Ab-Soul, "These Days ..." (Top Dawg)
Rapper Ab-Soul grew up in his family's record store with free access to anything in the stacks.
That explains a lot about "These Days ...," the bursting-at-the-seams album that's No. 4 in Top Dawg Entertainment's massive 2014 rollout (only Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock to go).
The 15-track album is overstuffed with ideas, sonic shout-outs, a variety of moods, cosmic musings, comic musings, Kendrick-like boasts (including one directly from Lamar), celebrity guests including the entire TDE roster, Rick Ross and Jhene Aiko -- pieces and parts assembled from this crate and that located in very different parts of the metaphorical record store.
Like fellow TDE and Black Hippy members Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul has offered an often dark, deeply personal vision that's anti-pop in a lot of ways. Dense, packed with long songs that swerve and change on a codeine vibe, "These Days ..." is meant to show what Soulo's life has been like the last few years. While Kendrick and Q escape their predetermined lives by the end of their narratives, Ab-Soul is clearly -- and gladly -- lost down the rabbit hole, experimenting with drugs, women, words, philosophies, sounds.
The album unfurls like a book of short stories, with songs pairing up in interesting ways. Album openers "Gods Reign (These Days ...)" featuring SZA and "Tree of Life" prepare us for the trip ahead. "Closure" featuring Aiko and "Sapio Sexual" are two completely different takes on the nature of relationships.
Ab-Soul -- like Kendrick and Q -- is at his best when he follows his most noirish instincts, and the sprawling 7-minute-long "Ride Slow" featuring Danny Brown with Mac Miller producing provides the most gripping moments here. Written with Jay Electronica's influence front and center, the song is a woozy, paranoid vision that stimulates in the same way a twist of the knife at the end of the darkest film noir exhilarates.