7 years ago, I was still in varsity trying to finish off my degree, hanging around campus because I didn’t have many classes left. Fresh off discovering my love for the khalifa plant, hitting bongs, living my passion for hip-hop, rap. . . the culture.
My existence was drenched in fun, academic anxiety, bob marley plant and a phletora of aspiring and inspiring young philosophers. I was entrenched in a potent cocktail of hip-hop studies and esoteric obsessions, spending just as much time scouring the writings of Aleister Crowley and Carlo Castanada as I was the front pages of DJBooth and 2DopeBoyz.
It was around this time that Ab-Soul released his second album Control System – a project which, given the frame of mind I was in at the time, tapped an ice pick into my consciousness that burst into fractalized shards. At the time, Kendrick Lamar was my favorite of TDE’s four horsemen, but that changed gradually through my journey down his Long Term mixtapes, but somewhere between Longterm Mentality and Control System, Ab-Soul had downloaded some sort of cosmic message that endowed him with qualities that had only been hinted at in his previous projects.
The 17-track, 71-minute experience was not Ab-Soul’s first record, though it feels that way because it was his most defining album. It would bring the most attention to him and showed the difference between him and his TDE record label mates Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock.
Control System was made by a man who had been to the mountaintop of knowledge and been struck with a lightning bolt of monumental understanding once he got there. The metaphysical themes he was beginning to explore in the Long Term series had blossomed into a full swan dive into the depths of psychedelic thought. The Black Lip Bastard had arrived.
It wasn’t long until I would catch myself singing the lyrics. Sure thing the lyrics stuck, but one big problem, I didn’t know the meaning of what I listened to, and this made me do research on the lyrics to decode what I was reciting. Listening to such an intricate and intelligent rapper can prove to be a particularly intense experience:
“You should see the shit in my cerebrum,” he tells us on “Showin’ Love”, comparing his synapses to “lightning” at another point.
I didn’t understand what Ab-Soul was talking about and couldn’t see through his conspiracy theory rap. The moment I found out what he was talking about, though, it felt like a whole world opened up for me.
His lyrics reel from wild-eyed conspiracy theorizing (at one point, Hitler’s face appears in the burning Twin Towers) to egg-headed abstractions (Sumerians, Saturn, third eyes, Andromeda) to powerful, lucid observations. Soulo sums it up neatly for us on “Track Two”: “Just imagine if Einstein got high and sipped juice/ Broke rules, got pussy, beat up rookies on Pro Tools,” he offers. Oh, sure, one of those.
The contrasting subject matter of his music is perhaps the most rewarding as a listener.
There is a song called “SOPA” on Control System, named for the Stop Online Piracy Act; Ab-Soul includes a pointed lyric about Trayvon Martin in his verse (deep right?) . . . The song also features Schoolboy Q, and his message is that he wants to screw your girl.
The song “Terrorist Threats”, meanwhile, begins with a quote from the documentary Slavery By Consent about imprisonment through debt. The beat sounds like the world’s loneliest single-person ping-pong game, being played in an abandoned car garage. “If we could link up every gang/ And niggas is willin’ to bear the pain/ We could put the White House lights out today,” Ab-Soul barks, an echo of Dead Prez’s “run up on them crackers on the White House lawn” call to arms. But what is that Jhene Aiko is coolly chanting in the background? A paraphrase on the “spit yo flow” hook from Jay-Z’s “Nigga What”.
Ab-Soul talks about the hard life he had growing up with Steven Johnson Syndrome on “Book of Soul.” On this track, he also mourns his girlfriend and frequent TDE collaborator, Alori Joh, who helped him create the album, but sadly committed suicide in 2012 before the album was released. This burgeoning experimentation and the tragic passing of his beloved Alori Joh brought out a darkness and aggression in Soul’s demeanour
Soulo sees politics everywhere, even in the drink being mixed up in front of him (“Hennessy and coke, 1800/ We mixin’ dark and light like the 1800s,” he quips on “Bohemian Grove”.) But politics are never all he sees. “Genius idiot, best description of myself,” he raps on “Showin’ Love”, and over the hour-plus course of Control System, he touches, lightly, on almost everything: heartbreak, cockiness, righteous anger. On “Beautiful Death,” he assures us that while we die as individuals, we will rise as a nation. On the song here actually called “Black Lip Bastard”, he accuses other rappers of “eating yogurt in bed.”
“Control System” was definitely an experience which, after some dissection from start to finish, I felt was brilliant. Ab-Soul was able to bridge the gap between smart rap and a street mindset. In his weird intoxicating vibe, he was able to speak on fashion and science in the same line, making comparisons that no one had done before. This album secured my spot as a diehard Ab-Soul fan for life. I label this album a classic piece of art, giving it a 10/10 for its depth and creativity.