Ab-Soul’s Subtle Sophistication Shines Through on ‘Do What Thou Wilt’
Existing within the TDE crew can come with its ups and downs – just ask Ab-Soul. The Carson, Calif. native was revered as one of the crew’s most promising acts circa 2012, but after the release of his 2014 album, These Days…, critics were writing him off as the crew’s token bench warmer but fans new he had more to offer.
When Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q took their respective careers to new heights, Jay Rock remained an OG staple and even newer artists on the Top Dawg Entertainment roster like SZA and Isaiah Rashad made poignant projects, Soul still remained a giant question mark. It wasn’t until very recently that Soulo reared his curly-haired head from the TDE safe house and dropped perhaps his most intricate and well written album to date. Do What Thou Wilt, often stylized as DWTW, can simply be described as a true triumph in sophisticated rhyme writing -- especially when today’s hip-hop fans will champion anything with a hot beat and some humming. Ab-Soul’s rap intelligence is so incredibly visible here that it's fair to say he's the strongest technical rapper in the entire Top Dawg crew.
Soul doesn’t waste one second with any type of filler lines or intro niceties as he utters that it’s “Raw backwards on all you rappers.” In other words, he's declaring war against anyone else who decides to pick up a microphone. His artillery for said war is the complex metaphors, similes, double, triple and even quadruple entendres that will glide right over anyone's head if they aren’t paying close attention for the entire hour and 17 minutes.
His first specific target however, is Jay Electronica. Obviously Jay Elec dissing Kendrick Lamar back in February didn’t sit well with Soul, who addresses the shade in the cleverest of ways on “RAW (Backwards).” “Hurts when your OG, who is supposed to be a G-O-D/Is standing next to King Kunta feeling like Toby/Yeah, Moos what I gotta do boy?/I'm just waiting on your cue to take him to school boy,” he raps. The lyrics would be even hard for Electronica himself to discredit.
As confident as Ab-Soul sounds, there is no denying how dark the overall vibe of this album is but in turn, that darkness is what puts him into such a poised space. The soundscape of These Days… was way brighter, filled with uptempo beats and friendly messages like “Just Have Fun,” a total 180-degree flip from the aggression and pessimistic wit found on Control System.
DWTW plays out more like the darker, more evolved sequel to Control System than anything else. The sonics are gloomy, cryptic and very medieval dungeon-esque. This is all thanks to producers Skhye Hutch, PakkMusicGroup, Sounwave, FrancisGotHeat and even Mike-WiLL-Made-It. “Huey Knew” and especially “Threatening Nature,” which is a flip of Ras Kass’ “Nature of the Threat,” are both chilling tracks about Soul’s perspective on religion in which he is “takin' atheists to church/Servin' serpents with sermons with curse words.” There are plenty of religious references on this album, which would lead fans to believe Soul’s devotion to organized religion and more specifically the Christian faith but at every turn he appears to believe in his own personal constructed “hypothesis” or “algorithm.”
These hypotheses don’t just address religion but center primarily on women and the love story he finds himself held in. In an interestingly raw depiction of this love story, Soul raps that from “the womb to the tomb” he is a “womanogomist” and his female encounters stretch farther than human interaction. He even puts God’s gender into question on “God’s a Girl?” -- all of which is a very metaphysical and spiritually-oriented outlook that will dazzle those with the literary capacity to digest it but will deter those who aren’t. His appreciation of women takes on a more literal meaning on “The Law” with Mac Miller and Rapsody. On the chorus, he croons, “Fishing for a feed, to feed my female, A.S.A.P/Yeah nature is a mother, and life is a bitch I am convinced, yeah/God coming she just taking her time.”
What makes this album so great is also what makes it short of perfect. Ab-Soul’s songwriting is thought-provoking and woke but the album doesn't have that one track to take him straight to the radio, which can only work to his benefit to appeal to the masses. Since these songs are so layered with metaphors and intriguing subject matter they will ultimately survive on more of a “conscious rap” Spotify playlist. The kind of God level rapping that Ab-Soul showcases on Do What Thou Wilt means this album will exist predominantly in the headphones of those shrewd enough to understand.
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