Written by Omar Rodriguez
Ab-Soul is a rapper from Carson, California and one-fourth of the Top Dawg Entertainment supergroup Black Hippy, which includes Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock. Together, the four join to become a force stronger than the Super Robot from Power Rangers, but alone most people are only familiar with Kendrick and Q. What flies under these people’s radar is the great album that was Ab-Soul’s Control System released in 2012; this is an album that brings lyricism, West coast vibes and trap-like beats all into one to coalesce a great body of work.
The first quarter of the album consists of four introductory tracks for Ab-Soul. Here he sets his pace for the album, and tells you upfront what he’s really about. While the intro track itself on this album is a little too long for its own good and has one of the poorer beats on the album, the next three songs most certainly pick up the slack. On the second track titled Track Two, Ab-Soul begins flexing his lyrical muscles and showing his true style. The third song Bohemian Grove is so smooth, it was the potential hit on the album, as Soul goes through a night of trying to get with a girl but not trying to seem too obvious about it. This track sees him go through all this while under the influence of drinks and pills. The last song on the first quarter of this album, Terrorist Threats, is undoubtedly the best song on the album. Ab-Soul even mentions the president in an uncanny way by rapping, “Hey, Dear Barack, I know you just a puppet but I’m giving you props, you lying to the public like it ain’t nothing, and I just love it, I hope it don’t stop.” This skepticism about today’s society, mixed with a great beat and a great hook from Jhene Aiko, plus the unforgettable guest verse from Danny Brown, all contribute to the greatness of this track.
The second quarter keeps the album going solid and the beginning track of this quarter, Pineal Gland, should be used as a review for hallucinogens in an intro to psychology course. On this track Ab-Soul keeps coming at the listener aggressively and detailing a trip on DMT, all while keeping the central theme of the album. The track is also based on a conspiracy that the system is controlling him. The following song, Double Standards, brings up society’s control over Soul. It details the story of a man who doesn’t want to cheat on his girlfriend, but due to societal standards feels like he has to. Conversely for the girl, she is belittled by those around her when they find out about her intentions with Soul, thus creating the double standard. This quarter of the album wraps up with the decent songs Mixed Emotions and SOPA, the former offering another side of drugged-out Soul, this time on lean. The latter of the two features ScHoolboy Q, in which he makes you know that he and Soul aren’t afraid to take your girl from you.
The third quarter begins the softer part of the album. Right off the bat we get another upbeat song with Jay Rock and BJ the Chicago Kid featured on Lust Demons– which is exactly about what its title suggests. Here Ab-Soul raps, “All night, I can’t resist, I need it like my pancreas, if you dismiss and no give me kiss kiss, it’ll be hard digesting it.” The next song ILLuminate, which features Kendrick Lamar, shows that Ab-Soul really is out here trying to be the best in his craft and shows the confidence he has in his skill as he states, “I used to wanna rap like Jay Z, now I feel I could run laps ’round Jay Z. Nas ain’t seen nothing this nasty, Big and Pac got it coming when I pass too, you got the mic? I ain’t the one you wanna pass to.” The next track, A Rebellion, serves as an interlude, and features the inspiration for the latter part of this album. Here we see Ab-Soul’s thoughts of his girlfriend, who had recently passed away on the album. The main line in the song is “I’m probably all alone on this one.” The last song in this part of the album, Showin’ Love, unfolds over a minimalist beat that takes the backseat to Soul as he goes off on a lyrical barrage and shows his true skill as an MC.
Initiating the home stretch of the album, Ab-Soul croons on the track Empathy as he asks a girl to just sit and talk to him and feel him. Here we see the death of his girlfriend really begin to take a toll on Soul with back-to-back songs of him not wanting to be alone. The next song, Nothing’s Something, exhibits some strong juxtaposition that begins to put the seal on the album. On this track, Soul bites the Kanye West song Addiction and talks about how the stardom is changing him, as he is becoming more materialistic. He also shows signs of physical aggression, threatening to fight anyone who tries to take his things or challenge his craft; here, he raps about his iPhone and YSL belt. The last two songs on the album give it a great feel and help to put this album up there as a potential classic. On the song Beautiful Death, Ab-Soul goes against the Control System and shows that even though some days he wants to “blast” himself, he knows he’s on Earth for a greater purpose. The higher classes and the man can try to keep Soul down, but he finds a force in himself keeping him alive. He then admits he’s willing to die if it’s for the greater good. The last song on this album is one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard. Ab-Soul goes through the death of his girlfriend Alori Joh and his struggle with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome. Here the listener feels sorry for Ab-Soul, as he states “Everything I love the most gets taken away, my momma and music is next, and if that happens before I turn 28 then I’m going out wit’ Kurt Cobain,” and “Seven whole years, seven whole years, It was supposed to end with our grandkids. Luckily for me I’m used to being cut short. But I’m such a nice guy, why Lord? Why Lori? Why’d you have to take her from me? I guess He needed your angel face for all of heaven to see.” This closes the album on a very sentimental note, with Ab-Soul –who seemed to be beating the Control System– falling victim to depression after the fact.
Best Tracks: Book of Soul, Terrorist Threats, Showin Love, Bohemian Grove
Worst Track: Soulo (Intro)