It’s pretty obvious that at ZIF, we are fans of thugged out rap and don’t want it to disappear by any means. Yet when speaking of hip-hop in the greater LA area, it’s impossible to not address the fact that two alternatives to the Gangster Rap that helped define the sound of a coast, and changed the boundaries of what’s acceptable in music forever, are building strong followings. Jerking, unfortunately is really lame (Jake’s article will tell you all about it), but was only a matter of time, coming from a city where your personality without question takes a back seat to how much money you have, how good you look, and how many important people you know. On the other hand, there is the Pac Div’s, Blu’s, Dom Kennedy’s, and Kendrick Lamar’s who vividly depict underprivileged life, but from the perspective of people who aren’t all about doing dirt, flossing, or hitting it on the dance floor. Ab-Soul, of Top Dawg Entertainment and 1/4 of Black Hippy with Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and School Boy Q, calls it “Human Music”. And with his new FREE project, Longterm 2: Lifestyles Of The Broke And Almost Famous (get it here), he gives you just that: 18 tracks about being a regular and thoughtful person with big dreams, in a world that seems to only respond to violence and money.
Longterm is an appropriate title for Ab’s mixtapes, because in them, he deals with issues that tend not to become dated. The most prevalent of these is that of being an artist, who is in the field for the love of the art, but also needs to make a living off of it in order to survive. This has been a dilemma that all professional artists, regardless of medium, has had to deal with dating back hundreds of years. A lot of times the pieces the artist are most proud of, and make them feel the happiest, often aren’t what’s popular or what sells. While the art that does generate money, often bring the artists no joy or pleasure beyond the financial gain. While the majority of the tracks on Longterm 2 involve this theme in one way or another, with lyrical highlights coming from “Passion” and “Mayday”, “Can Anybody Hear Me” featuring Punch, probably most clearly expresses Ab’s personal point of view towards music, and specifically the frustration over the lack of commercially viable options for an MC who wants to be honest about a life outside of rap’s stereotypes. Practically every time I hear the final verse of the track, the balance of unadulterated emotion with lyricism has inspired me to hit the rewind button at least once.
Another theme found on Longterm 2 that is extremely relevant and important to modern America, is how to grow up into a self sustaining adult without resorting to crime, after having turned your back on formal education at a young age. “Bankrupt” depicts why crime seems so appealing to so many people who lack legitimate alternatives, while “Soul Cry” recounts the Soul Brother #2’s life, specifically in regards to the types of things that happened in the past that contributed towards creating his current situation. Then there’s “Be A Man”, which speaks on how difficult it is to stick to your goals and be proud of the way you are living your life or the accomplishments that you have achieved, if financially you are unable to not only hold yourself down, but help out your family and the other people in your life that you love and care about. The beat, which was crafted by Tae Beast, fittingly samples James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World”. Yet every time I hear that unforgettable intro used to lead into a modern hip-hop track rather than the original version, I ask myself when people will leave “It’s A Man’s World” alone, or at least use an alternate recording/take. Still, despite that feeling, every time the beat drops I more often than not find myself thoroughly impressed with what the producers chose to do with it. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the genius of the original track, but producers like No I.D. on Beanie Siegel’s “Man’s World” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=296JBUcesfc), Dilla on Guilty Simpson’s “Man’s World” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEDBFzDnIRM), and now Tae Beast on “Be A Man” have surprisingly put their own stamp on the classic. In this specific case, if the intro was removed, the beat is unique enough that the average listener might not recognize the sample used. If nothing else Tae Beast deserves credit for utilizing elements from the original track that are not normally included when most hip-hop producers decide to use “It’s A Man’s World” as the backbone of their instrumental.
Finally, despite the amount of weighty subject matter that is found on this project, a lot of it is presented in a very light hearted manner. Ab Soul continuously makes it very clear that he is someone who more than anything else wants to enjoy himself. He’s constantly cracking jokes, has a bunch of clever punchlines, and between songs like “House Party 5”, “Still A Regular Nigga” ft. Javonte and “Pass The Blunt” ft. School Boy Q, there are a fair amount of tracks that are strictly devoted towards putting a smile on Ab Soul and his listeners’ faces. Yet Soul at his happiest is without a doubt on the title track. “Longterm 2” is triumphant, exuberant, expresses excitement about the future, and is lyrical to boot. In short, it’s one of those tracks that you can turn up loud and feel confident that things are going to be ok.
That’s the beauty of Ab Soul and the other LA artists that write from similar perspectives: even if you aren’t from California, and didn’t grow up in the hood, they’re rapping about emotions and stages of life that almost every average person must deal with. Therefore practically anyone can relate. They never have a “only real killers and dealers are aloud to feel me” moment. They also don’t go out of their way to make their listeners jealous of a life that they have yet to live themselves. Instead they rap about things we all experience, like the difficulty of breaking free from the family and making it on your own. Or how everyday people enjoy themselves: no bottle service at the club, but more like buying a bottle of liquor at the corner store. It’s the type of music that makes the fans feel like they could really get a long with the artists as people, rather than be told that you need to be disgustingly rich, or hot and slutty just to breathe the same air as them. As I listen to more artists like Ab Soul I realize that they are making music that I can feel like I am a part of and own, rather than being on the outside looking in. For that reason I believe that I will continue to listen to MC’s like Ab Soul on a longterm basis.