DAR Hip Hop: TDE- Ab-Soul's Control System & ScHoolboy Q's Blank Face LP

By @_N8te

TDE has come a long way. Since the beginning, the collective has put out quality music. Today, we look at one of the earlier projects in Ab-Soul's Control System along with the most recent solo in ScHoolboy Q's Blank Face LP. A bit of the older with the newest. Let's get into it.

*Ab-Soul's Control System 

1. Soulo Ho3
2. Track Two
3. Bohemian Grove
4. Terrorist Threats
5. Pineal Gland
6. Double Standards
7. Mixed Emotions
9. Lust Demons 
10. ILLuminate
11. A Rebellion 
12. Showin Love 
13. Empathy 
14. Nothing's Something 
15. Beautiful Death 
16. The Book of Soul 

Ab-Soul was considered to some the missing piece of the puzzle to Top Dawg Entertainment. It feels as if he’s an afterthought to some since most of the fans on TDE are fans of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, or ScHoolboy Q. In his sophomore album “Control System”, we received a dope album. An album that consists of the inner mind of Ab-Soul, revealing his personal thoughts on the system that the government portrays humans in.

We enter this convoluted mind of the Black-Lipped Bastard as we find out the meaning of Control System early on. We receive an album that leaves you in a euphoric state of mind with songs like “Pineal Gland”, “Terrorist Threats” (Featuring Danny Brown), “Bohemian Grove”, “Double Standards” and “Illuminate” (featuring Kendrick Lamar). There are songs that have soft, groovy vibes but with introspective lyricism from the soft-spoken member from TDE. The initial half of the album feels like a rollercoaster ride, and as we ascend through the first ten tracks, it improves through each verse. Slowly opening our eyes to the genius of this artist, we see Ab-Soul cover a variety of topics. Ab-Soul digs deep with dark themes of Gang violence and drugs, raising children in the suburbs or ghettos, hatred of the social system, and the feeling of being a black sheep running with a pack of wolves.

“Soulo Ho3” is this spacey vibe that Ab-Soul swaggers around with on the start of this album. The feature by Jhene Aiko is a little bland considering I do like Aiko’s vocals, but it's a good starting point at least. As the album progresses from the top to the bottom, it feels like a spaceship landing back down to Earth. “Bohemian Grove” possesses this MF DOOM type of beat and Ab-Soul provides this modern lyricism that fits perfect and reminds me of DOOM. To be clear here, this is not biting, this is just something I noticed. I absolutely love the lyrical sequence of things like this:

"Motherfuck the government, motherfuck the system/
Motherfuck you, I'm just living how I'm living/
Hennessey and Coke, 1800/
We mixing dark and light like the 1800's/"

“Terrorist Threats” continues the same spacey floaty vibe that Soul starts off the album with “Soulo Ho3”. Both of the tracks backgrounds are on the same page. Soul continues to have this dominant presence with another dope lyrical sequence:

"Money and hoes, want money and hoes/
If I sold dope, I'd have plenty of flows/
If I was from the projects like Jay Rock/
I would've more than likely slang rocks/
All my life I done been around Crips and Bloods/"

I absolutely appreciate the way how Ab-Soul works lyrically. Initially, he has this vibe similar to ScHoolboy Q but with Lupe Fiasco/Kid Cudi type of beats as his background. It’s really interesting how each artist in TDE carries their own vibe, but somehow each artist reminds you of another artist in TDE. “Pineal Gland” is the most underrated track on this album in my opinion. The mainstream listeners would instantly lean towards “Illuminate” because it has “King” Kendrick on it. Ab-Soul brings a scorcher lyrically with his delayed vocals that don’t reside right on the words. Soul has a tendency to elongate each rhyme instead of sticking on every sound on the beat. “Double Standards” is another thought provoking track as we think about the social norm of men and women on a daily basis. Ab-Soul cranks it up with a West-Coast vibe lyrically alongside the beautiful soulful sound on the beat. Soul’s message on this track is beautiful because in the first verse we see the normal standards of a usual male. This includes him with the bros, his bros roasting him for loving his girl, to even the point that his girlfriend's friends try to seduce him.

In the second half of “Double Standards”, we receive the female end of the song. With the female being with her girlfriends, watching her wifey title not being redeemed, but her girlfriend got the man she wanted. Instead of the first verse where the girl pushes the man because of pressure, the woman does it to her girlfriend's mans out of jealousy. It’s a brilliant track that is overlooked with a very strong message, including the Amber Cole reference at the end that described when everyone shamed Amber Cole, but not the guy. It’s interesting how the media does interpret it in that way and how Soul takes those real life stories and incorporates it into his music is very touchy. However, Soul gently spread it like a thin slice of butter on bread. It’s easier to swallow these subjects the way Soul says it and I tip my hat off to him.

