Review Summary: Understanding Herbert Anthony
The ol’ self-titled effort: a declaration that a musician is dismissing their persona, allowing personal faults and triumphs to thrive under an accentuated scrutiny and removing any ambiguity of artistic intentions. Ab-Soul is certainly no stranger to bleeding his heart onto tape alongside whatever perspectives clutter his noggin, but HERBERT
feels distinct from his prior discog; he meets the listener at an even level, supplying less of his esoteric metaphors in favor of undisguised phrases that highlight the man behind the –Soul. What emerges is one of the emcee’s most lyrically and stylistically consistent LPs since the days of Control System
—no doubt a consequence of the rapper’s multi-year hiatus between releasing records—and it features a much more focused direction. The spirit of previous discs is retained in its subtly abstract, impenetrable aura that seems to surround Ab-Soul’s delivery and lyricism, and the fact that c’mon mate, we gotta trim this
is still a slight complaint when scanning the duration and track list. Grounding this record in his own foundation rather than that of a character reaps plenty of appreciable rewards, however, most notably in the emotional core built into the record’s runtime and Soul’s accessible approach.
There aren’t too many surprises in terms of the beats and sampling laid down for HERBERT
, although it’s evident that they’ve been beefed up a tad to fill out arrangements, therefore leaving less of the blank spaces that arbitrarily extended Do What Thou Wilt
. Their purpose generally remains being subservient to Ab-Soul’s charismatic, varied delivery, but they can exit their minimalistic role if required, such as the 80’s synths that kick off the second half of “MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE” or the sudden blast of blaring brass in “HOLLANDAISE.” Horn flourishes, touches of soul, subtle jazz compositions, a classic boom-bap framework, and a mixture of modern and old-school sounds characterize the sonic environments of the album, creating an experience that leans into atmosphere throughout its low-to-mid tempo jaunts. Such a diversity sets HERBERT
up to be a crowd pleaser for all comers; it rewards those diving for singles for a playlist rotation (“CHURCH ON THE MOVE” and its swaggin’ beat are begging for radio play) and its smooth, reliable flow constructs an equally gratifying full-length listening session.
The record as a whole feels much more lived-in and energetic; there’s an urgency to the emcee’s anecdotes and reflections, all of which are propelled by varied inflections and a tangible grit to match the lyrical content. Ab-Soul’s range is able to alternate from resonating shouts to more contemplative utterances that sink into the hazy production and lightly apply a sense of melancholy. Both extremes of expression tie seamlessly into Soul’s pen game; the quiet despair of “THE WILD SIDE” features a reserved style that allows the lurking piano to connect a stronger emotional payoff, whereas “GOODMAN” is purely confrontational, wielding some delicious braggadocio to full the ‘Time to Brag!’ song requirement. There are some evocative left-hooks from these avenues, with “DO BETTER” discussing Soul’s battles with depression and mourning his close friend Mac Miller, and then the self-titled track tying a bow on those lurking themes of emotional trauma and wanting to heal that invade the entire album. It’s where the heart of the effort lies—an artist hurting from his underlying pain, no different than anyone else carrying their own mental baggage—and Soul’s able to attack it from various angles, flows, and deliveries.
Compared to Control System
and Do What Thou Wilt
reaches its finish line far more gracefully. While there are cuts that don’t bring as much to the table, there’s no particular point where the record folds in on itself and the pacing suffers; it typically has enough ideas in store to prevent the album from losing the plot, with any relatively-okay number generally followed up by a banger to assuage any doubts. Similarly, some lyrics are just dead on arrival, such as “She say I got a beautiful dick / I make her uterus do unusual sh*t” (Herbie what we doin here) and basically most of “GO OFF” (Penis go boom boom ifyaknowhaimean) until Big Sean salvages it (yeah, really), yet they’re ultimately offset by the equal amount that create a striking tear-down of an emcee’s façade, which makes linking life to the material much easier and gratifying. Soul’s infectious performance can draw in any listener that lends an ear, and with more active instrumentals in his arsenal, there’s much more character to discern off of his work. It’s a small crowd at the top of the hip-hop pile in 2022, but HERBERT
makes a compelling case for its own spot for year’s must-visit releases.