Review Summary: Hip-hop fans have something to look forward to out of the west coast again
LA collective Black Hippy took 2011 by storm with well-received releases by all members, spearheaded in force by Kendrick Lamar's debut LP, Section.80
. Where Section.80
proved Lamar's worth and elite lyricism, the rest of the crew trailed slightly behind with exceptional efforts from Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock. The weakest of these Black Hippy releases was (unquestionably) Ab-Soul's Longterm Mentality
, a poorly produced, meandering affair that just barely separated itself from the chaff purely through its vocal merits.
Proper studio follow-up, Control System
, finds Ab-Soul taking continued advantage of his unique flow - a style that emphasizes interesting alliterative diction and continued expansion of singing duties among other things. Most notably, "Terrorist Threats" shines a spotlight on this and provides a direct comparison to featured guest/ upstart phenomenon Danny Brown. Brown destroys the mic especially, yet on first listen it's strangely difficult to differentiate the two from each other. Ab-Soul performs well in this complementary role and shows how versatile he really is, almost a west-coast amalgam of Brown and Kanye West, yet still a slightly weaker and more inconsistent sum than the parts. Potentially, he is the type of emcee more meant for guest feature spots in moderation, but his innate storytelling ability lends one to believe otherwise. Late-album gem "The Book of Soul" strikes a delicate balance between therapy session and remembrance, and is one of the more heartfelt rap performances of recent memory.
The main issue with Control System
is not the rapping. While not as severe a detractor as in Longterm Mentality
, it is frustrating that the production is still as weak as it is. It is definitely (and probably intentionally) different from the rest of the crew's more electronic influenced sounds in that Ab-Soul elects to go with a more classic style. Granted, this beat selection is not to the same, anachronistic extreme his previous effort went for. Kendrick Lamar-featured "Illuminate" brings an atmospheric, at times 80s sounding beat to an excellent interplay between Ab and Lamar. But nonetheless, similar examples are sparse throughout and cannot shake a prevailing dated vibe. In general, it's baffling that Longterm Mentality
was even released with the superior-in-every-way Control System
only a year removed - but such is the patience of youth. If there was a weak link in Top Dawg Entertainment's roster, the more polished Control System
repaired it; hip-hop fans have a lot to look forward to out of the west coast again.