Ab-Soul is an outlier in a genre plagued by homogeneity. He is both a wise, old, medicine man who is kept alive by the pursuit of knowledge, as well as a young tribesman who grows stronger with each hunt and more accurate with each well-aimed spear. His influences are metaphysical and traditional. Suburban and inner-city. East coast and west coast. That bubbling cauldron of cosmic slop is why he is one of the most unique rappers that hovers near the mainstream, and why his latest full length release These Days was so highly anticipated.
But does the album live up to the hype? Being the third main act to release from TDE’s roster behind Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q is kind of like following Superman and Batman. When one guy can fly and the other has the coolest car ever, you’d better so something amazing, or be satisfied with a cult following.
1. “Soulo Eatin’ Now”
Duality is a common theme in Soul’s music, as well as Hip-Hop in general. Trying to balance the influx of wealth that comes along with being a mainstream recording artist and continuing to create that art for the right reasons is a struggle that plays itself out on These Days. Even Puff confirms that Soulo’s eating now on “Hunnid Stax.” The Black Lipped Pastor teams up with his “Druggies With Hoes” partner Schoolboy Q to celebrate his newfound windfall and all of the associated perks. On “Dub Sac,” Soul describes his climb from being “just a little Carson n*gga” with a dub sac in a Chevy Celebrity to riding around with an ounce in a Mercedes Benz. The surroundings may have changed, but Soul himself remains the same hip-hop oracle he always was, seeing into the future before he arrives in a better whip.
2. How Many Emcees?
The answer is a sh*tload. There are 15 guest vocalists on These Days–with at least that many uncredited guests providing adlibs and additional vocals–which at times gives the album a loose jam session feel, and at other times makes it sound disjointed and detached. The four-song stretch between “Hunnid Stax” and “Nevermind” (featuring Rick Ross) are the album’s most cohesive. That run of songs contains the biggest mainstream features, including ScHoolboy Q, Lupe Fiasco, and Rick Ross. “World Runners,” featuring the aforementioned Lupe, is a disappointingly sleepy track, given the title and the lyrical heavyweights involved. “Nevermind,” however, blends Soulo’s approach with Ross’ compelling braggadocio for one of the album’s stronger efforts.
3. Team effort behind the boards
There are also 18 different producers. Of course, at over 90 minutes, the sprawling album could have benefited from more aggressive tailoring, but also contributing to the album’s length are the five- to seven-minute-long tracks with beat switches that seem to pop up on every TDE release. Curtiss King and DJ Dahi both offer strong cases for the album’s best production on “Tree Of Life.” The former’s simple synth strings and tambourines provide aural white space for Soul to splash his vivid lyrics upon, the latter’s aggressive bleeps and bloops sound like a robot uprising with Soul fighting for his life. On the other end of the spectrum, the DNYC3-produced “Twact” just jacks DJ Mustard. While surprisingly pedestrian and unoriginal, “Twact” is a welcome change to the album’s mostly monotone feel. The sense of urgency that made Control System so unique is missing throughout.
4. Muddy Waters
Overall, These Days isn’t a bad album, but it’s doubtful it passes Berry Gordy’s sandwich test. Ab-Soul is a lyricist par excellence, and his perspective is a needed one in a vapid musical landscape. However, the album’s length and the general malaise in sound and tempo are a dense fog that makes it hard to connect with the messages and substance the Carson native is attempting to share. Soul has often evoked the mystical power of the mind in his lyrics. In the future, if he wants to connect to the listener telepathically and bend spoons with his thoughts, he should make sure all of the contents of the kitchen sink don’t get in his way.