Release Date: May 11, 2012
Record label: !K7
As today’s Hip Hop climate is predicated by gatekeepers overlooking lesser known talent, coveted cosigns from iconic figures do wonders in the way of up and coming emcees receiving an otherwise hard earned shine. Amongst the West Coast’s rising phenomena, Top Dawg Entertainment’s Black Hippy crew has found themselves in hopes of eventually following in the esteemed footsteps of Game, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent as the group’s close affiliation with Dr. Dre has netted a lucrative joint venture partnership with Interscope and Aftermath Records.
Here's what Schoolboy Q said about Ab-Soul, the least visible member of the Black Hippy collective, when I interviewed him for Self-Titled magazine last winter: "I write a line, and I bring it by him. He's like my actual human dictionary when I'm in the studio rapping." Black Hippy alpha Kendrick Lamar told Andrew Noz something similar in last February's issue of The Fader: "When I first met [him] I thought he was a nerd. A nerdy, wizardish genius." These two aren't slouches in the eloquence or intellect departments: To hear them speaking with hushed reverence about Ab-Soul was interesting, to say the least.
With his 2012 effort, Control System, Ab-Soul is the fourth and final member of the Black Hippy crew to stake a solo claim, but chalk it up to this album being crafted over time, because here he's matched his teammates (Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, and ScHoolboy Q), and arguably topped them. Ab-Soul is the child of record store-owning parents, and his backing tracks are not only diverse, but purposefully diverse, with the horny "Lust Demons" (produced by Tae Beast) sounding brittle and moneyed like a chopped-up R. Kelly cut, plus, had Ab-Soul not gotten to this buttery stuff first, the woozy "Empathy" (with Skhye Hutch at the controls) would've started a bidding war between Devin the Dude and the neo-soul genre in total.
Out of all the members of the red-hot Black Hippy collective, Ab-Soul is the rapper most deserving of the group’s name, even though he is the least well known. Where Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock are mostly traditional street rappers-- albeit with unconventional perspectives and unorthodox flows-- Ab-Soul is the one with the progressive politics, the heart-on-the-sleeve emotionalism, and the crazy hair. He even sings.
Ab-Soul's Control System is one of the most thoughtful, provocative and truthful albums of the year so far. It is a breath of blue dream steam from an industry that is sounding more than ever like it's running on schwag fumes. Unlike TDE counterpart Kendrick, who often sounds like he's channelling early Eminem, Ab-Soul doesn't really sound like anybody in the rap game, and that's a good thing.
“Said I was the underdog, turns out I’m the secret weapon,” boasts Ab-Soul in the intro track of his new album Control System. One fourth of the Black Hippy movement, Soul has been a steady contributor to the team’s success with solid collabs on Section.80 alongside Kendrick Lamar and partner in crime ScHoolboy Q on Habits & Contridictions. In his most recent solo endeavor, Control System, Soul craftily proves that he is indeed a potent weapon on a team full of heavy artillery.