Complex | The Process

Ab-Soul | The Process

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Rosenberg:

Welcome to another edition of The Process. My name is Peter Rosenberg, and here at The Process, you know the goal. We sit down with great MCs and lyricists, and we talk about their process. Today, we talk to someone who has been blowing up recently. He represents that West Side. He's part of that Black Hippy Movement. Today on The Process, we talk to Ab-Soul.

AB-Soul:

Only one what?

Rosenberg:

Dog, woof, I got OG in my lungs but-

AB-Soul:

Yes, that was it. You pretty smart dude. Man, you're supposed to be here.

Rosenberg:

All the way from the West Side, my guest, Ab-Soul. What up bro?

AB-Soul:

What's happening, player?

Rosenberg:

I'm chilling man. You good?

AB-Soul:

Yes, sir.

Rosenberg:

When did you first start experimenting with rhymes in any way?

AB-Soul:

Well, first of all, I grew up in a record shop. So, for a long time music was just what my family sold to make money. They use to send the store a copy of singles with the record, the radio version, the instrumental a cappella. So, I had all that cool instrumentals and shit at the time, but I had to- I wrote my first verse to the Emotions, Twista.

Rosenberg:

And you emulated his style.

AB-Soul:

Like, I'm-to the best of my ability. Rosenberg: It was nasty.

AB-Soul:

It was nasty. I mean, I still can't do what Twista does, of course, but that was probably-that was definitely my foundation of just rhyming.

Rosenberg:

Do you have a set process that you always go through and have had for a long time? Or has it been evolving?

AB-Soul:

I just try to make it as natural as possible; so it's just not a repetitious type of thing. I don't actually write on paper. I just take my time and just memorize.

Rosenberg:

You consider that a lot of people will say 'Oh, my God. He doesn't even write down rhymes.' But really, you still consider yourself to be writing.

AB-Soul:

That's still-that's writing. Jay fucked that up. It just looks crazy, you know what I'm saying? Just the look of it, you know what I mean? The fact that if you're writing on paper, and you see a guy in the corner, it just looks like he's a mastermind. But it's learned behavior. It took a lo-I had to practice. It was really more so because I knew my vision was becoming a problem. You feel what I'm saying? So, I had to do something.

Rosenberg:

It's called Steven Johnson's Syn- is that what it is?

AB-Soul:

Steven Johnson's Syndrome. That's the virus that I caught when I was 10. At the time, it was a very rare virus, and they really couldn't even detect that I had that.

Rosenberg:

Is it degenerative? Will it continue to get worse?

AB-Soul:

No. It one time-it's not necessarily a pain that I get from it. I'm just squinting because it's bright.

Rosenberg:

Did any of the lyrics come specifically out of your struggle with that? Did it lead to art directly? ,

AB-Soul:

You know I'm sure I've spoken on it in cool a little ways here and there, but before I got sick, I wanted to play basketball.

AB-Soul:

After that took my vision, or what not, I just-my interest in basketball just kind of fled. You know what I mean? Then I guess, that was around the time I got more interested in-I started rapping. Twelve, right?

Rosenberg:

That's what I did when I stopped growing after 5'6".

AB-Soul:

Stop it. So it's like, what, you know. Like, what am I really about? Like I'm trying to figure this out.

Rosenberg:

You're going through the process with the listener.

AB-Soul:

Kindrick Lamar on a acid tablet because he doesn't do drugs. Schoolboy Q crossed with Langston Hughes because he's not much of a grammatically correct poet and Jay Rock, if he was a Rockefeller-

Rosenberg:

That's where you are in Black Hippy.

Rosenberg:

Is there a difference in the writing process for you when you're working by yourself versus when you collab with Black Hippy?

AB-Soul:

There's always going to be an effect in energy when you're working with others. I'll give suggestion to whoever else is with me, if I have an opinion on his verse, whatever I feel that make-bring out the song. From, like, learned the most about song writing and song arrangement from Kindrick. Or K.Dot. You know, I came up on Cannabis and just relentless rappers. Just lyrical miracles. But when I came to TDE he was making songs. You know, what I mean is it wasn't just that his verses were tight; he had cool little hooks that even I liked. I realized then that I need to make some type of transition. It isn't just being about the best rapper.

Rosenberg:

You have a couple different ways you go. You know, sometimes, you kind of pick a theme or almost play a character and stick with that throughout a song. Then, you have other songs when you really pour it out personally. Are you in a different zone mentally when you go in to do those records? Or is it just something that just comes about organically when you hear a beat?

