Ab-Soul is the underdog of the Top Dawgs, dramatically overshadowed in the public eye by TDE labelmates Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar. While Lamar is busy getting Album of the Year nominations, Ab-Soul is on his first headlining tour, and played to a couple hundred dudes at Orpheum this past Wed., Sept. 17.
But there’s a reason Ab-Soul is able to hang with the guy everybody and their dog thinks is the best rapper since Biggie. On stage, he’s razor sharp with riffling double-time rhymes, and he works the same kind of trademark post-everything stylistic mash – Ab-Soul’s flow (and his hair) spark memories of Bone Thugs n’ Harmony, but his tracks are thick with Southern trap, and the Orpheum system gave them plenty of edge.
That is, when the tracks themselves weren’t intentionally soupy, hazy soundscapes, with Ab-Soul rambling across them with a knowing looseness. There’s a sort of oddball vibe that makes him worth paying attention to, a connection to experimentalists like Freestyle Fellowship and Rammellzee, a perfect match for his obsession with hardcore psychedelic drugs (his best song so far is about DMT).
Of course, that weirdness is also what’s kept Ab-Soul further towards the margins relative to his labelmates, and generated a demographic situation that’s perennial for weird rappers – as a couple of fellows in front of me observed, “There sure are a lot of white people here.”
A lot of white people, and a lot of white dudes (including myself) – the crowd was literally 90 percent male (not counting the Orpheum’s always gracious, gorgeous, and tough squad of bartenders – tip ‘em!). Ab-Soul’s combination of crypto-mythology, druggy abstraction, gangster tropes, and noisy beats has clearly got the rap nerd vote, but making his way to Kendrick Lamar status might mean adopting a broader palette.