Ab-Soul Hit His Lowest Point. Then He Made the Most Liberating Music of His Career
One of the things Soul cried about was the death of Armon “DoeBurger” Stringer, his best friend from childhood who was killed during a home invasion last year. (In the music video for “Gang’Nem,” Soul is shown getting a tattoo of a hamburger made of $100 bills.) “I felt like half of me was gone,” he says of DoeBurger’s death. “He was my right hand. We were Huey and Riley from the Boondocks. I’m hurt every day. I’ve taken a lot of losses in my life, that one right there was a make me or break me situation…I am not broken.”
Putting his album together in the midst of all of this tragedy was a challenge, but his team helped. Instead of picking songs on his own, he narrowed his songs down with TDE’s “usual suspects” (Top Dawg, Moosa, his manager Matt) as well as producers (Boi-1da, Hit-Boy, his cousin Sounwave), playing tracks and quickly discarding them if the feeling in the room wasn’t unanimous. “I didn’t fight for a record this time, I didn’t want to argue, I removed my arrogance completely, I tried to strip away the ego,” he explains. “It was hard for me, getting out of my comfort zone. I asked for help, I tried to utilize my resources.”
For the track “It Be Like That”—a mature record where he takes account of his regrets and mistakes—he used another resource: His ex-labelmate, Kendrick Lamar.
“Kendrick sent that to me, just to let you guys know how close me and him are. He sends me records sometimes that he feels I should try,” says Soul. (He adds that vocals from Lamar also appear on the title track.) “It was an exercise. I said on this one, I don’t want no punchlines, no metaphors, no double entendres, I want to be simple as possible, straight to the point. It was probably the most difficult song for me to write on the album and it’s the most simplistic song.”
As hyped as he is for his new album to finally release, he’s still facing creative uncertainty—his career is sailing into the fog of being a middle-aged rapper with a cult following.
There are more challenges ahead. Although he was cured of Steven-Johnson Syndrome as a kid, his cornea is scarred. His vision is still a constant concern, at some point he’ll likely have to get a cornea transplant. “I am legally blind, not completely blind, I see well enough, as well as I walk by faith,” he says. “I have family and friends that make sure I don’t run into too much.”
But if his vision is so bad, how did he ever catch that ball at the Nets game?
“You remember the movie The 6th Man with Marlon Wayans?” he asks, about a 1997 movie only someone over 30 would remember. “They were a college basketball team, his brother died, he was like a ghost and he was helping the team. I’m talking to the homies. We’re laughing about [me catching the ball] because everybody like, ‘Man, you ain’t really blind, man. You’re lying.’ They was like, ‘Yo, your man [DoeBurger], he was the 6th Man.’”
In these trying times, we could all use a little help.