When I was deployed to assist an infantry training unit in the early 2000’s the Nas v. Jay debate was at its literal height. Stillmatic had just dropped and Blueprint had already changed the way beats were made. The entire platoon broke in half and made different cases. The moment that stands out was one kid, passionate as he could be, in his brown undershirt saying “Look man Nas is just better…” he put up a single finger and silenced the debate following it with “Listen to this.” He played track six on Stillmatic, it’s called Rewind. The song is a Boyz in Da Hood style gun down retaliation tale but spat backwards. That kid let the song make the case that Nas has a non-linear artistic mind that will always go places Jay’s won’t. No one on the other side had a way to respond when the song was over. I’m not saying the debate was over, I hope it never is.
I like the idea that a single song is powerful enough to make an artists case or stamp his legacy. If I put my finger up in the air and hit play on a song to make the case that Ab-Soul is a top 5 mc, it would be the song Book of Soul off this years fantastically complete album Control System. Produced by Tommy Black, sonically it falls neatly into the TDE soundverse: Heavy chords, ambiance and background oooing. The lyrics are downright staggering going from the literal scars of skin disfigurement to the loss of a lover and friend that leaves him unable to read her obituary. So many quotables in this song and a great moment where he admits he’s not going to stage a cry for this song (even though he’s earned one). That’s not what Ab-Soul is about, this song while heartfelt just represents a dimension; he is rebellious and political, and gross. He seems to binge and purge concepts and phrases all the while growing stronger by the bar. I’ve gone on too long, just play the song…you’ll hear what I’m talking about.