We don’t just feel a passive vibe of Soul, as the energetic songs come from tracks like “Sopa”, “Track Two”, “Showin Love”, but it’s not in a club, gritty vibe. We hear the instrument of his vocals in different dynamics. He lyrically is delivering at times like a lullaby on a positive note, and then changing his flow with this sense of urgency. Excellent wordplay layered on top great beats in the album’s entirety reveals Soul’s work ethic as it’s consistent. However, the most beautiful song in this album is track sixteen, “The Book of Soul”. This is one of my favorite songs of all-time. If I’m introducing someone into Ab-Soul, this is the first track I’m asking them to listen to. It’s poetic vibe, chilling piano chords, and eerie female voice all come together to create a track that has such sentimental value to me. Some of Ab-Soul’s best lyrics on the album come from this track.

Speaking of best lyrics, my favorite lyrical lines from this album include:

“I ain’t no gavel/
I ain’t trying to fight nobody battle/ 
I just wanna be free, I ain’t nobody’s chattel/” 
-Terrorist Threats

“I guess the Mayans weren’t lyin’, 2012 my world ended/ 
You used to say that I could see the future, you was wrong cause you was in it/” 
-The Book of Soul 

“Everything I love the most gets taken away/ 
My momma and music is next, And if that happens before 28/ Then I’m going out with Kurt Cobain”
-The Book of Soul 

“I run the town like Roc Nation/ No exaggeration/ 
Bet I rise like Lazarus, use your imagination/” 
-Track Two

“Back when I first grabbed that pen/
I told myself I was gonna win/ And I ain’t know when/
But it's gon’ end up happening, I want in/ 
So you can take your top 5 list, dead or alive, and put me after Em/” 

“I used to wanna rap like Jay-Z/ Now I feel I could run laps ‘round Jay-Z/
Nas ain’t seen nothing this nasty/
 BIG and Pac got it coming when I pass too/
You got the mic? I ain’t the one you wanna pass too/” 

Overall, this is a great album. I came in with high expectations after hearing Longterm Mentality and Ab-Soul delivered big time. The theme and production of the album make sense and compliment Soulo and his demeanor. I personally feel he’s underrated amongst TDE and deserves more recognition that he’s given at times. When this album dropped, people whispered it to be an album of the year candidate. Did I think it would be? Possible but not sold on it. It’s no offense to Soulo, but there was better work in that year. I enjoy this album to this day, and it never gets old from me. “These Days” was a letdown especially after this album proved to so many people that Ab-Soul had something for people to turn their heads to. I expect new Ab-Soul to drop, and hopefully, I could be able to compare it to Control System. An excellent project with a great balance of poetic and arrogant lyricism, a couple bold production tracks and a majority soothing overall, and great vocal delivery from Ab-Soul and the features.

*ScHoolboy Q's Blank Face LP

1. TorcH
2. Lord Have Mercy
3. That Part 
4. Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane
5. Kno Ya Wrong 
6. Ride Out 
7. WHateva U Want
8. By Any Means 
9. Dope Dealer 
10. John Muir
11. Big Body 
12. Never Change 
13. Str8 Ballin
14. Black THougHts 
15. Blank Face
16. Overtime 
17. Tookie Knows II

I marked down July 8, 2016 as an important calendar date. No, there were no family plans, but Q’s LP was going to drop on that date. Fans and critics had high hopes for the TDE rapper’s third album titled “Blank Face LP”. ScHoolboy brings a new paradigm to the rap game. Instead of lyrically spitting on top of a T.I feeling Atlanta trap anthem, Q brings this high-octane energy in his work. Lyrically, he’s not a complex lyricist, but it’s the way that he delivers it is that makes people listen to his music. From tracks like “Collard Greens” and “Studio”, who can blame people for catching on to TDE? From his last work Oxymoron, I enjoyed it and was sold on Q season to commence in July. I personally have high expectations from ScHoolboy to drop another great project, and possibly an album that will still be discussed about when the year is wrapped up. Is this a potential album of the year contender? It’s too soon to tell, but let’s backtrack for a second and analyze this project.

