complete lack of effort in creating a captivating visual, especially after the utter garbage fire of genericness that was “RAW (backwards).” For all the references to the cosmic divinity of femininity and DMT trips, “Womanogamy” was given a visual accompaniment that amounts to 90% generic strip club aesthetic with a hastily added 10% of horrendously-acted Next Friday-esque slapstick comedy. Hardly a fitting tribute to even the most flippant interpretations of the song’s content.
In thinking about the lack of inspiration behind the visuals I’ve seen from D.W.T.W. thus far, I came to the realization that it’s actually been quite some time since I’ve seen a truly engaging, artistically impressive visual from Ab-Soul.
This demise becomes an even more bitter pill to swallow when placed in contrast to the visual epics that Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q have been delivering over their past couple releases. This is to be expected, both Kendrick and Q are signed to Interscope in addition to TDE, and obviously the two have bigger budgets to work with. But it doesn't take an exorbitant sum of money to create a captivating video. TDE was pumping out fun, engaging videos seven years ago when Jay Rock still had the most notoriety out of the bunch, and Kendrick Lamar was K. Dot and still a complete unknown.
A perfect example can be found in Soul’s first video with TDE, “Day In A Life.” The video's budget clearly borders on non-existent and the concept was simple, but it was fun. And, terrible camera work aside, it still holds up as an engaging visual.
Since then, TDE has become a force within hip-hop and along with their evolution, the potency and quality of their videos, in general, has increased exponentially. Why is it then, that Ab-Soul’s most recent visuals seem like jumbled half-treatments at best, and an afterthought of a now hugely successful indie label at worst?
Look, I’m not asking for an “Alright”-caliber video every time, but when Lil Yachty is making more engaging videos than Soul by just jumping around in a room, there’s clearly a disconnect.
Is this a case of artistic confusion? When Ab-Soul was truly broke and living in Carson, “Day In A Life” made perfect sense and was a fitting representation of his artistic space, but in the years since Longterm, Soul’s artistic mission statement has become harder to define, possibly a cause for the lack of creative direction in his videos.
It’s possible that TDE is just letting Ab-Soul have creative control over his visual representation and the guy just isn’t great at treatment concepts. It’s also possible that Soul wants the focus to remain on his lyrics, and therefore doesn’t want to overpower the experience of hearing them with overly busy visuals, but that didn’t seem to be a problem on “Terrorist Threats” or “Pineal Gland,” both incredible visuals with lyrical potency to match.
Regardless of the disconnect, sadly, I’m no longer motivated to hit play on a new Soul video for fear of it being a four-minute snoozefest like “Womanogamy.” I love Ab-Soul’s music, and for quite some time I loved his visuals as well, but it’s becoming more difficult to keep the latter opinion with every new video.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: TDE