Ab-Soul: Top Dawg Underdog?
The Emcee many of us know as Ab-Soul hit the scene in 2009 with the Long Term mix-tape. His first project was a solid effort with stand out tracks like Lyrically Speaking, Regular Nigga, A Day in the Life, and Blow them Horns. The first of the Trilogy, it showcased his lyrical agility, sense of humor, and unique style. But as I reflect on his career I ask myself is Ab-Soul truly the Top Dawg Underdog?
According To Him, Yes
The Carson California poet’s chronicle of his struggle as a middle class starving artist was gritty and light-hearted yet surprisingly authentic. In an era rife with bling and bitches, Ab-Soul was a breath of fresh air. He followed up with Long Term 2 which sounded like an extension of the former project.
The production was more sophisticated, his delivery was impeccable, and he appeared to be coming into his own as a recording artist. In Long Term Mentality, the final project from the trilogy, he had solidified himself as an up and coming Emcee.
However, the TDE roster also included Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Rock, and School Boy Q. He expressed his confusion and frustration with being consistently overlooked on a track titled TDUD (Top Dawg Under Dawg).
So What Did He Do?
Instead of taking shots at his friends and label mates, he simply posed the question “what about me?”. By the end of the last track, fans were left feeling as if he embraced his status as the martyr of the TDE roster. But his time finally came in 2012 when he released Control System.
His most critically acclaimed project to date, Control System was worth the wait. First, the lyrics and production were on point. Second, the project boasted a lot of features. Not that he needed them.
Yet the fan favorites on Control System are the tracks with no features at all. Tracks like Soulo Ho3, Pineal Gland, Showing Love, and Book of Soul further proved that Ab-Soul has the skill and verbal dexterity to stand alone. Therefore, the features are just icing on the cake.
He followed that up with These Days in 2014 and Do What Thou Wilt in late 2016. To many, it sounded as if he had lost his way. Perhaps the trappings of moderate success were a distraction. Or maybe the loss of his long time girlfriend Alori Joh set him back creatively.
His latter projects got pretty good reviews, but they didn’t quite reach Control System status. He was still the same lyrical genius, but he wasn’t as focused. And it came across in his music. As a fan, I’m just as confused as he is.
Musically he seems to be in a state of uncertainty. Does he want commercial success? Is he happy where he is right now? He’s just as dope as Kendrick, yet he doesn’t get the accolades. We all want him to win, but there’s a sweet solace in being the underdog.
More specifically, underground emcees have the freedom to create without the pressure of writing a hit song. They can play the background, plot their next moves and you’ll never see them coming. What would it take to propel Soulo into the realm of superstardom, and do we really want him there?