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Album Review: Ab-Soul – Control System

One of the self-proclaimed “Black Hippies” of the Top Dawg Entertainment crew, Ab-Soul has made a name for himself through his unique flows and psychedelic sound. Soul sucks us into his syrup-and-Sprite ridden world with his explicitly real lyrics and very fitting production style.

The album begins with “Soulo HO3”, a track with dramatic production that accentuates Soul’s confident proclamation of his own success. He gives us a taste of his motivations and aspirations, and hits us with his ultimate success in his final line on the track “Nothing was given, and still livin’.”

“Track Two” continues where “Soulo HO3” left off, this time with a beat and hook that capture the artist’s ability to be incredibly catchy, despite his unorthodox style. One of his best lines comes when he proclaims “I’m a diamond ring in the trash, no reason to brag.” Soul accentuates this fact with his hook:

Ab-Soul/abstract asshole/(give the people what they need)/ damn right, let ‘em know/(you got some kind of disease/I’m the illest in the business/if you aint with the business/mind your business

If “Track Two” is a track for “The people”, the next three are certainly songs for Ab-Soul. “Bohemian Grove” introduces Soul’s fucked-up sex life that involves the use of pain-killers, cough syrup and fast women. It seems that the rapper is more interested in drugs and music than perusing women, but we see Soul go deeper into that subject later with “Double-Standard.” We get Soul’s perspective on the societal pressures that weigh on young relationships, and how they are drastically different for men and women. He ends the first two verses with “If you don’t get this pussy then you a pussy,” and in his final verse spits out:

To my n***as having bitches that’s what you just do/ To the bitches having n***as that’s what a slut do

The middle of the album is dedicated to Soul’s glorified addiction to drugs and alcohol, which we find out is rooted in the tragic loss of his lover just this year. There is also the overarching idea that our lives are being controlled by the government, and Soul is doing everything in his power to gain control of his own. We see this theme shine through in “A Rebellion” and “Beautiful Death,” where the rapper explores imagery of rising up and sacrificing life for the greater good.

“A Rebellion samples drums from “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon and lacks rapping altogether. Soul uses violent imagery combined with a sad melody to invoke emotions of loss and revenge. He ends the song with a repeated line, “Who’s bold enough to rebel?”

“Beautiful Death” brings this feeling to a climax with it’s hard drums and Soul’s compelling performance with lines like

I’m just an American expression/give me some credit/won’t be surprised/before I rise I’m beheaded\

The hook repeats, “Don’t be so afraid to die,” while we get a spine-tingling pep-talk from Ab on how we must “Rise… and break ties from our everyday lives.”

The artist wraps up his album with his most compelling piece of storytelling in “The Book of Soul.” We hear about Soul’s rough childhood and the 7-year relationship with his high school sweetheart that ends in tragedy.

And as much I wanna cower and bid the mic adieu/and fall off a fucking tower tryna find you/I gotta stay cuz I remember that day I looked you in the face and told you nothing can stop me/not even you

We finally begin to understand Ab-Soul’s point of view in “The Book of Soul,” albeit late in the album, as we discover the personal struggles the rapper has had to overcome. He ends the song with a message for those facing difficulties in their lives:

Don’t be dethroned by these systems of control/just keep your fingers crossed and get them locks off your soul/don’t be dethroned by these systems of control/just keep your fingers crossed and get them locks off your soul

Ab-Soul’s second studio album brings us into his world of cough syrup and weed, love and sex, struggle and success, all through his moving lyrics and dynamic flow. Most of all we discover a man willing to put everything on the line to overcome the systems of control and prevail.

Stream the full album, here

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Lindsey Gamble

Lindsey Gamble is the Founder/Editor of Hard In The Paint.