Review Summary: In the end, Ab-Soul mostly succeeds at making an album that nobody wanted him to make
ScHoolboy Q’s major label debut, Oxymoron, experienced an extended promotional stage before its release. The release date was pushed back multiple times, but the promise of an album of comparable quality to Kendrick Lamar’s critically renowned good kid, MAAD city, and the release of a number of well-received singles managed to maintain a buzz for the album. However, it could be argued that this hyping of the project resulted in a majority of fans being let down when the album did eventually release, as it did not strive for the same bar as Kendrick had as well as having a good portion of the album already familiarized.
But that’s enough about ScHoolboy Q. We’re here to talk about Ab-Soul, and his new album These Days…
The reason all of this is relevant is because it seems that These Days… took the exact opposite marketing approach as Oxymoron. The album dropped after being officially announced only a few weeks prior, with prerelease tracks quietly released on SoundCloud to mixed response. The largest promotional reaction came when the album cover, which depicts Ab-Soul bleeding by a cross in a not-so-subtle allusion to Jesus Christ, was released to a sizable backlash, not so much for the blasphemy, more for the lack of originality and tact. So when These Days… was released, fans didn’t really know what to expect from the project.
Album opener ‘God’s Reign’, a spacious and echoing track seems to set an epic scale, but this momentum is immediately killed by the following song, ‘Tree of Life’. While not a bad song, ‘Tree of Life’ has a very simple production, which stops it from really grabbing the listener. Furthermore, Soul’s lines are frequently underwhelming, a large portion of which are uninspired tree puns.
‘Hunnid Stax’ lacks the energy a party track requires (the chorus consists of a drawling and unimpassioned Mac Miller). While Ab-Soul has always released songs dedicated to partying and doing drugs on his albums, he has formerly approached it in a unique way, and ‘Hunnid Stax’ comes off as having nothing distinguishing about it. Most of the lyrical content of the track is dedicated to boasts about Soul’s wealth (it is titled Hunnid Stax, after all), a new topic for Soul but not at all new to the Hip-Hop genre as a whole.
Many have interpreted, and Soulo himself has strongly implied, that this album is something of a time-capsule, an attempt to represent the sound, topics, and style of Hip-Hop music in 2014. But what this concept entails is an album that emulates instead of innovates.
The most obvious example of this is the song ‘Twact’, a song dedicated to getting ***ed up over a catchy and melodic, yet very simple, beat. The production is a clear nod to DJ Mustard’s productions which have in fact been popular these days. The song is fun and actually a quality addition to the style. The same cannot be said of ‘Nevermind That’, a nod to modern abrasive braggadocios raps, and features a mainstay of the style, Rick Ross. The production is simply too cluttered, and for every hard-hitting line Ab-Soul spits, an equally corny one follows.
The second half of the album sees a large rise in quality. ‘Just Have Fun’ is one of the most interesting songs on the album. Psychedelic and uplifting, the song is Ab-Soul at his most original and distinctive, even if the beat is a bit cluttered. After the interlude, Soul brings in a Migos-flow without degenerating to their simple lyricism. With ‘Just Have Fun’ representing the sunny side (well, for the most part) of drug use and psychedelia, ‘Ride Slow’ takes the dark and sinister path, and is quite reminiscent of Control System’s ‘Pineal Gland’, although it doesn’t quite reach the quality of the aforementioned song.
Kendrick Lamar doesn’t disappoint on his interlude, ‘Stigmata’ actually achieves the epic scale that the introductory track hinted at, and ‘Feelin’ Us’ is a pleasant song. ‘Closure’ is something of an anomaly, an absurdly melancholy song where Ab-Soul’s singing sounds like he could break down into tears at any moment. While at first I was turned off by the sulkiness of the track, it has grown on me a bit. In a very confusing transition, ‘Closure’ is followed by the silly and lighthearted ‘Sapiosexual’. While Ab-Soul can be enjoyable while he's goofy and corny, the illogical placement of this track makes it an awkward listen.
In the end, Ab-Soul mostly succeeds at making an album that nobody wanted him to make. ‘These Days…’ is a pretty good encapsulation of modern Hip-Hop, but it comes from a rapper who has always been lauded for being distinctive and ambitious. A few choice cuts emerge from the project, but nothing that quit reaches the thought provoking lyricism of ‘Terrorist Threats’ or the raw heart-wrenching emotion of ‘Book of Soul’.