Ab-Soul sits back in his chair: cool, calm and collected. It’s been over a month since the release of These Days… and the heavy rounds of promotional-filled days have dwindled down. By now, the reviews have circulated, the fans have made their ultimate decision and the self-proclaimed “Black Lip Pastor” has had a moment to take it all in.
“How was it not Control System 2?” he blurts out in the middle of the interview.
Growing up in his family’s record store in Carson, California, Soulo was surrounded by stacks of carefully packaged sounds. In those days, Ab-Soul, Black Hippy’s second youngest member, had the chance to absorb every detail of the albums that lined the walls, from cover to concept, colors and fonts. Growing up in his family’s record store made him meticulous with his own presentation. His themes, artwork and minute details even down to the tracklists were made with reason. Contrary to what people may think, These Days… was not a mockery. He makes that clear. The title is literal. It’s what he believes these days sound like, but of course, every ear is different.
As he sits across the room, religious icons in stained glass colors stare back off the front of his shirt. Soul, who interpreted one of the most famous religious scenes for his album art, knows that it’s too early for These Days… to be understood.
“I’ma let you all sit down and dissect the movie,” he says. “You know it’s a great one, like Inception. You’re not done watching Inception yet. You’re just not.”
Ab-Soul Challenges “Control System” Fans To Grow With Him
HipHopDX: A lot of the fans were kind of expecting to hear a Control System sequel with your new album. What would you tell your fans expecting that?
Ab-Soul: Let’s talk in terms of numbers. When I dropped Control System, I had such amount of followers. Since I’ve dropped These Days… I seem to have tripled, if not quadrupled that number.
HipHopDX: After you dropped?
Ab-Soul: After I dropped Control System, so leading up until now. I did somehow manage to touch the Billboard chart.
HipHopDX: Yes, congrats to that.
Ab-Soul: Right, I appreciate that. So, to be honest with you, at this point, I think that’s people just… I’m contributing to making opinion more, and people are holding more dear to their opinion. And not being drones, not being following the trend. If you see Ab-Soul all up and down your timeline, somebody should say, “Yo, I was listening to Control System, and this is not the same guy I thought he was.” Somebody should say that. And that’s also just my truth, my honesty, and if you care to grow with me and change with me, then you can. But the world is a big place. I mean, I look on the iTunes charts, and I see guys selling millions of records, number ones for long periods of time that I’ve never even heard of, in genres of music that I’ve never even heard of.
How Ab-Soul Combined Audience Tastes & Personal Responsibility
HipHopDX: Do you check out new music? Would you listen to it?
Ab-Soul: Yeah, but I’m just jaded because, like I said, I grew up in a record shop. So I don’t really listen to music in terms of category, or I don’t have a big CD collection. I really just kinda like to listen to music. If you were to be playing some music right now, and it was something I liked, I’d ask you about it, like “Oh, what is this?”
HipHopDX: Where do you go for new music?
Ab-Soul: I go to people, ‘cause music is everything. Music is everywhere. There’s nowhere you can’t go. You can walk down the street, and you’re gonna hear music playing in the cars going by. Everyone of y’all got iPods, I’m sure. All three of you guys can put me on to some music right now. So I mean—me being an artist, and me catering to an audience—I’m interested in what you like, what type of music you like. I grew up, and I had to stay in a record shop for eight to 10 hours a day listening to music. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about the people. Like, what do you like? How can I contribute to the type of music that you like?
HipHopDX: Is that what you did on These Days…?
Ab-Soul: Absolutely. And that’s why it is called These Days…That album is what I feel like these days sound like, in my own right. Of course, it was no mockery, but it was. I used a lot of references of today, of present and past, because that’s popular too. You listen to YG’s album, and he makes a lot of old references to Short Dawg or Suga Free or whatever, because that’s popular right now. And that’s paying respect. That’s letting the old generation know that they’re not going. So when I say a Nas quote, I’m only letting Nas know that I’m 27-years-old, bro and I heard you still. Don’t think that, if you feel like you’re getting old. I don’t know him personally, but… For all of the greats, I quote all of my favorite artists. It’s just to let them know, “I heard you, and I can expound on that with you whether you like it or not.”
HipHopDX: You said it wasn’t mockery, but an example of what you hear these days, presumably with your own perspective. What are some of the more personal tracks to you?
