Music Review: Ab-Soul finds purpose after pain on ‘Herbert’
“Herbert” by Ab-Soul (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Ab-Soul’s “Herbert” is peppered with messages — a voicemail from his praying grandma, snippets of encouragement from his inner circle and so on. But it’s the rapper’s reflections on himself and his life that define his latest project, making it the lauded lyricist’s most beautifully vulnerable set yet.
“Herbert” is named for the man behind the Ab-Soul rap persona, born Herbert Anthony Stevens IV. The music finds Ab-Soul looking back, all the way to childhood, like on the Kal Banx-produced “Hollandaise,” in which he recounts memorizing songs from ’90s duo Kriss Kross and typing “freestyles” for an Internet audience via AOL dial-up.
Now with his fifth album release, the 35-year-old finds the music just as all-consuming, and yet never enough. “Gotta go hard in the paint/ Gotta night-ride when they call it a day/ All work, no play, crank up the ball and the chain,” he raps.
On title track “Herbert,” Ab-Soul continues to delve, examining his burdens — from developing the rare and painful Stevens-Johnson syndrome at age 10 to dealing with complications now, decades later. “Eye doc said I need new corneas/ I rather need those than a coroner,” he raps in celebration of his survival.
And perhaps that’s what stands out about this Ab-Soul album. For all its darkness — depression, death and more — Ab-Soul finds reasons to live, like on the mantra-like “Do Better,” featuring singer Zacari.
Guest Jhené Aiko brings her ethereal energy, singing alongside Ab-Soul as he bares his soul on “The Wild Side.” Other guests include Big Sean, who comes with a notable verse on “Go Off,” and Joey Bada$$ appears on the lyrically enjoyable “Moonshooter.”
Ab-Soul says “they’ll never understand Herbert Anthony,” but his latest release certainly brings fans closer.
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