Review Summary: Maybe give this one a couple more spins before passing it off as just another west coast rap album.
I remember the second time I listened to Control System the whole way through. The first time I hadn't been thoroughly impressed, seeing it as another good but maybe not great hip hop album too long for its own good. This was before I paid it any real attention, and if anything initially caught that attention the second time around it was second to last track 'the Book of Soul.' This song focuses on some of the trials Ab-Soul himself faced earlier in life (dealing with Stevens-Johnson syndrome) as well as much more recently (the suicide of his girlfriend earlier that year), and when really listening to the lyrics of this track I found myself feeling not only emotionally stirred but almost uncomfortable. This was not only due to the subject matter of the lyrics but his performance of them, sounding controlled yet at one or two points almost on the edge of breakdown when discussing his girlfriend's recent passing. This maintenance of control in the face of such emotional distress is relevant, with Ab-Soul living out his own album's central message, which is most specifically presented in the last two lines of the song:
"Don't be dethroned by these systems of control
Just keep your fingers crossed and get them locks off your soul"
This is what Ab-Soul tells his listeners to do, and they can be inspired to do so by listening to his music, as this is exactly what he does throughout the entirety of his album. Despite issues in his earlier life he followed his dream to become an established rapper, and even with the death of his girlfriend just a few months before the album's release kept himself together enough to release a thematically rich and overall greatly enjoyable record. He himself remained in control of himself and his life even in the face of great adversity.
This is why Control System is an inspirational record, but even putting this aside it remains a fantastic hip hop album in other regards. Lyrically the album is rich; it does have its share of almost typical hip hop lines about doing various drugs and being the best in the game etc, though he goes deeper than most still (the way the song 'Pineal Gland' looks at the effect of DMT is a great example of this), and this is all part of who he is and isn't out of place. It is not overly done either, as it could be argued to have been on albums like his fellow Black Hippy member ScHoolBoy Q's Habits & Contradictions, which was thematically limited to say the least. The fact that Ab-Soul could release fun songs like 'Lust Demons' and 'Showin' Love' after all he'd recently been through is a part of why the record is so inspiring, making these tracks not take away from the album in any way, but rather add to it as a whole (and be enjoyable songs while they're at it).
The album is interesting not only due to its personal nature, but also gives you more to think about than your average rap album. 'Beautiful Death' explores the idea of death and the futility of fearing it; 'Double Standards' looks at the contradictions in the ways that people look at the promiscuous acts of women, with lines like "you heard of Amber Cole, but don't know that nigga that was getting' dome;" and 'Terrorist Threats' even gets a bit political, something Ab-Soul is not unfamiliar with, but his ideas are more well-presented here than in older songs like Longterm Mentality's 'Hell Yeah.' What is most important about songs like this is how they relate back to his main message of staying in control, whether this is in the way you look at something like death, the way you deal with it when it takes someone close to you, or not letting the world's external influences impact too much on your view of social or political issues.
The music itself here is also very respectable, with Ab-Soul choosing to go down a more traditional hip hop route in regard to his beats, as opposed to a more modern, electronic one. Each song is catchy and enjoyable enough to keep the album not only lyrically but musically engaging for its entire run-time, even as long as it is. It is a combination of both lyrical prowess and genuinely enjoyable music that allows the record to keep its listeners interested from beginning to end. This is something of great importance when it comes to rap music, with so many artists releasing hour-long albums without enough substance to keep their listeners interested all the way through. And with the album possibly being at its strongest with the highly emotive and meaningful 'Book of Soul' as the penultimate track, it could even be said that it only gets better as it goes on. This is an album that I recommend to any fan of hip hop, or anyone open to the idea of a modern rap album that is not only engaging, but capable of being both uplifting and inspiring.