Published Jul 10, 2014For Ab-Soul the idea of "longterm mentality" has many meanings: it's the name of his first album, but more importantly it's his unspoken mantra toward making music. Since 2009, the L.A. rapper has been consistently doling out his unique brand of enlightened philosophies while improving on his sound with each project. But at Ab-Soul's core lies an artist who's unafraid to detail his personal ups and down. Whether, it's dissecting the loss of his then-girlfriend, Alori Joh or his battle with Stevens-Johnson syndrome — a life threatening skin condition that left him with light sensitive eyes and blackened lips — Soul has never been shy about what makes him tick and his new album, These Days… is no different. According to Ab-Soul, These Days… serves as a time capsule of his life over the last couple years while trying to touch on themes that anyone can connect to. And if the record is anything to go by he has plenty to share. Exclaim! talked to Soul about the difference between a person and a human being, working with Lupe Fiasco, and the importance of empathy.
I've always wanted to ask, for the XXL Freshman freestyle where you said, "What's the difference between a person and a human? / One of 'em is free, the other one is stupid." What was the inspiration behind that line?
You know I talk about — I just like to provoke thought and raise some questions, and if you look at the definition of a person and you look at the definition of a human they're the same but different.
In a lot of interviews you make it a point to remind people to search for knowledge and challenge their minds, but at the same time a lot of your fans take to your music for your unique perspectives and opinions. Is that something you're comfortable with at this point?
Well, there's nothing wrong with having a point of reference and if that makes me a teacher then so be it, but I would think in the same respect I would encourage everyone to find that same type of power in themselves and to also be their own teacher as well.
You've said that These Days is more like a time capsule for your current life. How are you feeling currently?
I'm feeling great, it's a great day outside I'm feeling the summertime weather. I mean in general these days I'm just trying to capture everything I've experienced far and wide you know what I mean? The last two years that I've been missing.
What do you feel stood out the most over those last two years that you felt was important to add to this album?
I toured a lot for my last album, Control System and that's allowed me to travel a lot of the world — well I haven't been out of the country yet, but to cover America and touch hands all over the country. So, I think because of all the distance I've covered you'll hear a much wider scope of influences [on the album].
What song took you the longest to complete?
I couldn't say, I just kind of let these things flow. But I mean "Stigmata" — that was a very conceptual joint and I actually had to look up the definition of stigmata. I originally wanted to do a song about stigma so I thought of the word stigmata thinking it would be an extension of the word but then I came across what it really meant. So if anything "Stigmata" required a bit more research than the others.
I know you've been a long-time fan of Purity Ring and they handled production for the track, "God's Reign." How did the collaboration come about?
I was introduced to Purity Ring by Danny Brown when he was playing their music on the tour bus and he was working with them at the time, so I figured I should reach out. They were already in L.A. so we got it done.
You once tweeted the quote, "Loyalty is grand, empathy is greater." Why is empathy more important to you as an artist?
I think that's an actual quote if I'm not mistaken, and I don't want to take credit for it, but if I had to pick that apart, I would say you should be able to empathize with somebody that maybe can't be as loyal [as you]. You have to understand that everyone isn't loyal to one person or even the next person.
I feel personally in rap everyone talks about loyalty but it's like you said, we don't emphasize feeling for that other person?
Right, that's what I'm saying.
There's a disconnect.
You have to allow people to walk their own path. If that means that your path is left and mine is right, I should be able to empathize with that. I can't expect for us all to walk the same exact path.
Many people have already made the comparisons between you and Lupe [Fiasco's] style and you guys have always had an interesting back and forth on different topics. When did you guys start working on "World Runners"?
What actually happened with Lupe, to be perfectly honest with you, was I met him in Chicago on a tour with Kendrick, initially, and then we met again in L.A. Eventually, we connected at the studio and he was like, "We got to do three records — we need to rap on one song, we need a concept song, and we need a top 40," so that's what we did. And I guess that you will hear those soon. I know he put "Thorns & Horns" out, "World Runners" is out and I'm going to be on his [upcoming] album as well, so that will be the third one, but I don't want to talk about that one yet.
You once mentioned that you want your music to help people get through the day and bring light to a situation. Is there a song on this album or your past records that you feel embodies that idea the most?
Maybe, "ILLuminate" [off of 2012's Control System] that's a great "shout out loud we're going to share life as light with each other" type of song. I think that's probably a great representation of that idea.
In one interview you said the biggest lie ever told is" In God we trust." Do you still feel that way?
[Laughs] Well, you know that came off the top of my head, but for sure I still hold that one up pretty high.