Transitioning from being an underground or niche rapper to becoming a noteworthy mainstream one can be tough for any artist. The idea is that one has to make a form of music that can appeal to the fans they have already accrued while tinkering just enough to make the music more accessible for a newer audience as well. Rap is especially difficult due to fans of the genre being incredibly picky about beats, flow, and vocal tones. Ab-Soul tries to make this abrupt transition after the masterful Control System gained him a name in the industry in 2012. These Days… shows the artist attempting to be appropriate for a wider range of fans, but Ab-Soul forgot to bring his conceptual design along with him.
Control System was a record noted for well-timed lyricism and heavy themes that cut like a knife at moments, while the abstract beats and themes made for a record that is hard to put away, leaving a listener finding something new after every listen. These Days… is less concise and fails to keep one’s attention as the 90 minute running time moves along. The beats are hit-and-miss, being decent at best to just awful at worst. The theme seems to damn the idea of mainstream rap music and the need for repeated hooks, but Ab-Soul decides to emulate the style by copying it. These repeated lyrics become incredibly annoying by the halfway mark, most of the time sinking each and every song into mediocrity. The main problem killing the record is easily the lack of personality. Ab-Soul is a guy who oozes personality through his rap style and themes, but this record makes him sound so generic and dull that new fans will have no idea he is any different than anyone else in the genre.
There are a few decent tracks to note. The opening track is the best example of artistic style from Ab-Soul. “Gods Reign (feat. SZA)” has the best chorus on the record, mostly due to SZA showing off some great pipes. There are clever lyrics all over the track even if the vocal distortion distracts your attention away from them. “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” is solid as well, even though it is much more of a Kendrick track than anything. The jazzy beat creates a strong change of pace while Kendrick throws down some gut-wrenching and twisted lyrics. Ab-Soul has a decent verse as well, but the chorus is still poorly constructed. “Stigmata” brings some darkness to the record that it really needs. Action Bronson has the best guest verse on the album here while rapping over an amazing drum performance. The religious references hit hard as well, sounding like it could be a b-side from Control System.
There are a lot of negatives to the record as well though. For being a 90 minute album, there is too much filler to make the ride worth it. If someone wants to make a concept album that has a lengthy running time, that is completely fine, however, to make an album of this length and having a weak story line is inexcusable. Of the fifteen tracks present here, only a handful are any good as well. “Feelin’ Us” is especially bad, making way for the most repetitive set of lyrics on the album and is only worth listening to for Jay Rock’s decent set of bars. “Nevermind That” is equally bad, utilizing a pathetic chorus and silly lyrics that never equate to anything of note. The most disappointing track is easily “Hunnid Stax (feat. Schoolboy Q)” though. Despite all the press for the track, nothing really works on it. Ab-Soul comes off as silly and choppy from beginning to end, while Schoolboy Q sounds like he is not even trying with his turn. The end of the album is the most bizarre segment though. After a short track we fade away into a 19 minute rap battle that has no beat to it. The idea in theory is interesting as it is a look into Ab-Soul’s break at the studio having some fun, but it feels like an event you had to be present for to get anything out of it.
Ab-Soul is undeniably a great artist and there is no shame in swinging for the fences and striking out every once in a while. These Days… is a great example of trying to get mainstream appeal but losing all the charm that made him an underground artist worth listening to. As a hip-hop fan, it was well worth a listen or two, but it is just disappointing to see a vibrant artist take such a big step in the wrong direction.
1. Gods Reign(feat. SZA)
2. Tree of Life
3. Hunnid Stax(feat. Schoolboy Q)
4. Dub Sac
5. World Runners(feat. Lupe Fiasco and Nikki Jean)
6. Nevermind That(feat. Rick Ross)
7. Twact(feat. Jinx and Short Dawg)
8. Just Have Fun
9. Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude(feat. Kendrick Lamar)
12. Stigmata(feat. Action Bronson and Asaad)
13. Feelin’ Us(feat. Jay Rock and Ravaughn)
14. Ride Slow(feat. Danny Brown and Delusional Thomas)
15. W.R.O.H.(feat. JMSN)