The journey to Herbert, the TDE rapper’s first new album in six years, is one of overcoming grief, depression, and tragedy.
Lounging in a Lower East Side Manhattan lobby on a nippy December afternoon, the Carson, California rapper Ab-Soul is still feeling electric after a big night in which he bumped into and was embraced by his all-time favorite rapper, Jay–Z. On social media, Jay’s greeting, “You young God, what’s up?” made the internet take notice. (As a video of the run-in spread, Soul got a text from Charlamagne Tha God jokingly saying that he would have taken the $500K.)
The hug came right after Soul saw the Brooklyn Nets play the Washington Wizards at Barclays, where he had a literal highlight: Sitting just behind the net, he caught a tipped pass while holding a drink. “Excellent play by him,” said the Nets’ announcer, who might have been even more impressed if he knew Ab-Soul is legally blind.
“The ball is just in my court,” jokes Soul, 35, delighting himself with a double entendre typical of his raps as he kicks his crispy Jordan 4s up on a lobby table and soaks up these fleeting moments of virality on his phone. Draped in a black hoodie, he shows off DMs with the Nets’ courtside reporter. “I’m having a great day, man.”
He’s excited about more than just his quintessential New York night. He’s in Manhattan to promote his first new album in six years, Herbert, which just dropped. (The title is a nod to his government name, Herbert Anthony Stevens.) Unlike his more heady, thematically-driven previous albums, he began making this one, his fourth, trying not to overthink everything and beginning with no concept other than to make heartful songs.
The result is easily his best work to date, a mix of the cocksure wordplay that made him a standout (even alongside acclaimed lyricists like his Black Hippy brethren Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and Jay Rock) and deeply personal verses born of his own struggles over the last few years with depression, physical challenges, and the death of a best friend. A new album was originally ready to go in 2020, but it was derailed by the pandemic. During lockdown, he had too much time to think about what he had been going through. “[The pandemic] is probably where it was the roughest,