Published Dec 09, 2016After winning over hip-hop scholars with Control System in 2012, Ab-Soul didn't impress quite as much with These Days..., which critics saw as something of a lateral move — rather than writing another album of work to cement himself as TDE's brainiac, his second LP explored the sonics and subjects that defined the genre in 2014. Another two-year gap between records has yielded Do What Thou Wilt and a more focused Soul; the record's cover shows the Carson, California MC with head in hands, eyes open, without his signature sunglasses.
Those who found themselves put off by These Days…' flirt with the more popular sides of the genre will be dazzled with Soul's pen game here, which is determined to get "your synapses doin' jumping jacks" from the start with "Raw (Backwards)." Packed with references to the Bible, the Beatles and Ab-Soul's previous albums, there's plenty to pick up from either a cursory listen or a sit-down with a lyric sheet.
The brainpower behind Soul's lyrics can also be his downfall, though. Becoming wrapped up in his own musings on life, the universe and everything all at once can at times lead to some truly baffling bars, such as when he posits, "I think the American flag was designed by fags," or that he's being "womanogamous" because of his involvement with a lesbian couple.
Ab-Soul's view of women, informed largely by Aleister Crowley's religion of Thelema, provides a troubling through-line to the record. While his words aren't as condescending as some of his peers', his thoughts don't lend themselves well to his highly literate rhymes or the fact that he's writing from a male perspective: "God gotta be a thot," he raps on "HER World" as he describes anal play with Mother Earth on "Womanogamy." There's a wealth of other more rewarding wordplay to be found, but these are definite missteps.
Ab-Soul is more successful when he mines his own sorrow. "INvocation," which pairs Soul with a tired jazz band, begins the depressive self-reflection, before "D.R.U.G.S." takes it a step further six tracks later as he examines his relationship with pharmaceuticals.
"Evil Genius" remains both chilling and personal, capturing the MC's struggles in the most effective way since Control System's stunning "The Book of Soul," working in sampled vocals of his late high-school sweetheart Alori Joh. There's love in his heart as he quotes Crowley, saying "love is the only law" on "YMF," sunglasses off and looking towards the light. (Top Dawg)