Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt
Released: 11 December 2016
Do What Thou Wilt. (DWTW) is a lyrical menagerie of alchemy, wit, and wordplay by Ab-Soul of the TDE camp. The album starts with a double entendre “raw backwoods on all you rappers” as Ab-Soul proclaims that he’ll “smoke” any competition. This is just shallow waters in the pool of lyrical depth Ab-Soul packs into Do What Thou Wilt.
Criticisms – Album structure/sequencing needs work
DWTW suffers from some structural issues – the intro featuring uber-talented musician Zacari seems to serve as an interlude to the album but doesn’t feel to have much purpose. On shuffle, the track isn’t nearly as intriguing as when you listen to it in sequence with the entire album. It has grand production and chords and leads into track #2, “Braille (feat Bas)“. Despite Ab and Bas’s chemistry, “Braille” feels anti-climactic because it doesn’t fit snugly next to the album’s grand “RAW (backwoods)“ intro opener. By the time listeners get to Da$h’s verse on track #3 “Huey Knew THEN“, Do What Thou Wilt. starts to feel more like a mixtape and less like a TDE studio album. The features clog the album early and it’s not until Ab takes complete control on track #4 “Threatening Nature“ that the album begins to assert to direction.
I would prefer the album to begin with “Threatening Nature“ or with“RAW (backwoods)“ followed by “Threatening Nature“. “Huey Knew THEN“ can work within the context of the album, but towards the middle, or even as track #2 on a DWTW with a “Threatening Nature“ opener.
Detailed and picky, I know. But Ab-Soul and his team seem to have paid particular attention to track sequencing on Do What Thou Wilt. too. The album appears to be organized and sequenced according to producer and sound.
For example, Ab used the same producers for more than one beat on this album and he sequenced his album in a way where their contributions play in back to back sequence on the album. For example, Skhye Hutch produced two songs on DWTW: “WiFey vs WiFi / / / P.M.S (feat BR3)“ and “Beat The Case (feat ScHoolboy Q) /// Straight Crooked“, both of which play consecutively as tracks #7 and #8. PakkMusicGroup produced three songs on DWTW and 2 of his 3 tracks play consecutively as track #9 “Portishead in the Morning” / / / “HER World“ and track #10 “God’s a Girl?“. FrancisGotHeat produced two songs which are sequenced as track #12 “D.R.U.G.S“ and track #13 “Evil Genius“. And producer Bentley Haze had a hand in two beats on DWTW, and like producers Skhye Hutch and FrancisGotHeat who also produced two beats, Haze’s songs play back to back on DWTW as tracks #15 and #16.
So – on a preliminary level – there seemed to have been some extended thought into the sequence and structure of Do What Thou Wilt., but if I were in Ab-Soul’s team I would have went further by cutting tracks that skirt momentum and rearranging songs in favor of intrigue and playability. “Lonely Soul (feat. Punch) / / / The Law (Prelude) (feat.SZA)“ would serve as an amazing album outro. DWTW’s actual outro “YMF“ belongs in the thick of the album, perhaps near the more upbeat songs “Womanogamy“ and “WiFey vs WiFi / / / P.M.S (feat BR3)“.
Ab-Soul’s lyrical content and rhyme scheme are next level. He’s one of few rappers who can go bar for bar with Kendrick Lamar for an entire song (see the unreleased TDE song “Rapper Shit” featuring Kendrick and Ab-Soul). Despite his gift of pen and spiritual knowledge, Soul tends to jack typical rapper flows. He borrowed Drake’s “6 Man” flow on “RAW (backwoods)“ and the “Beat the Case“ hook is repetition of an overused cadence in 2016 Hip-Hop.
The 4-song track 4-7 stretch on DWTW from “Threatening Nature“ to “Womanogamy“ to “INvocation (feat Kokane)“ to “WiFey vs WiFi / / / P.M.S (feat BR3)“ is particularly interesting because in a span of 16-ish minutes, listeners witness Ab-Soul as the alchemist and pastor on “Threatening Nature“, then on the next track “Womanogamy“ Ab de-compresses and delivers a structured, smooth, and focused tune; the deep historical thoughts on “Threatening Nature“ blend well into the numerology talk on“Womanogamy“. “Womanogamy“ morphs into “INvocation (feat Kokane)“ which hosts a seamless Kokane feature on top of a raging saxophone medley. The sequence ends at track #7 “WiFey vs WiFi / / / P.M.S (feat BR3)“, the song’s prefix “WiFey vs WiFi“ is enjoyably vibrant and showcases Ab Soul delving into numerology, again.
“Notice how every number
Represents three letters of the alphabet
Like, 2 is A-B-C, 3 is D-E-F” – Ab Soul on “WiFey vs WiFi“
DWTW is without a doubt strongest in the middle, about 20 minutes into the album, and the momentum isn’t broken until the chatter on track #10 “God’s a Girl?“. The charm of DWTW is Ab’s lyrical content and messaging. On DWTW Soulo manages to pick proper instrumentals to back his intelligent bravado – a nod to his beat selection.
The gem of the album is “D.R.U.G.S. (feat Mac Miller)“. The hook is infectious, the production is cinematic, and Soulo and Mac fit like a glove into the song.
VERDICT: DWTW is one of Ab-Soul’s best showings. He got wet over some great instrumentals and went in his zone lyrically. The album features galaxy talk, numerology talk, and commentary on love. And although the album is a bit heavy at nearly 1 hour and 20 minutes, listeners are treated to a handful of enjoyable cuts throughout.
With DWTW in the books, Ab-Soul reaffirms that he is occupying the deep-lyrical double/triple entendre zone that Lupe Fiasco, MF DOOM, and Jay-Z once dominated.
Re-imagined Do What Thou Wilt. tracklist
1. RAW (Backwards) [feat. Zacari]
2. Threatening Nature
3. Huey Knew THEN (feat. Da$H)
5. INvocation (feat. Kokane)
6. Wifey vs Wi-Fi /// P.M.S (feat. BR3)
7. Portishead In The Morning /// Her World
8. Now You Know
10. The Law (feat Mac Miller & Rapsody)
12. Lonely Soul /// The Law (Prelude) [feat. Punch & SZA]
songs removed: “Braille (feat. Bas)”, “Beat The Case /// Straight Crooked (feat. Schoolboy Q)”, “Evil Genius (feat. Teedra Moses & Javonte)”, “God’s A Girl?”
WHY: “Braille” isn’t a bad song but the Bas feature clogs the album early. “Beat The Case /// Straight Crooked (feat ScHoolboy Q)” is another good song but ScHoolboy’s feature or presence isn’t really needed on the album, nor is the song. “Evil Genius” and “God’s A Girl” largely feel like filler songs.
Time removed: Approximately 18-19 minutes freed from album by re-imagining the album sequencing.