Ab-Soul: I think that my favorite song on the album is “Just Have Fun.” I feel that song is just such a responsible song to do, because the prior song is “Twact.” I’ll let you guys figure out what “twact” means. But if I’m gonna tell you to get twact on one record, I’m gonna tell you to get twact responsibly on the next one. And not even to mention that, not even to undermine the fact that it also carries the title track, “These Days.” I would’ve made it a track of its own, but I’m kinda eerie about having like a so-called “title track.”
HipHopDX: Because there’s so much pressure on it?
Ab-Soul: Not so much pressure on it, but it’s just kinda…
HipHopDX: Played out?
Ab-Soul: Not even…I don’t know. I’m just meticulous. That’s what I’m saying. I can’t stress enough that I grew up in a record shop, restocking inventory, looking at album covers, reading covers, looking at and making the connections between the album, the concepts and the colors. These things like the font, things like that.
Ab-Soul Describes Himself As An Aware Person And A Spiritual Guy
HipHopDX: Does it drive you crazy being hyper-aware of it all the time?
Ab-Soul: I mean, I’m just an aware person, period. So I don’t think that’s the issue. I just think that’s just…
HipHopDX: That’s who you are?
HipHopDX: Being an independent artist, what do you think are some of your bigger challenges of getting your music heard on the widespread level?
Ab-Soul: Well, first of all, this question is coming up a lot, and I’m not so sure if I’m an independent artist.
HipHopDX: Because you’re signed to TDE?
HipHopDX: I think people say it because you’re not signed to Interscope.
Ab-Soul: Right, but I think they’re just saying it. Like independent sounds much smaller. Independent sounds like underdog. I’m not. I fly private jets too. And this is with no major label deal, with no major distribution deal, without these things, so-called. But I’m still here, talking to you good folks. We’ve built a great relationship over the years.
HipHopDX: And I’ve heard ScHoolboy Q talk about his issues with being signed to Interscope. Do you feel relieved in a sense that you weren’t and you have more creative control?
Ab-Soul: I just believe I’m a spiritual guy. I know everything happens for a reason. [ScHoolboy] Q is doing just fine. Q is as happy and in as good spirits as I’ve ever seen him. So, yeah, maybe he’s had the opportunity to move around with some independent artists who maybe glorify their situation, and maybe that just rubbed him the wrong way at the time. But it’s still TDE at the end of the day. So maybe that… I would think he was probably just feeling he had a conversation with Macklemore or something, like, “Aw, dang!”
HipHopDX: Speaking of spirituality, Mac Miller, who also produced “Ride Slow,” seems to have grown into more of a spiritual side. Did you have anything to do with it as a friend?
Ab-Soul: Well I’m glad that you would like make that notion, but I don’t want to be responsible for that. He’s a student. If you listen to his words, really, like he’s very extensive in a lot—trivial, historically. He’s just very, very knowledgeable of a lot. And I don’t even want to say, “for his age.” I’m not gonna cut him short. He’s just a very intelligent guy. So I guess what I can say is, I might’ve said “third eye” two or three times too much around him, and that might’ve sparked some more of that type of style. But from the day that I met him and got in the studio with him and revisited Macadelic after being his friend, he’s just a very extensive kid. I think he made “Ride Slow,” in 10, 20 minutes.
HipHopDX: He made it in front of you, right?
Ab-Soul: Yeah. Real talk. I was on acid. I recorded the whole joint. I was finished with the joint by the time he was done. We just knew we had to throw Danny Brown on it.
HipHopDX: So you were on a trip while you were doing it?
Ab-Soul: Yeah. Three tabs under the tongue. Jimi Hendrix. For real.
HipHopDX: Is it hard to do that?
Ab-Soul: Hard is a very subjective word.
HipHopDX: That’s true. So you said Mac made that beat in 20 minutes? How do you feel about his growth from rapper to producer?
Ab-Soul: I got his first beat. So when you hear, he’s gonna spruce it up a bit. I guess when you get the opportunity to hear that beat in contrast to “Ride Slow,” like he did both parts. He did the whole “Ride Slow” joint. Shout out to Delusional Thomas as well; he blessed me on there too. He’s got the drum set in the studio, he’s got the guitars in the studio, and he does it all. He’s not afraid to. And when Earl Sweatshirt and Da$h and Retch come in, he’s ready to rap too. His artist Dylan comes in, and he works with a lot of, many different… I don’t wanna leave anybody out, but [Mac] can immediately change. I think that’s probably like one of the reasons for his last project Faces. I think he just wears a lot of faces. I’m saying, you gotta think, he’s moved to L.A. and he’s with Hoover Crips and Odd Future and he has the influence of all of L.A. That’s amazing that he soaks it in like a sponge.
