On Ab-Soul's long-awaited album Do What Thou Wilt, he's finally sharing some of the light that he's let in. Though the perceptive third-eye MC has long used sight as a motif in his work, this time he's giving fans a close look into his heart. Across 16 illustrative tracks, Soul explores the spectrum of deep affection and candidly confronts personal highs and lows: from his affinity for drugs to his romantic proclivities.
Typically, the Los Angeles native wears glasses as a result of having Steven-Johnson's syndrome, which causes light sensitivity to his eyes. This time, however, when he was photographed for the album cover, Soul disregarded his shades and presented a vulnerable offering of his whole self. "I guess it was something I needed to bear, maybe that's something I've been missing," he told me about the shot that took him hours to get for the album cover.
During a visit to The FADER headquarters earlier this week, Soul talked about the law of love, why he wants women to hear him on this album, and what ultimately caused DWTW's delay.
Your music always carried a peaceful aggression. How did you go about making music this year at a time when things are often aggressive but not always so peaceful?
I find order out of chaos. That's just kind of where I come from, the type of hip-hop I came up on, it's making the worst situation better in a way that it's like, "so what?" I can't even put a face to who I may have gotten this spirit from, but I think it just dwells deep in the roots of hip-hop. You give your testimony, and you give it to them like, "We did that, we overcame this, and this is how I feel about this, eff what you think," or "Let's talk about it." I always try to find the order out of chaos. So these things open up a dialogue for me, which I think we all should do. I mean, that's politics in general right? These are conversations that we should be having, and with hip-hop originally being the ghetto CNN, these are things that we need to discuss. This is my time to speak.
Why make “Huey Knew” right now?
I think he [Huey Newton] knew then these times were approaching, even then. If you do your research on Huey Newton, if you look at him, he kind of carries a smirk. He was a light skinned brother at that time, too. All of these mechanics play into what I feel like he was trying to get us to avoid today. The Black Panther movement was really of community, revolution, and progress. If that could really had happened and it wasn't tainted by the powers that be, I think we wouldn't be having so many of these issue that we face today like police violence and Marshall Law. They were prepared to face these things back then. They took it to the White House steps. So I just wanted to make sure that we remember those times and see how history repeats itself a lot. The producer Willie B came through with the beat and I just wanted to blackout. That was the reason we just called it "Blackout," at first but then as I dwelled on the times all of the different pieces fell in place.
When you say "Black Out" is that meant to have multiple meanings?
It's not a racial thing. Make that clear. The Black Panther Party was not about Black supremacy, it was about equality. There's duality on the song, white and black, and night and day. So to punch these things and I try to emphasize these things, “Even White lives matter when I blackout." It's not a Black supremacy song, it's not a Black Panther song. It's about let's all be aware of what's going on right now and how we're all affected, black or white or brown or whatever.
The acronym for the the album name DWTW stands for “Do What Thou Wilt.” What inspired that?
That's pretty much old English for "Do what you will to do." I don't want to say "want." It's more like free will. Will is not a want, you don't wanna confuse a will with a want. A will is stronger than a want or a desire. It's got to be backed by like love and passion, so free will, do what you will to do out of love. That's the concept and the message to the listeners. Love is the law, the only law. Love under will. The law is for all.
It’s been two years since your last album These Days. What happened during that time frame that brought you to the concept of this album?
Even with this two year gap, people are still waiting for me. People are still looking for me and anticipating my work and that's gotta be out of love. So I respect that and I don't take it for granted. I tell everybody, you hear my frustration online when I tweet something or something like that, it's just my desire, or it's important for me to let my audience know, the people that's waiting on me, that I'm working. I had this album done like two or three times already. But because of the order of operation with the company, Top Dawg Entertainment, other things had to be put in place for this to happen. Out of all of that frustration came a great gift.
Fans were waiting and there were also speculations that Top Dawg was the reason for the album delay. He later tweeted that the album delay wasn’t his fault and that it was because that you and TDE engineer Ali had caused the hold up. Was that the case?
That was the case. It was very important for me this time — the mixing, the science of it. To Pimp A Butterfly was like a big inspiration for me sonically. The different mechanics he used, and the textures of the music, the fluctuating his voice, and trying different things. I felt a responsibility to deliver and respect the science of it [DWTS]. I was working between my guy Josh Byrd and Ali. So in that, there were a few of my little Picasso dots and meticulous little details that I needed would be missing here or there. So just little things like that and the mixing process, the engineering process is what a bulk of the wait has been. But I was able to, because the great Top Dawg I had the time and the space to make sure I get what I wanted. So it's all love at the end of the day.
Would you say that you had autonomy in regards to the album rollout?
Absolutely. Everybody is on-board and I feel a lot of support and steam. I feel a little more steam than usual, even at home. I feel like everybody's excited.
You touch on many facets of love on this album. There are various sentiments here: softness, vulnerability, honesty. How has love in of those various ways inspired this album?
I heard once that, "love is the law of vibrational energy." We fight out of love, too. Some people probably kill out of love. Love is synonymous with war. Love is all things, it can make or break you. And it's important for us to know that we can't just look at love and be give it a rosy connotation, I don't think that's wise to do. That's not how you define love. Your mom and your pops disciplining you is love. Me fighting with my girl is love. And that means that we're all trying to challenge each other to do better and that we have to understand. It's important for me to let my listeners know the different levels of love and how it can be portrayed. It's not just a Valentines Day thing.
I really just want the women to hear me out this time and I want to do it in a way that is not necessarily serenading. I just want the women to know that there are men having conversations like this, too. I have conversations with my homies about these things, and they bother me too. Double standards and whatnot. If I could just bring a few more of the women into my rap world, just to know that there are men having these conversations.
Tell me about the song, "The Law" featuring Mac Miller and Rapsody. It's a softer track that celebrates women and love.
It's inspired by an Egyptian tale I learned about through Aleister Crowley who studied in Egypt and brought back some stores. The album is a gray area, it's very dark. But these moments are like the color that add to the silver lining. It's important to have moments like those because every dark cloud has a silver lining. Even a blind man can look on the bright side of things. It's just the vibe of it. It's very beautiful. I think my grandma would like it. Getting Rapsody and Mac Miller on the song was intentional. We’re used to Rapsody just rapping and I knew people would probably just think we would spar. So I wanted her to go in there and just freestyle from the gut, talk to them, be a woman. Bar me down too. And then I have Mac Miller come sing with me on this woman appreciation record. We just have great chemistry in general.
Is the light in the lining that you mentioned motivated by the love you've experienced?
Yeah, women are very important to me. I was raised by women. I've lost the love of my life. I've been given back love. It's been extremes with me. I've had my ups and downs, like everyone else has. Still, in my position I want everybody to know that you can still get up and still keep going. And still be the best that you can be, even if these hurdles happen. When love hits you in the different ways that it does, understand that it's love, at the end of the day.