Ab-Soul Says Black Hippy Is Not a ‘California Movement,’ Won’t Compete for Drake’s Position
Carson, Calif., native Ab-Soul is more astute than most young men his age, and he’s certain to display that in his rhymes. Within four years, the self-proclaimed “Black Lip Bastard” has dropped four projects, his latest being the album Control System. Known for painting abstract pictures with words, the rapper presents a whole other perspective as a part of an already versatile collective known as Black Hippy, which includes Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar. Their parent label, Top Dawg Entertainment, nurtures their differences, proudly standing behind each member, encouraging them to push past boundaries.
Soul has consistently done that on each of his projects. As his portfolio builds, he’s touted for his ability to dig deeper on every track and create thought-provoking lyrics each time he’s in the booth. The rest of Black Hippy has labeled him the “Einstein” of the group, but Ab-Soul is more than that. He’s brilliant without being condescending, smoked out without being incoherent. Ab-Soul has mastered his own control system.
Recently, The BoomBox had the opportunity to speak with Ab-Soul about the winning music formula, Black Hippy’s cohesion, breaking down the New California Movement and why he’s not gunning for Drake.
Why title the project Control System? What exactly are you referring to?
This world that we live in is a system, and I just think that there are a lot of things that surround us that can be controlling us that we may not be aware of. That’s pretty much it.
It’s been said that you’re better at visualizing ideas rather than physically focusing on any one thing. Does that apply to the visuals you end up creating?
Definitely. I definitely have some type of vision before going into it, but I do trust the expertise of the director that I’m working with because I’d want somebody to trust my expertise in the field that I’m in. I try and apply that to everything. I gotta let a man do what he came to do. I’m not a director; I’m just an artist. But I try to work hand-in-hand with the director or with any individual with anything I do creatively. I try to play my position in everything that I do.
You already dropped a couple videos — “Empathy” and “Pineal Gland” — before the project. Do you have another one coming?
We’re waiting on one to come back that should be pretty good, but I think I’ll keep it under my hat for now.
Watch Ab-Soul’s “Pineal Gland” Video
Everyone is saying that Control System is your most cohesive project yet, the way that it flows.
I guess it’s like, the things I’m talking about on this project are the things I’ve been thinking about as of late. With each project that I do, I try to just give a current state of where I’m at — period. I’ve touched on a few subjects that I’ve been researching and I’ve been hearing people talk about, and I just try and string it all together, you know.
Being as how all of you guys in Black Hippy are totally different — you, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q — what would you say is the glue that holds you all together?
It’s good that we all come from relatively the same area, so we’ve all kinda been around. I’m familiar with what goes on on Figg [Figueroa Street in South Central LA, Schoolboy Q's neighborhood]. I’m from Carson; Jay Rock is familiar with what goes on in Carson, even though he’s from the projects in Watts. So that definitely helps out a lot, that we’re able to join forces and string it all together that way. But I think we’re all really brothers. I really feel like we’re all brothers. We all wanna see each other win, genuinely. I honestly feel that way.
You and Q are particularly tight, always going back and forth with each other.
He right here, right now, fucking around.
Would you say that being the oldest child led to your intuitive thinking in your rhymes?
Definitely. I’ve always carried a big brother mindset that I am the oldest and I have to lead by example, I always felt that way. So I always try to go hard at what I’ve wanted to do, stand firm in what I believe in at all times and expose my siblings to that.
Did you find yourself taking on that role or was it something you were born with?
I honestly think it was a real instinctive thing. There wasn’t a time I can think of when a light bulb went off, and I was like, “Oh shit. I need to straighten up and fly right.” I always knew like, “This is my little sister right here. I have to protect her and I have to set a good example.” I always felt that way. I’m just now cursing around my sister, and she’s in college now. Smoking around her and stuff, just now, ’cause she’s an adult.
Your family has been in the music business for years on the retail side of things. How do they feel about your growing rap career?