HipHopDX: Yeah. I don’t know if he went on tour with Q, but he was out there and he was just taking it all in, just like a sponge.
Ab-Soul: I had to test him. I’m like, “Man, I just need you, just say, “Nigga.” Just say, “Nigga” on this record.” He’s like, “I can’t do it, Soul. I can’t do it.” I’m like, “OK, you’re still on the ground.” So even with all of these influences, he knows his boundaries as well. As an artist and as a person, he’s not gonna disrespect anybody. He knows his limitations as well, which is cool.
Ab-Soul Applauds Mac Miller; Calls Hidden Features A Young Mind Fuck
HipHopDX: I know his age isn’t really a factor.
Ab-Soul: I don’t like to say that. I’m telling you, man. He does it all.
HipHopDX: I noticed that also on the album, like Puff Daddy was on it and Mac. Was there a reason they weren’t on the tracklist?
Ab-Soul: Well just the element of surprise. I guess that’s also like one of the benefits of being independent, right? I just had a front and a back cover.
HipHopDX: You’re like, “I control this.”
Ab-Soul: You feel me? Those are my friends. These guys that we’re talking about, you know exactly who Puff Daddy is. You know what he sounds like. You know that was Mac Miller on the “Hunnid Stax” hook. You know. And they think that’s tight, because people are hot that I didn’t give them the credit. But it’s like, they got the credit. Their voice is signature. They’re signature artists. I like things like that. That’s part of my YMF—my young mind fuck.
HipHopDX: I did feel the element of surprise when I was listening to it at the listening session. Because I was like, “Whoa, I recognize this” and I did it because I was looking at the tracklist, but I can see how fans would like that.
Ab-Soul: But you know what, let me say this too though. I was really talking about this with my homies. I mean like how was it not Control System Part 2 either? I came off on my first song, I said, “Blame God, don’t blame her / All I did was take gangsters to church / Got your lady with literature in her Louis bag / Got your kids studying outside of class / Every project that I drop, she bought ‘em / So now she reads more than she red bottom.” How is that not Control? That’s the first song. What are they talking about? I probably said “third eye” on the album 10 times at least. I’ma let you all sit down and dissect the movie. You know it’s a great one, like Inception. You’re not done watching Inception yet. You’re just not.
Ab-Soul: YMF. There you go.
HipHopDX: Based on what’s out there, your fans are kind of divided. It’s so interesting to see the ones that aren’t happy and then the ones that are just like, “Why aren’t you happy? You don’t want to grow with him. Ride or die.”
Ab-Soul: I want that, though. I want that. With some of the things I say, I want to piss you off. I say certain things sometimes, and I don’t want certain people to like what I say. That’s what I do. So this is not gonna be for everybody. Sure, I can’t save the whole world myself, but I’m just… I’ma try my best.
How Lupe Fiasco & Jay Electronica Befriended Ab-Soul Via Twitter
HipHopDX: “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” is a nod to Section.80. Was it always planned to be kind of like a part two or a continuation?
Ab-Soul: No, it wasn’t planned. It was really kinda organic. Terrace Martin is a big, great friend of the family, and he’s always around. I don’t know. It just kinda hit me. We should do it. Why not just sum this one up, too?
HipHopDX: Kinda found a good place for it, too.
Ab-Soul: Yeah, and I wanted him to really rap. Like everybody been trying to give him this commercial card or this other type of card, saying, “He’s Hollywood,” this type of thing. I’m just trying to make sure that people still understand he earned this position. We earned this position.
HipHopDX: Were you guys in the studio together for it?
Ab-Soul: No. I’m telling you, I haven’t seen these guys in some time.
HipHopDX: You linked up with Rick Ross via Twitter, and you met your girl via Twitter. So I know Twitter isn’t taboo anymore. We meet people all the time. Are there any other collaborations you’ve also had via Twitter?
Ab-Soul: Yeah, I’ve linked with a lot of guys on Twitter. I can’t even really think exactly.
HipHopDX: Any new recent ones?
