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.


That’s really unfortunate. I’m sorry that I asked you that question.

Nah, it’s cool bro.

Tell me about “Double Standards.” The song details the woman’s side of the story, which isn’t often discussed in rap.

I honestly think that in this day and age, it’s just kind of a tricky thing. We all kind of want to be with different people, especially guys. Something says it’s not correct to do that. I can’t put my finger on it. But, I guess, in one line, “To my niggas having women as what you just do/To do the women having niggas is what a slut do.” That’s the best way I could put it. That’s not an even exchange. That’s what they call a double standard.

I think that’s something that we’re all aware of, but I guess being a male and trying to be dominant, we just really don’t care to speak on it. That’s cool or whatever and I’m not knocking anybody for doing that. Just do whatever makes you happy in this life for real. But if it was up to me, I think things would be a little fairer. I just really don’t feel like I’m too much different from a woman. Pause.

What track stands out to you most on the album?

Honestly, I thought “Pineal Gland” joint was pretty clever. I think once I did that record, I knew exactly where I was going with this project. When I did “Pineal Gland”, it was just like, “Oh yeah. Okay, I see it now. I see what I’m doing now.”

What is it about that track that you felt that way?

The best way I could describe that record is holographic. Because DMT is excreted from your pineal gland every night during heavy REM sleep, but people are smoking it. So, at first listen, with the entire drug use and crazy things going on you would think that I’m smoking when in actuality, it was all a dream. I swear it never happened. It was just a big story about a crazy-ass dream. I thought that’s really what I was doing, where I was going with the project. I wanted you to think you were hearing something, but there was something else going on completely different.

Moving away from your album, I want to ask you about your eyes. When do you actually take your glasses off?

I take them off all the time. But, like flash photography, I can’t do. Cameras in my face, I can’t do. My eyes are really low; because I’ve had a few surgeries my eyes are just kind of beat. My eyelids are beat so they’re droopy and I’m smoking weed so they’re completely closed when you look at me. So it’s just best I just keep them on. When ain’t nobody in my face, I got ‘em off. When I’m out like at a show and out doing an event and people is flashing cameras and stuff, I just got to have them on.

How did that affect you as a kid growing up?

It just made me peculiar. I got Steven Johnson syndrome and it is internal and external fever. So, I’m really swelled up. My eyes were swollen shut. I lost my lip skin. So, when they grew back—when the skin grew back it grew back darker. So, I’m 11 years old, in middle school, kind of looking like a weed head. And I got like this curly hair, this straight slick hair. And I even had to wear shades to school, even more so when I was younger. I’m still healing in a lot of ways. It’s just something that people just knew me by. People from my hood just know me [as] the dude with the shades on and the black lips. Yeah, Black Lip Bastard. Being a kid, sure people teasing you about it at first, but it makes your skin thick. So, once I started running with it, it just worked for me. I said, “Well, fuck it then. Yeah my lips are black. Yeah, aight.” Now it’s cool. Now I’m talking to you.

Tell me about Black Hippy. Why the name Hippy for the group?

I remember Q was just referring to himself as a hippie for a while. He was just smoking a lot of weed and he was just calling himself a hippie. So, when it came around time for [it], [we all] agreed on, actually making the collective a group. It was coming down to coming up with a name, you know, “hippie” stood out. I wasn’t even there when they were coming up with it. They just brought it to me when I got to the studio and I think just throwing that black behind it, it may have been random, but it just kind of makes a lot sense on a lot of levels. ‘Cause, when you think about “hippie”, you think about these, no war and the guy sitting Indian style in the grass. But when you throw black in front of that it’ll represent everything. Not just the peace, but you could add some war, too. Even [hippies] doing what they were doing, they were rebelling against the government. They were at war with the government. [And black is] the original color.

Is Black Hippy’s vision closer to Pharcyde or N.W.A.?

Black Hippy is a collective of everything that was great. You could probably hear bits and pieces of everybody in us. I just think that [we’re] somebody willing to take a stand and pay that homage and try to emulate, rather than imitate, and go further and take it. Be daring enough to try to take it a level higher. So, you’re going to hear some Pharcyde. You’re going to hear some Souls of Mischief. You’re going to hear some N.W.A. You’re going to hear some Fugees. You’re going to hear all of that ‘cause we represent the same culture. It’s just 2012.

What’s the current status with Black Hippy and its affiliation with Aftermath?

Well, unfortunately, as liberal as I am, I’m not at liberty to speak on that at this current moment. But, everything is definitely working out in our favor and it’s going to be a great summer.