Rating: 8 / 10
Kendick Lamar has established a considerable platform for his fellow Black Hippy brethren to springboard from. As a collective, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Lamar have released just a few songs under the Black Hippy name, but after the success of the latter’s Section.80, all four find themselves on Dr Dre’s Aftermath imprint; a label where even established artists like Rakim and Raekwon have failed to make an impact. While Jay Rock and Q have cut their teeth on their own independent releases, Ab-Soul is the last member out of the gate, and with his tiny output, unusual personal styling and a seemingly lack of enthusiasm for glossy production methods or large, radio-friendly hooks, he looks a very small fish in the pond where the good doctor resides.
While he might prove quite the quandary for Aftermath’s marketing department, Ab may well be the most artistically interesting of the Hippy clan. Control System (not released on Aftermath, by the way) is a long, complex record of scratchy beats, widescreen subject matter and elaborate rhyming schemes, which goes some of the way to explaining Ab’s lack of output thus far is his young career. His attention to detail is stellar, intricately building his rhymes with clever wordplay, popping syllables off each other like a well tuned jazz drummer. On “Bohemian Grove”, for example, Ab pulls out all the tricks, veering from three word bars to lengthy prose. Later, on “Illuminate” – where he addresses his unlikely place within the Hip-Hop world – his turn of speed is impressive, often putting the brakes on mid-rhyme, leaning into words slowly before jamming down on the accelerator and letting loose once more.
It’s wonderfully compelling to hear Ab construct his dense rhyme patterns, and he’s boosted by a near-flawless selection of beats. Production-wise Control System is in the same vein of Lemar’s Section.80, compiling a series of jazzy samples, AM radio soul and horror movie-esque compositions, linking instrumentation with subject matter wisely. “It was all a dream/I swear, it never happened,” opens ‘Pineal Gland’, which adds to the dark, nightmarish feel of the music. The doomed romance Ab outlays on “The Book of Soul” is beautifully scored by some ice-cold piano chords and rolling drum loops, while the scary outline of world politics on “Terrorist Threat” is appropriately foreboding.
Danny Brown shows up on “Terrorist Threat” and his manic spitting steals the show, underlining that, while Ab-Soul shows strong signs of being a great rap artist, he still has a way to go to be a truly great rapper. Still, Control System slowly reveals itself to be one of the most accomplished debut Hip-Hop records in quite some time.