Ab-Soul Talks Control System, Black Hippy, and Jay-Z
Things are unraveling nicely for Black Hippy member Ab-Soul. After aligning himself with Top Dawg Entertainment early in his career with Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and Schoolboy Q, the California MC has received national acclaim for his introspective storytelling filled with potent lyricism. Deemed by his teammates as the label's secret weapon (or the oftentimes joked-upon suburbanite), the shade-donning Soulo has impressed both critics and fans with his latest offering, Control System—an album molded with distinctive influence from his fellow Top Dawg affiliates.
Despite Ab-Soul's non-gang-affiliated upbringing compared to other members of the collective (his family owned record shops), his music is far from timid. The album's aggressive undertone, with concept-driven songs that are far from throwaways, makes Control System another solid release from the burgeoning indie imprint. XXL spoke with Ab-Soul on his thought-provoking album, his childhood rap idols, and the upcoming status of Black Hippy. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
XXL: How long did it take to develop Control System?
Ab-Soul: I never really stopped working at all. I was working on that as soon as LongTerm: Mentality was out. You know, I’m not sleeping in the studio, just trying to rap all day. My process isn’t like that. I’ve done that already. I’m really trying to step outside and see what’s going on, man. Try to connect as much as possible. And that’s my development. I talk to people, see what’s on people’s minds, get new slang, and learn new things. And just try to bridge the gap between what might not be talked about in hip-hop or in the music that, me and my friends listen to.
Who are some rappers that you grew up idolizing?
First of all, when it comes to music, I’m real jaded ‘cause I grew up in a family-owned record store. Magic Disc Music. My grandpa started the V.I.P. Records chain in Southern California. Where Snoop shot the video and shit. He started the V.I.P. chain. That wasn’t the first store, but he eventually handed that store over to my uncle Calvin, then he had that shit going. So, coming up in that, I was numb to it. It was more so just something that my mom sold. I’m in the single section selling CDs that I’m not really understanding why people are coming in really eager to buy this music. So, somehow, I took a liking to rapping some kind of way. I remember I wrote my first verse to Twista’s “Emotions.” Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, I really liked “Crossroads” so it’s like that fast-pace rap. I couldn’t really keep up so I kind of drifted away from Twista and kind of got more into Canibus. I [got] into Eminem and then, as a matter of fact, probably before Eminem it was DMX.
You were a big DMX fan?
My mom had took me to the Hard Knock Life Tour, right? At that time, they was sending all the independent stores free compensation for a lot of different events and stuff. So, I wanted to see DMX, right? We got backstage passes and it was Jay-Z show. I wasn’t even really into Jay-Z at the time. So he was the only one backstage and I’m pissed off because I wanted to meet DMX.
But you saw Jay-Z instead?
Right. [Jay-Z] gives me an autograph. So I’m like, “Oh, man.” Like, I’m hot, literally, hot. But, when I get home I realized I got the CD, too. I’m like, “You know what, his show was pretty tight, let me check it out.” So then, Jay-Z became my favorite rapper. From Jay-Z, I got into Nas, and everybody else. I’m playing pick-up with the culture and what was happening. I’ve sold pretty much everybody’s music so I’m familiar. But, my favorite rapper hands down is Jay-Z.
I’ve noticed on “Illuminate,” your track with Kendrick, you’ve mentioned, “I used to want to rap like Jay-Z, now I feel like I’m running laps around Jay-Z, NaS ain’t seen nothing this nasty, B.I.G. & Pac got it coming when I pass, too.”
Yeah. I’m 25 now, man. I’m a grown man now. I done reached. And everything that I said was definitely out of respect. [Those are] pretty much the top artist[s] that I rank myself with, so I don’t take that lightly.
Regarding “Terrorist Threats,” you have some lines about the president, “Barack, you’re just a puppet.” What’s your take on politics?
I kind of think politics is just a big show to cover up the forces that be. I could guess, but I’m not going to sit up here and act like I know. I think the president gets hired. It’s a job. He gets hired, not by the people because somebody has to check the votes. Who checks the votes and determines what? Those guys tell the president what to do and what not to do. I could be very wrong, but that’s just my consensus thus far. And that’s definitely no disrespect for Barack Obama. I’d rather have him than anybody else at this point. He might not be a puppet. He might really be pushing every single button.
A lot of people think that I’m trying to covey a message. But I’m really just trying to share my theory. I want people to tell me that I’m wrong. I’m looking for answers, hopefully somebody can oppose and I could be wrong. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I think they are. I’m trying to get people to ask questions because the popular music that I’m into, and my homies are into, it sounds real monotone and they’re not talking about things that need to be talked about. It’s a lot going on in this earth, and the radius of the music right now just seems to be from the strip club to the hotel suite. So, I’m just trying to open up a couple more doors.
Who is “Book of Soul” dedicated to?
It was for my dear friend Alori Joh. It was a letter to her ‘cause she was the only person I really feel like talking about that to. And we lost her randomly, me and her family and her friends, that was a big—I just really don’t know what happened with that. But, I owe everybody that’s following me, some type of closure in that situation. I take responsibility as being her closest friend. She was probably the closest person to me aside from my mother.
Isn’t she featured on the album?
Yeah, she is. She did a lot for work for us at TDE. She was pursuing her music career as well.
And then she recently passed?
Yeah, and I honestly don’t want to go too deep into it.
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