Do What Thou Wilt: Getting to know Ab-Soul
There’s no denying that AB-SOUL is one of the most philosophical, well-worded rappers in the game, and with his newest album Do What Thou Wilt out only a few days ago, the whole world is aching finding out more and more about him.
Just like his Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) brothers before him like KENDRICK LAMAR and SCHOOLBOY Q, Ab-Soul‘s album has been hotly anticipated for some time. Having made a name for himself with his deeply personal, intricate rhymes and “never say die” attitude, he has morphed into one of the most formidable rappers around right now, and I was lucky enough to sit down with him due to a fortuitous turn of events when I was in LA.
In between discussing the culture and history behind Top Dawg Entertainment and gang violence in America, and how the movement behind TDE is to prove that gang violence must stop, and me featuring on his track ‘God’s A Girl’, we got to know Ab-Soul a little better.
Tell me a bit about yourself, your background, growing up?
Well I grew up in Carson, California, Del Amo to be exact. I had a great childhood, but I caught a rare virus when I was 10 years old which kind of hindered me for a bit with my eyesight, and like my skin pigment and things like that, but it built character and it just designed me to be who I am today. I originally wanted to play basketball but when I lost my sight I kind of… I guess I just chose to write.
Was that out of frustration as a means to cope or?
Well I mean, I was always very well spoken very early, my mum read to me as a kid- Charlie Brown, Dr Suess (points to tattoos). I always had a passion for words and communication so writing essays and stuff like that in school was always fun for me. I guess that transcends to the rapping. I grew up in a record store, my family owned a record store, Magic Disc Music –
Is it still running?
Nah it closed in 2011 indefinitely, right when I went on tour. But yeah, so I’ve been in the music business by default my whole life. You know, still looking for the exact answers on how exactly I became, well, wanted to become a rapper but I guess it’s always just kind of been in the air.
And where did the name come from?
The name Ab Soul is derived from the word ‘absolute’. When I started rapping, I was rap text battling online, on Black Planet freestyle chat, and my original rap name was Snap G which I got from cousin Dion. You know that obviously wasn’t such a cool name, so once I started rapping online… These guys were very intricate, it had a lot to do with having a very extensive vocabulary, vernacular –
Yeah, it’s very important
Very important in the “text scene world” as we called it, so I just flipped open the dictionary one day and I opened it up to “precise.” I ran with precise and that worked out, so a synoym of precise was absolute… The real interesting thing is where I got the ‘soul’ from, was because my sister was doing… She was going to an acting school for thespians and she did a production of Dream Girls, and there’s this scene, the opening scene for Jimmy Early when he comes out and performs… “Jimmy got soul, Jimmy got soul, Jimmy got Jimmy got Jimmy got sooooul”, so I’m like yeah that’s it Ab Soul-ute, yeah Ab-SOUL-ute.
Coming from the west coast, a lot of the rap is about being tough and very hard, but your track “The Book of Soul” is about being open and vulnerable, how does opening your life to the world like that feel?
Well let me correct you… As far as west coast rap goes, I mean rap in general, it’s always been about passion of course, giving your testimony to the world, all things that you’ve overcome, you feel what I’m saying? Usually the people who overcome the most are the people that we admire the most.
So you feel what I’m saying… So I guess when you hear a lot of west coast music or “gangster music” “gangster rap.” These are trying to look at it in terms of people that have actually been through that, and have had to live with that, verses just trying to be tough. But, in real life, you’re going to need to be tough, you’re going to need to know how to fight and protect yourself, and be respected too, so you’ve gotta take that from it. Hip-hop is an intelligent movement, so when you listen – if you really listen – to west coast rap, they’re really giving you the do’s and don’ts of what to do when you come to the west coast if you pay attention. So more than just being tough I think is giving a testimony… In these songs, these guys have lost the way that I have lost too, you know what I’m saying? I feel it’s my responsibility to give my testimony, however harsh or brash it may be.