“TorcH” is the opener of the album. Initially, I was puzzled with how the rest of the album would sound like after hearing this track. It’s gritty, slow and the steady beat slowly wakes up your mind to Q’s pedigree. Q lyrically spits a rap pattern that’s on the beat along with solid Anderson Paak vocals in the chorus. Delivery wise, ScHoolboy spits this track with a sense of hunger along with demon like ad-libs sprinkled on the track. I like this track, and now we move on to “Lord Have Mercy”. This track grants us Swizz Beatz on the chorus and production. Production wise, it’s dope ghostly beat layers underneath the vocals. Lyrically, Q doesn’t really spit on this track, and it’s great because it feels as if Q is speaking to you. He reminisces about when he started his rap career and the penultimate decision he had to make. To continue gang banging or to turn a new leaf in life... the choice was his. As a listener, you can emotionally portray the inner guilt of Q revealing that he decides to revert back to his old ways when he’s trying to make a success out of himself.

Overall, this is a very interesting track as we move to “THat Part” featuring Kanye West. We heard this track before this album dropped, and my opinion remains unchanged. It’s a great bounce track with the homies and braggadocio rap from both artists. I did cringe initially when Kanye had the “okay times five” line because I thought it was gonna be atrocious. To be honest, it’s a bit meh from both artists. The intensity of the LP however rises even with this track mixed in to the track-list.

“Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane” featuring Jadakiss is my favorite track off this album. It’s gritty production, dark avant-garde lyricism from Q and Jadakiss is absolutely brilliant. I heard “Groovy Tony” before the album dropped so I anticipated a change. We get a killer verse from Jadakiss that cohesively fits with the song. Lyrically, Q’s flow when he says this is amazing:

“Blank Face, Tre 8/
Kill everybody, fuck an AK/ 
Sell narcotics and step my dollars up to Bill Gates/” 

Just when you think Q falls off, the second half comes in. Holy shit, this makes you turn up your volume and break the stock speakers in your whip. The Five Heartbeats reference is amazing with the “Nights Like This I wish/ Cocaine drops would fall”. It feels as if this track is the way of informing you about the gang life. Pushing narcotics, gang-banging, moving shit to live another day. Feeling like Tony Montana until you get roped by 12 and that mugshot represents a “Blank Face”. “Know Ya Wrong” featuring Lance Skiiwalker turns down the intensity from max volume to about twenty. After being led up to a peak in the LP so early, we get a chance to create and relax. We get a slow jam that conveys a strong message. Part I talks about people mooching off of Q when he was on the rise to success while they were at his level before rapping. However, the same people doing so weren’t for him before when he needed someone. The second part of this track is groovy as hell as it focuses on getting that special woman twirled around both artists' fingers. It’s groovy, bluesy, rocking good for a slow jam and Alchemist proved his worth with fantastic production on this track.

“Ride Out” is my second favorite track off the album. It’s bass-heavy beat has me moving my head to it without instruction. We get a catchy hook, and a Vince Staples feature. Vince Staples, man I need to get into him as soon as possible. This man’s verse is like Killer Mike from RTJ type of aggressive. It feels as if Vince stole this track from Q on a lyrical aspect, as ScHoolboy threw up a ferocious lob and Vince Staples threw it down (LeBron James style) towards the basket. Sounwave, you absolutely produced a hell of a beat that people will be grooving out to for this year.

Q now experiments with a bright EDM vibe on “WHateva U Want” featuring Candice Pillay. We hear an experimental jam with Q lyrically talking about spoiling his girl and giving her whatever she wants. Candice Pillay plays the voice of the girl and discusses about not being convinced about being spoiled as she targets for that love deep down inside the heart. “By Any Means” slows it down just like “Know Ya Wrong”. This track is great as Q moves in a surprising direction. This track feels like as if WHateva U Want ended up with Q falling in love with the wrong girl that every other man desires. Q doesn’t like the vibe of the girl and just wants out after thinking that spoiling her would’ve won her over.

“Dope Dealer” featuring E-40 and my man Metro Boomin. Can’t start any track without “Metro Boomin want some more nigga”. This track is grimy, moves with a sense of urgency, and I really liked this joint. It feels like a free-falling twisted track in a Halloween Horror Nights scare zone. ScHoolboy Q could literally say lyrics that other artists do, but the difference between Q and other artists today is his delivery, and that’s because Q delivers his lyrics so effortlessly. However, if another artist tried spitting Q’s lyrics, they would get heavily shitted on.