Ab-Soul: Man, like, naw. Not recently. ‘Cause the thing about Rick Ross—what made me wanna reach out to Rick Ross in particular—was that I had worked with Wale already. Me and Wale did a very dope record, as a matter of fact. And so, I guess with that comfortability and me recording the album at Mac’s house, Mac had a crazy joint with Ross on Faces named “Insomniak.” That just kinda was like, “Oh, okay.” I had the joint done already and was trying to figure out who I wanted on it. I was like, “Yeah, I mean he might be in reach. Why not?” He was following me, so I just shot him my number. He sent it right back. I think I met Lupe and Jay Electronica [through Twitter]. I exchanged numbers with Jay Electronica over Twitter through DM. A lot of my guys are like my mentors kinda.
HipHopDX: Twitter’s just like an easy way to network.
Ab-Soul: Yeah, if you’re networking. You know what? I’m not even gonna get into the rights and wrongs of Twitter.
HipHopDX: Twitter etiquette.
Ab-Soul: Have fun on Twitter. Tweet what you like. Just be aware. Be aware. We’re all watching. This is all documented information. Be aware.
HipHopDX: You said you DM’d Jay Electronica?
HipHopDX: Have you guys been thinking about making music together?
Ab-Soul: I have not even met, I haven’t even spoken to him verbally yet. He’s so…he’s a recluse. I always miss him. Like that Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, I had just flown in from Germany, so I was running late to my show at Webster Hall, which was I think the after-party of that. So my phone was dead, and he’s texting me. I got my phone back after the show, and he was texting me like he was trying to get into the show. It was all kinda like, “Oh, just the runaround with this guy.” That’s the black god, though. Shoutout to the black god.
HipHopDX: You guys would make a dope record together.
Ab-Soul: Yeah, but even, like even more than it’s about music with him, man. That’s a real special dude. Even with Lupe Fiasco, like I said, he’s one of those guys that just helped walk me through this thing.
HipHopDX: How long have you been friends with Lupe?
Ab-Soul: A year or so.
HipHopDX: You guys had a cool bond from the beginning?
Ab-Soul: Yeah, absolutely. He was like, “Yo, I like what you’re doing, that peaceful aggression. I like that.” He’s a great dude. He’s a real mentor of mine.
HipHopDX: That’s dope. Do you have any other mentors in the industry that are also artists?
Ab-Soul: I don’t wanna miss anybody, man. I’m a student. I’m a student, still, man. I’m looking to learn, and I’m willing to learn. I’m willing to work with everybody that’s on the same frequency, of course. I’m just looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the future. Luckily for me, like I said, I already have a major label, TDE already. I’ve already got a strong machine, support system of my own, so all of these things that will come in the future, I guess we’ll see.
Ab-Soul Shares Advice For Overcoming Adversity & Remaining Positive
HipHopDX: I’ve met you a few times, and you’ve always been very peaceful and enlightening. What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s overcoming odds?
Ab-Soul: OK well, I’ll tell you a message from Jay Electronica. He said, “People like us, we have to go through extensive training in order to be conditioned for what we have to do.” So, I say that to say, enjoy the hurdles, enjoy the hardships, enjoy the struggle because these are the things in a real weird, weird, creepy way. These are the things that we admire most about the people that we admire most—the people that overcome the most. Music is a very successful tool in doing that, in turning a frown upside down.
HipHopDX: Doing something you’re passionate about?
Ab-Soul: Yeah, exactly. Being a good person, exuberating positive energy. That should be a given. But, just look for the signs and respect your experiences here. ‘Cause I feel like every day they hold meaning.
Do you know how humble I have to be? I have to wear shades every day of my life. I can’t be walking around arrogant, and I can’t even see you that clearly. What would I look like walking around here arrogant with an attitude? I still can see, though. I can still move. I still got my 10 fingers and 10 toes. It’s no excuses. We can still smile and do great. I’m still here with HipHopDX.
HipHopDX: I hear that, and I see you and I like that role model example.
Ab-Soul: I hope that’s not taken in a real weird way. I’m not saying you wanna go knock somebody out in the street. You wanna cause trouble, you wanna… I’m just saying. These things that happen to us. It gives us experience. That’s why your mom thinks she can tell you what to or not to do, ‘cause she’s been there. Everything don’t work for everybody the same way, but you still have a choice, though. We still have examples, we can lead by example.