At the end of opening track “God’s Reign,” you can hear a snippet from fellow Black Hippy rapper Schoolboy Q’s smash “Collard Greens,” way down in the mix.
Coughing and talking over the quiet track, Ab-Soul doesn’t seem daunted by the recent solo successes of his contemporaries Schoolboy and Kendrick Lamar, who have respectively solidified themselves as key players in the west coast rap scene in recent years. “I am more than a man!” Ab exclaims in a moment of sheer confidence, undeterred by any would-be competitors.
Less brash than Schoolboy and less conceptual than Kendrick, Ab-Soul seems content to operate within his own niche as the “abstract asshole” of Black Hippy, an identity he carved out with confidence in his solid 2012 debut Control System. Though his newest project might not capture the emotional depth of Control System standout “The Book of Soul” which beautifully detailed the joy and loss of Ab’s life to that point, These Days… nonetheless presents a solid platform for his trademark lyrical wordplay with production that ends up feeling quite varied in mood and texture.
The album’s unapologetic lyrical tendency for bravado does begin to feel guarded and played out as it is repeated across the album’s ambitious ninety-minute runtime, with the drunken poetry slam antics of seventh track “TWACT” being a prime example. Even so, it’s hard to discourage Ab’s desire to “Just Have Fun” in a project that, chronologically, represents a high stakes opportunity for him to join the ranks of Kendrick among rap’s elite, and it’s clear Ab-Soul doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“Smoke, drink, relieve my stress,” Ab croons on the title track, which turns out to be an undisputed highlight. Though he struggles to find concrete focus across 90 minutes of varied hip-hop, I can say with confidence that there is something for most everyone on These Days…. Hell, the last track is a rap battle. Filler aside, the impressive flavor achieved on tracks like “God’s Reign,” “Stigmata,” and “Feelin’ Us” suggest that though his ride to the top may be slower than his Black Hippy companions, Ab-Soul’s career is far from static.