“These Days…” proves Ab-Soul’s staying power

By Elena Lopez

(Courtesy of vincewilcox/Flickr)
(vincewilcox/Flickr)

One of the summer’s best albums came from a wordsmith by the name of Herbert Anthony Stevens IV. Stevens—known by his stage name Ab-Soul—released his third album, “These Days..,” June 24 on the Top Dawg Entertainment label.

Stevens is one of the more high-profile artists from TDE, a Compton-based record label that boasts a roster that includes Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad and SZA. “These Days…” is defined by Stevens’ stunning wordplay, a trait that makes the listener to hold onto every line of the album.

TDE’s unique environment is a catalyst for the numerous phenomenal collaborations on “These Days…,” which includes songs featuring artists such as Lamar, Schoolboy Q and several others. A self-proclaimed righteous man, Stevens stands out against the analytical Lamar, but no topic has ever been off limits for Stevens—even prophetic imagery of himself against a wooden cross serves as the album art.

Stevens delves into his inner psyche and tackles religious ideals in the track “God’s Reign,” inviting SZA’s ethereal voice to heighten the song’s angelic undertones. Stevens’ poignant lines resonate especially on tracks like “Tree of Life,” where he uses his seemingly bottomless supply of witty rhymes to his advantage.

The album’s lead single, “Stigmata,” created a large buzz on the internet as fans fawned over to the insightful track. The song embodies Stevens’ strange self-confidence, and juxtaposes eerily-layered harmonies with his unusual raps.

In contrast to his previous albums, “Long Term Mentality” and “Control System,” it seems that on “These Days…,” Stevens trades in some of his artistic trademarks in lieu of sounds meant for a wider audience. Tracks like “Twact” fit more into the mainstream concept of rap, where many fans think Stevens doesn’t belong.

Stevens has yet to meet the same massive critical and commercial success that TDE label-mates Lamar and Schoolboy Q have experienced, but that seems to stem more from his interest in exploring his own brain as opposed to reaching out to a commercial audience.

The guest artists featured on “These Days…” leave little to be desired, with collaborations from every TDE member, Jhene Aiko and Action Bronson. These tracks show the diversity of sound Stevens is able to excel in.

One such track, “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude,” is a raw piece of rap, possibly illuminating what to expect from Lamar’s long awaited follow-up to “Good Kid M.A.A.D City.” It is layered over a jazzy instrumental that deeply contrasts the rage heard in Lamar’s words.

Following suit, Stevens and Schoolboy Q join forces on “Hunnid Stax,” reigniting the chemistry they displayed in past collaborations like “Druggys Wit Hoes Again.”

Jhene Aiko performs with Stevens on “Closure,” harmonizing on the topic of the strains of a relationship.

A chameleon of music, Stevens can act as a stand-alone and malleable rapper, fitting in where he wants and stretching the limits of each of the album’s tracks. He spans the width of subjects a listener would find in an almanac, and although the various elements of his music do not always flow together, the tracks on which they do are strong pieces that prove Stevens is worthy of being more than just a featured artist for his more successful label-mates.

Elena Lopez can be reached at [email protected]

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