What has consistently separated Top Dawg Entertainment emcee Ab-Soul from other rappers in his tier is his exquisite wordplay and poetic approach to rap music. “Do What Thou Wilt” is the California rappers fourth full-length studio album, following up 2014’s solid but inconsistent and ultimately forgettable ‘These Days.’ On ‘Do What Thou Wilt,’ Soul seems to have comfortably found his footing, mixing deep and heavy thematic elements with percussion-heavy production, complex, multi-layered bars and unpredictable, shape-shifting flows.
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The album begins with ‘RAW (backwards)’ and it’s a hard-hitting and satisfying opener. A bar like “I’m low-key, like a locksmith workin’ on both knees’ is vintage Soul, as the simile is tough to pick up on the first listen, but gains understanding while rewarding multiple listens. He also takes this time to declare “raw backwards” on rappers like Troy Ave and Jay Electronica, the former who took unnecessary shots at the now deceased rapper Capital Steez and the latter who refused to admit Soul’s label-mate Kendrick Lamar is the superior emcee.
Soul’s top notch wordplay is evident throughout this album on nearly every track, with another standout line coming on ‘Huey Knew THEN’ when he spits, “My wittiness leave ‘em stuck in the wilderness / You need a backwood to roll to this joint.”
Ab-Soul has never been afraid to take on major, impactful themes and “Do What Thou Wilt” is no different. The major themes encompassed on this release include Soul’s conflicted feelings towards Christianity (explored heavily on ‘Threatening Nature’), his appreciation for substances (delved into on the finely crafted and insanely infections ‘D.R.U.G.S) and perhaps most prominently, feminism. Unlike other rappers who confuse feminism with performing cunnilingus (looking at you Mac Miller), Soul has a genuine interest in equal rights and equal representation. On ‘Threatening Nature’ he raps, “Way back when I was in grade school, I learned about history / But what about her story? – did anybody ask?” There is also a running motif throughout this album that God is in fact a woman. The aptly named “God’s a Girl?” and the line “I rhyme like I’m God’s only begotten son / She so loved the world she gave Soul the world” on “HER World” all help explain Soul’s female and equality-centric worldview.
“Do What Thou Wilt” is a well-crafted, endlessly witty and unpredictable rap release. Soul truly steps his emceeing skills up for this record, scattering and mixing his flow throughout the album and effortlessly dropping double entendres like “A criminal’s best asset is his liability (lie ability).” The production can become a bit too reliant on the drums at times, but the minimalist canvases often give Soul center stage so his wordplay and thematic elements can be put in focus. While Soul is certainly not the most famous or successful of the TDE rappers, he is certainly the most overlooked. “Do What Thou Wilt” is out now via Top Dawg Entertainment.