It’s been more than a handful of years since we got an album from TDE’s Ab-Soul but he is back with ‘HERBERT‘ and with over an hour of fresh new music, the wait has most certainly been worth it. Often operating in the shadows of labelmates Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, SZA and ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul has never really found his particular lane as far as his music, lyricism, conspiracy theories and flow. Up until this point, he has some iconic features, a classic album in ‘Control System‘ but has never been able to put everything together in a way that has made sense to him, to hip hop heads and casual fans. It’s unlikely HERBERT is the album that changes all that, but it’s a step or three in the right direction.
Heads have been waiting on this, which is how you KNOW you have an impact on the scene. A plethora of music drops each and every week, but when Ab says he’s got an album coming, people circle their calendar and wait with more anticipation than kids do Christmas. There have been a range of experiences that have changed Ab-Soul as a person, and these have been captured on this latest album and shared with listeners through some personal, deep and authentic moments. The maturity of message, the passion and feeling in the flow – not to mention the varied cadences – it all sounds very positive, happy and inspired, which is where Ab-Soul is at his best. But it’s not without missteps.
This isn’t an album you’ve heard before. There is an energetic eclecticness from start to finish as Ab and co take you on a musical journey, to some dark, painful places, and to some positively inspired places – and the music doesn’t let go of you for the full 18 tracks. The album commences with ‘Message In a Bottle‘ which in and of itself is a diverse, transient jaunt through the mind of Ab-Soul with a jazz infused, boom bap audio plate. It concludes with a more traditional boom bap joint ‘Gotta Rap‘, produced by DJ Premier with brilliantly placed keys and horns, scrathes and Ab-Soul slaying the mic with his emphatic delivery and well-crafted anecdotes. And then there is everything in between.
‘HERBERT’ feels like an wild and crazy ride, at some times it is so locked in, that Ab’s genius is on display. And I don’t mean the traditional breakdown of complex concepts and spit bars you need a dictionary and encyclopedia to understand (like his previous offerings), I mean his ability to craft stories through experiences and moments in time. This storytelling and focused excellence is where the album and Ab-Soul really shine through and everything just works. Other times, there are tracks such as ‘Positive Vibes Only‘, ‘The Wild Side‘ and ‘Go Off‘ which really seem basic, forced and uninspired, which is a shame because the removal of joints such as these would have been addition by subtraction. “I can see the goal there’s just a mountain in the way” he raps on ‘Fallacy‘ and that’s somewhat reflective of my listening experience.
Fortunately, there are far more highs than lows, which hopefully is now respective of Ab’s personal life, as listening to this album is nothing short of distressing. ‘Do Better‘, ‘Hollandaise‘ and ‘Moonshooter‘ are some of the albums more impeccable moments, and the production clearly brings out some different vibes for Ab as he really dips and sways his way through upbeat jams like ‘FOMF‘ which have the head nodding and shoulders shrugging, or the triumphantly choral ‘Church On The Move‘ which has that Kendrick-influence all over it and some epic use of synth throughout the soundtrack.
Bangers: Gotta Rap, Message In A Bottle, Moonshooter, Do Better, Hollandaise.
Score: 8 / 10. There are too many moments that don’t hit the mark to score this any higher, but you don’t throw away an album that has a few flaws and miss the incredibly diverse highs that ‘HERBERT’ has to offer. Ab-Soul is his own worst enemy when it comes to lyrics – he has the ability to curate incredible tales of loss, positivity, woe, love and tell those stories with passion. However, his penchant for trying to really work the language over, means that there are a few ‘basic bars’ that make you cringe or that if those lyrics were written in your local social media chat, you’d be clowned for. Overall though, this album is a valuable listen – authentic and entertaining from beginning to end – and unapologetically Ab-Soul.