We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club. Fortunately, we end up liking some of them. In Playlisted, we share our latest recommendations.
Album: Control System by Ab-Soul (out now on Top Dawg)
Press play if you like: Provocative hip-hop; amorphous beats that are alternately menacing and uplifting; complicated rappers who don’t explicitly spell out how complicated they are
Some background: Autobiographical raps don’t come much sadder than “The Book Of Soul,” the heart-crushing penultimate track from Ab-Soul’s Control System. Beginning with an account of his childhood with Stevens-Johnson syndrome—a rare and potentially fatal skin disease that disfigured him so severely, his little sister couldn’t recognize him—the California rapper addresses the song to his longtime girlfriend and frequent collaborator Alori Joh, who committed suicide this February. “Seven whole years / Seven whole years,” he mourns, “It was supposed to end with our grandkids.” As he grieves for the love of his life, he likens himself to Job, a potentially hyperbolic sentiment that’s genuinely devastating coming from a rapper who usually doesn’t wallow in his own misery. For the most part, Ab-Soul is the most well-adjusted rapper in his ascendant Black Hippy crew, a level head who’s content to kick back with some good weed and marvel at what he’s already accomplished with his life. He freaks out occasionally, but only in controlled bursts, unlike peers Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock, former gangsters with Bruce Banner temperaments. And though he’s plenty profound, he doesn’t carry the weight of an entire generation like group-prodigy Kendrick Lamar. Until now, Ab-Soul has been Black Hippy’s least defined member, but this record should change that. Like Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 and Schoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions, two albums similarly thick with meaty ideas, Control System feels like a trial run for a future masterpiece.
Try this: There’s a tension throughout Control System between Ab-Soul’s grounded persona and the dark thoughts that sometimes rattle around his head. It plays out most thrillingly on “Terrorist Threats,” where the rapper entertains a series of stoned conspiracy theories—at least until he’s interrupted by a strung-out, scene-stealing Danny Brown, who puts those far-fetched thoughts into perspective with much more real concerns.