I think I get a lot of flack for this, because in the song “Be a Man,” it looks as though my parents were telling me not to do music, but it was just a weird feeling because we’re working in the music business, and at the time I started rapping, like, really taking it seriously, the record industry, as far as physical distribution, was at a steady decline. So it didn’t really make much sense to do it.
But this was our business. Our business was physical — we were retail. Whereas there was a lot of financial income coming from live performance and endorsements and all kind of other avenues to still make money as an artist, but just the space that my mom is in, she was like, “Well, why you wanna do this? That doesn’t make too much sense.” She never said, “No.” She just said, “Make money.” She just wanted to make sure I was a man [about it]. And I respect that. She wasn’t telling me to stop going to work and be a rapper [laughs]. She was telling me to go to work and be a rapper on the side, you know. “Make some money first.”
What was the most interesting studio experience you had while recording Control System?
When I did “Pineal Gland,” I think I made a connection to myself like, “This is dope” [laughs]. Because you know, being the dude … I came up listening to Canibus and Eminem and guys like that, whereas the sound is Rick Ross and 2 Chainz. So it’s like, if I could come up with the same magnitude of science and whatever but still have the record be played after some new 2 Chainz, I’m up to something. Where it would be played after some Schoolboy Q or some A$AP Rocky, I’m up to something if I could do that and still talk about those extreme subjects, matters of substance. I think I felt a sense of, “Yeah, I got it. I’m up to something.”
How do you feel about people saying that Black Hippy is a part of the New California Movement?
Umm, that’s selfish. Because this isn’t a California movement at all. Where are you from?
You see what I’m saying? So why would I leave Brooklyn out of that? This is the California movement, the New York movement, the Texas movement. This is for the world, man. We are all from California, though, and that is a fact, but this is not by any means a California movement. This is not the Westside Connection. No disrespect. I came up on “Bow Down” and shit like that. But this is not that.
After seeing the visual for “Empathy,” it seems like it was a tribute to Alori Joh. Was she still here when you recorded it, or did you just add her vocals?
Yeah, she was still here. It was a regular session with she and JaVonte — they were a music group, the Pinheads. So with my … I don’t like to say I’m a singer; I think they call what I do “crooning.” So when I do those kinds of records, I always get their advice and guidance. I get them to help me out. So I did the whole record, and it was great to have them come in there and help me out and put the icing on the cake. That’s a subject that I’ve always been passionate about, I think. Relationships and love is a control system for sure, and we all can be misunderstood in a lot of ways, you know. So I just think if we all just had a little more understanding, we could get rid of a lot of unnecessary tension.
You sounded pretty good singing on there.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve been getting some pretty good reviews, but you know, I’m not coming for Drake or anything like that. I can’t sing like that, but if I can get a few more of these melodies off that I got … JaVonte really backed me up a lot on there. I really owe him a lot on that one for sure.
What’s the wildest experience you’ve had while on the Groovy tour?
Man, it’s been a lot of funny shit going on, man … The homies, we’re just ruthless, man … Don’t go to sleep first. Watch what you say. Anything you say can and will be used against you. This shit’s just getting way too groovy on the Groovy tour [laughs]. One of the homies that’s been helping me grind, he fell asleep backstage, and so we backstage chilling, playing around and shit, and he’s still asleep. So it comes about time when we have to leave, and security’s like, “This guy man. Is this guy with y’all? He just been back here asleep.” Literally, the dude just had to wake him up. The security had to escort him all the way out [laughs].
Do you remember the day you guys signed to Interscope?
Well, you know, honestly, I’m not at liberty to talk about any of that. But when Dre called up to Power 106 and made a statement about looking forward to working with Kendrick… I think that call right there turned things around for us completely. Just from that call. It just changed things for us, for real.
You don’t seem like the type to be easily excited.
That’s just from growing up, you know what I mean. Can’t get your hopes too high. I mean, we’ve been doing this music for a long time. A lot of people said that they were gonna do things for us that just didn’t come to fruition.