Ab-Soul is a rapper who recognizes his strengths. In a world with an entrenched competitive nature and an ever-changing roster of characters and styles, MCs often fall by the wayside because they’re either unable to find their niche in the market or they simply aren’t able to flourish in any of the skill sets that make up a great artist. Fortunately for TDE‘s resident labyrinthian lyricist Soulo, his third studio album These Days demonstrates he has neither of those problems.
From the moment the ethereal sounds of label mate SZA‘s voice come in on opener “Gods Reign (These Days)” through to the final bars of battle rapper Daylyt‘s verse on the hidden freestyle skirmish following “W.R.O.H.”, there’s a lot that goes on during These Days. While artists like Kanye West have thrived recently by diving into minimalist production and short, condensed projects like Yeezus, Soulo packs These Days with just under 90 minutes of complex wordplay, varying production styles and an impressive and well-selected list of guest artists.
But while over-stuffing albums with guest verses and all the hottest names in R&B has diluted notable albums in the past, These Days is enjoyable and contemplative enough to keep things fresh through all 15 tracks. Most of this is credited to Ab-Soul‘s range, as the 27-year-old MC is able to thrive in delivering both gritty, materialistic trap anthems (“Hunnid Stax”) and dense, introspective lyrical landscapes (“Tree of Life”) with equal energy and effect.
Part of what holds These Days together through all the guests and juxtaposing production styles is its pacing. Any album that ends with a 23-minute track, 18 of which make up a sprawling, excellent rap battle between Soul and renowned freestyler Daylyt, doesn’t care about keeping things tight. And yet, while tracks like “Just Have Fun” and “Ride Slow” contain interludes that lead into seemingly odd sonic choices–the slow, bluesy “These Days” riff following “Just Have Fun” and the build up to Mac Miller‘s truly enigmatic alter ego Delusional Thomas‘ verse on “Ride Slow”–the frequent changes in pace only add to the calculated quirkiness of These Days. And, especially in the case of “Just Have Fun,” these choices often produce some of the album’s boldest and most musically-impactful moments.
Speaking of bold moments, it would be hard to talk about These Days and not pay special attention to the battle between Soul and Daylyt that closes the album. Nearly impossible to appreciate without multiple listens and access to the lyrics, the freestyle continues fueling modern hip-hop’s resurgence of respect for the rap battle (along with Eminem and Slaughterhouse‘s Total Slaughter competitive rap battle league) while showcasing just how talented these two MCs are. It’s an intimate affair, with audible gasps and laughs from those witnessing the wordplay in-studio, but ultimately just another area for Soul to demonstrate his lyrical dexterity: “When I think of daylight, I think of shit like/Breakfast, morning, birds singin’, kids playin’/See where I’m goin’?/That means you better break fast, or I’ll have your family mournin’.”
All in all, while Ab-Soul has already solidified himself as a legitimate talent in the rap industry with 2012’s Control System, These Days feels like a step in the right direction for an artist capable of creating an identity for himself outside of the red hot TDE universe. Whether or not he can find the same mainstream success as close friend and label mate Kendrick Lamar is yet to be seen, but for now, we should count ourselves lucky that we get to be a part of Soulo‘s Days.
Head over to iTunes to download These Days today.
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