The first thing that pops out about These Days…, Ab-Soul’s latest album, is the star power. The listener is left wondering whether TDE pulled out all the stops on this one to celebrate their new found hip-hop superstardom, or to cover for the fact that this effort simply just does not achieve the same level of excellence that we’ve come to expect from Black Hippy. Soulo is often overshadowed by the slew of hip-hop heavyweights on the record: Lupe Fiasco on “World Runners”, Rick Ross on “Nevermind”, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt and Delusional Thomas (aka Mac Miller) on “Ride Slow.” There is no better example of this then on “Hunnid Stax”, the surefire radio single that features the buzzy trifecta of a ScHoolboy Q verse, a Mac Miller hook and a Lana Del Rey sample, even featuring a small Puff Daddy cameo at the end. The bells and whistles on “Hunnid Stax” turn Ab-Soul into a sideshow on his own track, something that happens way too often on an album that was poised to be his inauguration into rap’s upper tier.
When Soulo finally does go…solo…like on “Dub Sac,” his ode to the streets he grew up on, or on the J. Cole produced “Sapiosexual,” the verses get a bit stale and generic. Soul seemingly throws away TDE’s signature substance-over-style philosophy in favor of lines like “Getting money, blowing digits, only sexing sexy women/Only sexin’ sexy women only sex is sexy women” and “Baby wanna know what’s under my belt/Maybe cause I paid so much for the belt”. When Soul does decide to dig a little deeper though, it results in the album’s best moments. On “God’s Reign,” he looks past the usual swagger-ful boasting and TDE shoutouts and gives us some real insight into where he is at in his life right now, “I ain’t never had a whole rack, til’ I was 24 years old/At 25 I spent a hunnid’ of those and still ain’t got nothing to show/Uh I guess that’s what it is these days.” “Closure” is probably the album’s deepest moment, an ode to Soul’s deceased former girlfriend Alori Joh, who committed suicide in 2012. “Things just ain’t the same no more/Still think about you everyday/And I wish I could stay/But things just ain’t the same no more,” raps Soul as guest vocalist Jhene Aiko belts the perfect hook.
When These Days switches direction it succeeds too, “Twact,” “Feelin’ Us” and “Just Have Fun” are three solid party tracks in the vein of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank),” with big beats and big hooks. Speaking of Kendrick, he even gets his own song on These Days, titled “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude.” Kendrick spits with a Control-esque flow over some funky jazz beats. It’s just as good as it sounds. While, in a post-good kid m.A.A.d city world, titling a track Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude (featuring Kendrick Lamar) may seem like the highest form of TDE nepotism, true Black Hippy fans will recognize this as a direct follow-up to the track “Ab-Soul’s Outro” on Lamar’s 2011 release Section 80. The album ends on a flat note, with the ambitiously long 23-minute “W.R.O.H.”. The song features JMSN, who Ab-Soul may or may not feel indebted to after TDE shelved their collaboration album earlier this year. Perhaps they tried to fit that whole project on the end of These Days, but W.R.O.H would have been one of the album’s middling tracks at 3 minutes long, at 23 it just feels boring, repetitive and misguided.
Still, Ab-Soul puts out a solid release here, helped along by some big name features and big performances from his TDE labelmates, but at times These Days feels too generic or just flat out stale, ultimately failing to carry the Black Hippy torch in the ways that good kid m.A.A.d city and Oxymoron did for the crew.