“JoHn Muir” is another beautiful track on this album. I love this feel-good hook especially with all that’s going on over the past two months. Q looks back and provides vivid glimpses of his life when he was a teenager, but he wasn’t your normal teen. Fucking hoes and selling dope at 14 makes you realize how comfortable Q is at this point in the album to let it out. “Big Body” featuring Tha Dogg Pound moves us into a different mood. Initially, I absolutely HATED this track. After more than fifty listens, I stand corrected. Calling out the artists thinking that they're hot in the game, a gangster like Q, or have all the money a woman needs in their lyrics. Tha Dogg Pound brings an energetic verse that gets you moving as it has a sprinkle of that G-Funk vibe. I knew Tyler the Creator produced, but when I found out he made this beat, I thought I was dreaming. This beat is dope.

“Neva CHange” shows Q working outside the box with another experimental track. Discussing how the world doesn’t change around him. He’s straight to the point in this track lyrically, not trying to beat around the bush as he forces us to open our eyes with the way how he talks about gang violence, cop on citizen violence, and fathers getting 25 to life. ScHoolboy seems to admit to the fucked up world around him and subliminally hints at us, this is the world we all live in. We move to another pump-up in “Str8 Ballin”. ScHoolboy drops a sequence of rhymes that soars over your head.

“Money will make a pussy get the juice/
Money make the copper give a pass/
Money make me cop a bigger roof/
Money got me skippin’ every class/"


“The teachers ain’t teachin’, the judge taught us numbers”.

What he’s saying is that money does make the world go around. As the first line focuses how women will be attracted to men like Q with money. How money convinces cops to pretend they didn't see anything when a crime occurred in front of them. How money makes Q afford bigger and better things in life. Last but not least, how money influenced Q when he was younger around grade school. The shady line with judges teaching men and the youth how long they will stay in jail versus teachers teaching the black youth numbers. Considering that black individuals are more likely to be prosecuted versus white individuals is thought-provoking and had a high amount of backfire.

“Black THougHts” continues this same vibe. This is the most underrated track on the album. Q reveals provides situational irony as he talked about gang-banging and violence in the first half of the album and now he denounces everything he stated. As much as he was involved in the Crip life, he wants to make the situation better for the future. For Bloods and Crips to come together as he has a daughter, whom he loves more than anything in the world. To put down the guns for violence, minimize the use of drugs, and realize that these lives matter. “Blank Face” featuring Anderson Paak. Man, Anderson Paak DID NOT disappoint on this album. His verse inspired people to live the life they live, if that’s what brings bread home at the end of the day. That line that he says about people not understanding life until they get over 25 is so dope. He actually means that people don’t understand the meaning of life until they get a twenty five to life sentence. Q talks about his struggles in life and how he still achieved his dreams especially when everyone else told him to stay in school. Both “Black THougHts” and “Blank Face” have beautiful instrumentals underneath the vocals that even with the instrumental alone, you know what could be said on the track.

“Overtime” features Miguel and Justine Skye. Miguel sets the tone with the hook saying that he wants to enjoy the night with his girl. This track feels like a blunt version of Studio. I can honestly see this track on Studio as like the second half of the song. The way both of these tracks connect with one another is one of those connections that you point out when you listen to an artist for so long. Skye provides the female end of the situation, and she wants the same thing that her man wants. This is the most mainstream song we will hear on this album, but we aren’t done yet. The way that you finish this LP is with this hard track called “Tookie Knows II”. We get blessed to jam out to another dark gangster rap track that Q, Traffic, and TF all lyrically sound the same on. They discuss their gang lifestyles. Production wise we are presented with another dope beat and Q exits us out of his “Blank Face” with this ideal that he may die for the Hoover Crip life, but the honor he’s experienced to represent them is irreplaceable.

Overall, I had high expectations for “Blank Face”. Again, after “TorcH” I had no idea how this album would unfold. This is the one album besides YG “Still Brazy” that I can listen to top to bottom, and will not skip a track. Q lyrically delivers what we all have been waiting for. In-your-face rap with that usual swagger Q carries out in his songs. The features did their respective jobs throughout the album. I felt that Q blessed us with experimental production that has you calm and collected, but then gets you pumped up. Songs like “Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane", "Tookie Knows II", and "Ride Out", "Dope Dealer", and "Big Body” will have you full of energy after listening to them. “Overtime", "Blank Face", "Black THougHts", "JoHn Muir” will have you calm, but appreciating the artistry value Q brings to the game today. I love this album, and will keep playing this album probably until the next TDE project drops from Q. Several tracks have a lot of replay value and Q brings that with this LP. I’ve been sold on Q since Habits and Contradictions, but this is a Q album that I LOVED. Great album Q, great job TDE, another excellent album coming from in-house.



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