Yeah definitely, and your music is a lot different to a lot of the more commercial music you hear, and that’s a lot of what we would hear back home, and it can be perceived as – not your music in particular – but some more of the commercial music can be perceived as fake, well not fake but you know –
Correct, but this is a common thing, this is a common conversation I’m having, especially with journalists. I just think that’s a radio programming situation. I think that’s out of our hands, so the fact that you wanted to sit down and talk with me means that we are breaking these barriers…
Exactly. Radio is not important anymore, it’s such an old school outlook.
Exactly! So that’s blurring the commercial lines, blurring the line of commercial music; what is it exactly? I think people are more selective of what they want to listen to now versus seven or so years ago.
Yeah, I think it is now in our hands more rather than what’s fed to you.
Exactly, but I mean ultimately I would love to hear my song on the radio. Why not, you know? Who wouldn’t?
It’s more of a proud moment.
Exactly so… but you know MY music, I’m not trying to make music FOR the radio, or for this or that, I’m just trying hopefully.
Yeah, because there are artists who will do that.
Don’t sell your soul…
Whatever that means to you [laughs]
Okay, so what’s been the proudest moment of your career?
When Jay-Z told me I was dope. That kind of… *snaps fingers* we’re here!
That’ll do it! And the worst?
The worst…this album. Making this album. We just had a lot of issues as far as science goes, techincal difficulties, the engineering. A lot of issues with that. I’m very detailed, so if I’m missing the slightest detail it causes trouble for me. This album right here, and Unit 6 not coming out [collaboration with JMSN], that hurt my heart, that hurt my feelings a lot too. But, yeah this album kicked me in my ass, but it’s great though. It’s classic.
Who is your favourite producer to work with?
To work with? I mean its pretty difficult to say, but I’m going to have to go with Sounwave. We was just talking about how he was the first producer I ever worked with for real. He brought me to TDE, and so he’s very “instrumental” to my career.
[Laughs] that’s very funny, you’re a comedian. Do you produce?
No. I mean, I’m very involved with the arrangement of the production; I move a snare out of my way, I move a kick out of my way, I turn the bass up and down. But, I like to let artists be artists and let producers be producers.
Okay these are just a bunch of fun questions now… If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
Today I really want to work with Andre 3000, but I really need to catch Jay before he retires. I have to. I have to catch him.
What’s your favourite food?
My mom’s casserole… I’m not going to tell you what’s in it, secret recipe.
When was your first kiss?
Shit, like pre kindergarten for sure, I was out there. Pre kindergarten, YMCA, I had a girlfriend and an extra girlfriend. It was lit. Holla at me at nap time, it’s lit. True story, YMCA for real. It’s been lit, let me get them oreos shorty, let me get them oreos at nap time.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now where would it be?
Tibet… Just one of them personal places I need to go, you know what I’m saying, I need to go to Tibet. I need to be there right now.
Alright, you’ve got a lot of tattoos, which is your favourite?
My favourite? It’d have to be my first one… No, no, no, no! Of course… This one, right here, of my girl [Ab-Soul points to a portrait of his former girlfriend Alori Joh who passed away in 2012]. She was my lovebird. This one and the first one I’ve got- we got one of our first tattoos together. I got “One love” and she got a treble clef on her foot. Those two are probably the most.
Is there any that you hate? Or dislike, hate is a strong word.
Yeah I don’t use that word. My Del Amo freeway sign on my back isn’t finished, and my tattoo artist Egypt – shout out to Egypt – her hand was hurting, it was shaky. We were going through a phase just getting them every day, I think I burnt her hand out that night, but yeah I’ve gotta finish that one.
So what’s next for you?
I’ve got a lot of music, a lot, but we just finna get this album out, #dwtw (Do What Thou Wilt).
Do What Thou Wilt is now available via TDE on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and in stores.
Words by Julia Insolia