AB-Soul:

I try to really jump from one extreme to the next, if I can. I think that's why we loved Tu-Pac so much because he could kill you in one song like a real gangster. But in the next song, he could talk about how important it is for us to love each other. You know what I mean?

Rosenberg:

And seem just as passionate-

AB-Soul:

Because he is. You feel what I'm saying? When you out in the street with your homies, and you're drinking and smoking, and you see the police picking on y'all. Then when you go home, and you're with your mom, you feel different.

Rosenberg:

Hey, listen. Even O-Dawg was a gentleman when he was around Janet's grandparents.

AB-Soul:

That's what you will find. Being honest about that chameleon personality just being able to deal with-chill with your white friends and then chill with your black friends. That, jumping from these scales to the next. If you got a regular job, you go to an interview, you're going to put on a shirt and tie and you're going to try to use proper punctuation and grammar. But when you, as soon as you leave, you're going to loosen your tie and say, 'What's

happening, my nigga?' Rosenberg:

Can you

Rosenberg:

Can you point out the most honest record you've ever written?

AB-Soul:

The most honest record I've ever written would be The Book of Soul. When I wrote that record, at that point in my life, a lot of things were going on. I just felt like somebody was picking on me. I'm such a nice dude. I don't have a criminal record. I don't have, I'm not a crazy dude. I'm a peaceful person at all times. And I've always been. Anybody that knows me can say that straight up I've gotten my hands dirty a little bit.

Rosenberg:

Nothing too crazy.

AB-Soul:

Yeah. Nothing too crazy. And I don't promote nothing too crazy.

Rosenberg:

With a record like that, like A Book of Soul, do you talk something like that out before hand and think about what you're going to do? Or again, is it you hear it and it just starts-

AB-Soul:

Starts coming out. I mean, in that particular situation withdrew me to write the song and my girl like passed.

Rosenberg:

How long ago did she pass?

AB-Soul:

This will be, like, about a year ago.

Rosenberg:

Losing someone that critical to you, how did that affect the way you work and the way you make music?

AB-Soul:

What made it more difficult was because she did music. She helped me with my last album control system, like, just the themes and the subjects that I talked about. She's the first person you'll hear on section eight. So, she was real important to not just me but our whole movement. We all noticed like, you know, little changes in her, but she didn't give us no hints that she's like crazy or something like that. Just a little down about regular things that we're all down about. The same reason I'm down, I'm broke. I'm trying to figure it out. I'm trying to be a rapper. This shit is a dream. You know what I'm saying? Do you feel what I mean? I still live at home with my mom. As deep as our relationship was, I was supposed to quit. Like, fuck this shit. You know what I'm saying? But I felt like that would be selfish of me to just stop and abandon the situation because I'm not the only person that this has happened to. These days at this point in my life, I kind of-I really want to use music to help people get through their days. Instead of just staying in the dumps. Just keep going. Bring light to the situation, maybe try to find your own personal message in that incident, that experience, and try to move forward as best as you can.

Rosenberg:

What's one line that you've dropped that particularly, you think, defines Ab-Soul as a person as a MC.

AB-Soul:

'Genius, idiot best description of myself.' It's that jumping from one extreme to the next or the fine line between genius and insanity.

Rosenberg:

So, I guess, it's sort of a gift and a curse because in one sense it's great to have diverse styles, in another sense when people are getting an impression of you they may not get the full impression of you if they hear one thing.

AB-Soul:

Exactly. Exactly. And you know, my series is called Long Term. So, I represent the artists that got to follow the blueprint.

Rosenberg:

How do you think you've elevated as an MC since you put out Long Term in '09?

AB-Soul:

Elevated? I smoked better weed.

Rosenberg:

That was the key? Well, medicinal marijuana has become easier for you guys. You got a card?

AB-Soul:

Yeah, I do.

Rosenberg:

So, that helps. Oh, you must have gotten the card easy.

AB-Soul:

Yeah, for sure. Abs-yeah. We'll talk about that.

Rosenberg:

You're kind of nice with the rhymes.

AB-Soul:

Thank you.

Rosenberg:

You should do this rap. Don't go back and work at a record shop, though. You're good.

AB-Soul:

Oh, it's closed. Ain't no turning back now.

Rosenberg:

Alright. I guess, rap it is.


In the third installment of The Process with Peter Rosenberg, Ab-Soul explains how he got into rapping. Born and bred in Carson, California, the TDE MC's interest in music spurred from his parents day job. "I grew up in a record shop," says Ab.

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