A Good Ass Question: Is Ab-Soul Better Than Kendrick Lamar?

May 23, 2012 47 comments

It seems that since his crowning as “Next from the West” by California rap legends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, the entire world has been fixated with Kendrick Lamar. This has led to a deal with Aftermath and Interscope Records and a standout track on Drake’s sophomore LP “Take Care” where Aubrey doesn’t even bother appearing on the song. It probably was for the best, or else risk being killed on your own ish, like The Game has learned. There are very few rappers out today who possess Kendrick’s comfort with lyrics and wordplay. In fact, even here at MJF, we’ve posed the good ass question about whether anyone has outrapped the Compton, California prodigy. And the answer is no, no one outside of his own crew has outrapped Kendrick.

Kendrick Lamar is one fourth of the rap collective Black Hippy, which consists of Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul. Jay Rock was the first from Black Hippy to gain nationwide notoriety when he was named one of the XXL Freshman in 2011, alongside J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa. You have to be doing something right to make that list, and he proved that by signing to Tech N9ne’s label “Strange Music” and released his much underrated “Follow Me Home” LP. Schoolboy Q has kinda shot onto the radar recently by having the best verse on ASAP Rocky’s “LiveLoveASAP” album and by releasing the well-received “Habits & Contradictions” album. Both Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q are making a name for themselves in the rap game, but neither has ever outrapped Kendrick Lamar on a song. Ab-Soul has.

Both Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q are making a name for themselves in the rap game, but neither has ever outrapped Kendrick Lamar on a song. Ab-Soul has.

Ab-Soul, the nerdy rapper from the suburbs of Carson, California, is what you would call a rapper’s rapper. He truly is a master of his craft, and he’s able to accent his excellent vocabulary and knack of melody with excellent song ideas and concepts. Just don’t mention the fact that he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or that might cause Rah Digga to diss him. Hell, Rah Digga might diss me for saying that. I bring up the fact that he lacks a Wikipedia to show just how off the radar he is. He’s hasn’t received the mainstream acclaim of his labelmates but he’s making arguably the best quality output. All of this by being himself.

I haven’t felt a connection to an artist like Ab-Soul since I was a confused teenager going through puberty listening to Joe Budden. Ab-Soul raps about being broke, about macking on chicks, about looking for love, about discontent with state of affairs. None of these topics are new, but when doing so from his perspective you can’t help but admire how he’s able to internalize these things and produce quality music about real life events. There’s a big difference between rapping about life and rapping about your life.

I was listening to Jay-Z’s “The Takeover” the other day and one line stood out to me in this legendary diss track. The line was:

“Nigga you ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folks’ pad
You scribbled in your notepad and created your life
I showed you your first Tech on tour with Large Professor
And then I heard your album about your Tech on the dresser”

Jay-Z was lyrically attacking Nas not because he was a bad rapper, but because he wasn’t rapping his actual life. There’s something about being authentic in rap, moreso than any other genre out today. Eminem wouldn’t be as big or as revered as he is today without being able to rap about his life in a way that fans find relatable. Jay-Z doesn’t get enough credit for rapping about his life, not when every other popular artist has had to deflect criticism about their upbringing or so-called roles in the streets. Jay-Z has been in the rap game long enough to the point where someone would’ve exposed him by now if he really wasn’t doing what he said he was doing. And I can see that same candid outlook on music in Jay-Z that I see in Ab-Soul.

I recently purchased (Yeah I know, who buys music anymore) Ab-Soul’s “Control System” album from iTunes and have been listening to it nonstop ever since. Three tracks stand out to me after repeated listens to the project. The track “Double Standards” is the classic take on how promiscuous women and promiscuous men are not viewed equally. The song also references the Amber Cole situation and how people are more dismissive when young men are involved in sexual acts. The next song that caught my eye was “Empathy”, centered on the idea of not having a lot but wanting to give it all to your significant other. Ab-Soul stresses how much he empathizes with his lady friend about how she goes about her average day, and the listener in turn empathizes with the both of them. Also, props to Ab-Soul for saying he made $700 and not some ridiculous amount that most rappers would’ve quoted.

The third song that was noteworthy was “The Book of Soul”. This song is one of the most introspective songs I’ve heard in awhile, probably since Drake’s “Look What You’ve Done”. The song is about Ab-Soul’s battle with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome that left him with no pigment on his lips and light sensitivity, about his personal struggles of fitting in, and about losing the love of his life. Singer Alori Joh, known for collaborations on several TDE projects, is believed to have committed suicide this year. Ab-Soul pours his heart out for 5 minutes on this track, and it truly makes you feel his pain and gives you a sneak peek into what it is like to sacrifice everything, literally everything, in one’s quest for pursuing your dream. If he doesn’t record another album ever again, “The Book Of Soul” should stand the test of time across hip hop circles.

I’ve heard Kendrick Lamar make tracks in the same vein as these but none of them come across as genuinely as Ab-Soul’s records do. It’s almost effortless how relatable Ab-Soul’s songs are. I think it could have something to do with Kendrick’s voice, which is more of a deterrent to me these days. He sounds very robotic and forced, sacrificing flow for lyrics and concepts. Kendrick Lamar often sounds less like a rapper and more like a rapping machine, which makes sense when you consider he’s never had a weak verse. The way that Ab-Soul’s voice cracks during “The Book of Soul”, I really don’t believe that Kendrick could’ve pulled that off. And that’s what separates these two great MC’s in my opinion. If Kendrick Lamar had made a song like “The Book of Soul” or “Double Standards” the nationwide acclaim would be pouring in. But Ab-Soul doesn’t have that same name recognition.

I remember when I was growing up and rappers were able to become popular by having superior lyrical or technical ability. Nowadays, it’s about who has the bigger name or bigger cosign. Every once in awhile an artist will come along who seems like they’re caught in the wrong generation. To me, Ab-Soul is one of the best new artists out today. He suffers from being caught up in the Kendrick Lamar whirlwind but on his own right he is a fantastic artist. An artist better than the rest of his camp, including Kendrick Lamar.