In the shadow of Top Dawg Entertainment’s “good kid” Kendrick Lamar and its “Oxymoron” Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul’s branded himself as the crew’s deep thinker. Smart rappers generally don’t have any problems telling you how smart they are — Soul’s definitely been guilty of that in the past — but after waiting two years between projects, then purging his frustration about it on Twitter, he sounds more concerned with reminding people that he’s not the bottom rung in TDE’s ladder. He stays away from heavier themes — track titles like “God Reigns” are practically decoys — and the album’s almost accidentally better for it. Instead of another Black Hippy declaration, “These Days . . .” sounds very of-the-moment. Rick Ross raps about sunglasses and convertibles (“Nevermind That”), Puffy makes a quick cameo to give Soul his stamp of approval (“Hunnid Stax”). And with the ratchet, clubby DJ Mustard-sounding “Twact,” it’s like Soul’s winking and licking his lips at radio rap gatekeepers from the other side of the hip-hop universe, letting them know he’s ready to have fun if they are. (Out now)
ESSENTIAL “Hunnid Stax”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.