Within the six long years since Ab-Soul last released an album, he’s been through loads. He lost two of his best friends—rappers Mac Miller and Doeburger—and began to climb out of what he describes as a “rabbit hole” of misinformation and conspiracy theories that impacted his relationships with family members and critics alike. (This included things like seeing a picture of Hitler in photos of the 9/11 attacks.) So this time around, the cerebral, heart-baring lyricist sheds the veneer of his rap moniker and exposes fans to his real name, Herbert. It makes for his most grounded record yet: His boastful rhymes teem with gratitude, his nostalgic verses produce sharply distinct memories, and voicemails from members of the family and family members hold the album together. He revisits his younger days of memorizing Kris Kross lyrics (“Hollandaise”) and coping with shady promoters during his journey to rap stardom (“Moonshooter”); taps into the road culture of his hometown of Carson, California (“Gang’nem”); and spits like his life is on the road on the DJ Premier-produced “Gotta Rap.”
However the centerpieces of the album are “Do Higher” and the title track, “Herbert.” On the previous, Soul grapples with depression and substance abuse while motivating himself to strive for his personal best. (The music video bravely recreates the conditions of his suicide attempt, while a separate lyrics video shows comments from fans sharing how the song impacted them.) “Herbert,” meanwhile, details the relentless string of struggles that he’s fought all his life: being diagnosed at 10 years old with the rare disease Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which impacts his skin and his vision; losing his father to gun violence and his former partner Alori Joh to suicide; and more.
But what’s notably missing from Herbert is those conspiracy theories that electrified older albums like Control System; he’d moderately mine his own life experiences for deeper meaning as a substitute of digging through the annals of YouTube and message boards. “You possibly can’t fuck with Herbert. Ab-Soul can’t even fuck with Herbert,” considered one of his longtime friends, King Richard, says at the tip of “No Report Card.” The Black Lip Bastard has set high standards, but his homie can have some extent.