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These Days… | Top Dawg Entertainment

Artists in today’s musical landscape are subject to an ever-present struggle to remain relevant. Stars fade and trends will change, leaving a slew of nostalgia-inducing songs that formerly defined our times. What Los Angeles rapper Ab-Soul sets out to do on his new album is provide a time capsule for what hip-hop is like these days. When our times have moved on, this album will stand as a reference point for what we were listening to in 2014.

Created by one of the most cerebral musical artists, it’s clear that more than one theme is approached on this album. Of all the themes, the sheer musicality of the album is hard to escape. It touches on every inch of what hip-hop has to offer in 2014: be it the ethereal and airy production on the introduction to “God’s Reign,” or the more brash and trendy pop-hop and trap inspired sounds that are very different from Soul’s previous work showcased on “Hunnid Stax,” “World Runners,” “Nevermind That,” and “Twact.” The album shifts into another dimension following the soul-soaked cheerful production under a trendy rapid-fire delivery on the later half of “Just Have Fun.” This leads into Kendrick Lamar’s brash verbal attack on the jazz heavy “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” that serves as a perfect payback for the outstanding “Ab-Soul’s Outro” from Lamar’s 2010 album Section.80.

The tide of the album changes to a darker tone with the melodic musings of a heartbroken man on the chilling track “Closure.” The bombastic yet raw sound of lead single “Stigmata” is reminiscent of classic ’90s boom-bap sound that’s seeing a comeback. The sound continues through the oddity of “Ride Slow” which features four of rap’s most talented and budding weirdos: Danny Brown, Mac Miller (as his psychotic pitched-up alter ego Delusional Thomas), Earl Sweatshirt, and Ab-Soul himself. The project is capped off with the powerful “W.R.O.H.” that shifts into a stunning nearly 20 minute battle between Ab-Soul and underground battle-rapper Daylyt that serves as a final look at hip-hop.

Magazine XXL dubbed the album “a lyrical masterpiece” and they are warranted in the claim. No matter how many times you listen, you will always find new meaning in Ab-Soul’s wacky and sometimes corny but dense powers with the English language. With the most radio friendly sounds and a couple of guys tossing rhymes at each other playfully, this album has it all.

Is it always comfortable to stare the present in the face and accept it? No, but just like Ab-Soul says, “I guess that’s how it is these days…”