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Ab-Soul, 'Do Better'

Ab-Soul is trying to get back on track. As one of TDE's original four, he helped build the label's rep as a rap powerhouse with epigrammatic lyricism that attempted the heady work of unraveling the mysteries of the universe. But soon his chosen rap position as the stoned overthinker started to spiral out of control. He not only lost his sense of reason chasing conspiracy theories, but also the grounded outlook that made his wordplay so bracing. On his last album, Do What Thou Wilt., from 2016, he got so tangled in the threads of string theory that he lost the plot entirely.

His new song, "Do Better," resurfaces the Ab-Soul at the root of even his most outlandish music — the curious, trenchant around-the-way philosopher. Trying to do better is a common theme in his songs, working through the big questions to get at more personal answers, but here he puts the onus on himself explicitly. The beat is built around a swirling sample of Nick Hakim's "Green Twins," which seems to echo in the background as drums click into place before him. Soul leans into his usual imagery — the crown of thorns, puzzles and chakras, stardust and galaxies — but here he draws upon it to think about self-improvement. He mourns Mac Miller and ponders drug dependency, wrestles with survivor's guilt and challenges his own inactivity. It seems that he has remembered: the most poignant discovery is that of one's own character.

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Sheldon Pearce