"Hip-hop is dead" became a catch phrase in the music industry over the past decade or so. The idea was that the culture's best times were behind us. Our response to this dramatic statement: Don't be so hasty, haters.
To compare it to the NBA, there may be no more Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson on the court, but LeBron James and Kobe Bryant readily took over the b-ball-hero reins. Though Biggie and Tupac may be long gone, rappers like this week's Brown Bag Wednesday headliner Ab-Soul and his collective known as Black Hippy aren't dropping the hip-hop ball.
Ab-Soul grew up in Carson, California, close to future Black Hippy members Kendrick Lamar (whom we included in our top five rappers on the rise), Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q. He first appeared on mixtapes like Watts Finest Volume III in 2007 and released his first mixtape, Longterm Mentality, in 2009. His talent was eventually recognized and led to a deal with Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records. We talked with the Black Hippy MC recently about his grandfather's record store, the string theory, and concept albums.
County Grind: You've had a lot of influences growing up in California. What molded you into the rapper you are today?
Ab-Soul: I've been surrounded with music since I was very young. My grandfather came out west in the '60s and opened VIP record store. In 1985, we expanded to other locations, and I used to go there every day after school. I worked there basically all my life, so music is like a family business. I was able to really get into it. We finally closed the last location recently. It's a completely different market; people are getting their music elsewhere. I was able to watch the transition from tape to CDs to MP3s.
How did you get involved with Black Hippy?
Through my first-ever producer, Soundwave. We would mess around, rapping, making beats on PlayStation. Somehow Soundwave met Jay Rock around 2007. At the time, he was working with K-Dot, now known as Kendrick Lamar, and along the way, we met Schoolboy Q.
Some have called Black Hippy today's West Coast Wu-Tang. How do you feel the four of you compliment each other?
We were all from basically the same area, but each of our approaches are different. We aren't afraid to let each other do our own things. We trust each other in the studio; each of us knows the others' talents, and we build on them.
How did your work on your newest release, Control System, differ from your previous records like Longterm Mentality?
Control System is more of a concept album and therefore more direct to the issues than Longterm. While Longterm was more of a broad approach, Control System tackles topics like politics, science, religion, technology. It ties everything together, kinda like the string theory. We're really happy with the outcome. I'm getting the best response of my career. This one feels real significant, so I plan on taking the rest of the year to really mold and build on it.
Any plans for Wednesday's show?
I don't really like to tell much about my set; let people come and see for themselves. I'm going to try and do as many hits as possible, giving people what they want. The whole thing with this music, I just want to be mentioned with the best. People have been telling me I [have the potential], and I just want the whole world to hear me.
What would you say to someone who maybe hasn't heard your music?
Think of me like a mix of 2 Chainz and Canibus when he first came out. There is a complexity to my lyrics, but without sacrificing rhythm and flow. You can sound good while still maintaining the integrity in your music.
Ab-Soul appears with Sin and Will Brennan at 10 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, at Green Room's "Brown Bag Wednesdays," 109 SW Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $20. Visit greenroomlive.com.