A Good Ass Question: Is Ab-Soul Better Than Kendrick Lamar?

It seems that since his crowning as “Next from the West” by California rap legends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, the entire world has been fixated with Kendrick Lamar. This has led to a deal with Aftermath and Interscope Records and a standout track on Drake’s sophomore LP “Take Care” where Aubrey doesn’t even bother appearing on the song. It probably was for the best, or else risk being killed on your own ish, like The Game has learned. There are very few rappers out today who possess Kendrick’s comfort with lyrics and wordplay. In fact, even here at MJF, we’ve posed the good ass question about whether anyone has outrapped the Compton, California prodigy. And the answer is no, no one outside of his own crew has outrapped Kendrick.

Kendrick Lamar is one fourth of the rap collective Black Hippy, which consists of Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul. Jay Rock was the first from Black Hippy to gain nationwide notoriety when he was named one of the XXL Freshman in 2011, alongside J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa. You have to be doing something right to make that list, and he proved that by signing to Tech N9ne’s label “Strange Music” and released his much underrated “Follow Me Home” LP. Schoolboy Q has kinda shot onto the radar recently by having the best verse on ASAP Rocky’s “LiveLoveASAP” album and by releasing the well-received “Habits & Contradictions” album. Both Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q are making a name for themselves in the rap game, but neither has ever outrapped Kendrick Lamar on a song. Ab-Soul has.

Both Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q are making a name for themselves in the rap game, but neither has ever outrapped Kendrick Lamar on a song. Ab-Soul has.

Ab-Soul, the nerdy rapper from the suburbs of Carson, California, is what you would call a rapper’s rapper. He truly is a master of his craft, and he’s able to accent his excellent vocabulary and knack of melody with excellent song ideas and concepts. Just don’t mention the fact that he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or that might cause Rah Digga to diss him. Hell, Rah Digga might diss me for saying that. I bring up the fact that he lacks a Wikipedia to show just how off the radar he is. He’s hasn’t received the mainstream acclaim of his labelmates but he’s making arguably the best quality output. All of this by being himself.

I haven’t felt a connection to an artist like Ab-Soul since I was a confused teenager going through puberty listening to Joe Budden. Ab-Soul raps about being broke, about macking on chicks, about looking for love, about discontent with state of affairs. None of these topics are new, but when doing so from his perspective you can’t help but admire how he’s able to internalize these things and produce quality music about real life events. There’s a big difference between rapping about life and rapping about your life.

I was listening to Jay-Z’s “The Takeover” the other day and one line stood out to me in this legendary diss track. The line was:

“Nigga you ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folks’ pad
You scribbled in your notepad and created your life
I showed you your first Tech on tour with Large Professor
And then I heard your album about your Tech on the dresser”

Jay-Z was lyrically attacking Nas not because he was a bad rapper, but because he wasn’t rapping his actual life. There’s something about being authentic in rap, moreso than any other genre out today. Eminem wouldn’t be as big or as revered as he is today without being able to rap about his life in a way that fans find relatable. Jay-Z doesn’t get enough credit for rapping about his life, not when every other popular artist has had to deflect criticism about their upbringing or so-called roles in the streets. Jay-Z has been in the rap game long enough to the point where someone would’ve exposed him by now if he really wasn’t doing what he said he was doing. And I can see that same candid outlook on music in Jay-Z that I see in Ab-Soul.

I recently purchased (Yeah I know, who buys music anymore) Ab-Soul’s “Control System” album from iTunes and have been listening to it nonstop ever since. Three tracks stand out to me after repeated listens to the project. The track “Double Standards” is the classic take on how promiscuous women and promiscuous men are not viewed equally. The song also references the Amber Cole situation and how people are more dismissive when young men are involved in sexual acts. The next song that caught my eye was “Empathy”, centered on the idea of not having a lot but wanting to give it all to your significant other. Ab-Soul stresses how much he empathizes with his lady friend about how she goes about her average day, and the listener in turn empathizes with the both of them. Also, props to Ab-Soul for saying he made $700 and not some ridiculous amount that most rappers would’ve quoted.

The third song that was noteworthy was “The Book of Soul”. This song is one of the most introspective songs I’ve heard in awhile, probably since Drake’s “Look What You’ve Done”. The song is about Ab-Soul’s battle with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome that left him with no pigment on his lips and light sensitivity, about his personal struggles of fitting in, and about losing the love of his life. Singer Alori Joh, known for collaborations on several TDE projects, is believed to have committed suicide this year. Ab-Soul pours his heart out for 5 minutes on this track, and it truly makes you feel his pain and gives you a sneak peek into what it is like to sacrifice everything, literally everything, in one’s quest for pursuing your dream. If he doesn’t record another album ever again, “The Book Of Soul” should stand the test of time across hip hop circles.

I’ve heard Kendrick Lamar make tracks in the same vein as these but none of them come across as genuinely as Ab-Soul’s records do. It’s almost effortless how relatable Ab-Soul’s songs are. I think it could have something to do with Kendrick’s voice, which is more of a deterrent to me these days. He sounds very robotic and forced, sacrificing flow for lyrics and concepts. Kendrick Lamar often sounds less like a rapper and more like a rapping machine, which makes sense when you consider he’s never had a weak verse. The way that Ab-Soul’s voice cracks during “The Book of Soul”, I really don’t believe that Kendrick could’ve pulled that off. And that’s what separates these two great MC’s in my opinion. If Kendrick Lamar had made a song like “The Book of Soul” or “Double Standards” the nationwide acclaim would be pouring in. But Ab-Soul doesn’t have that same name recognition.

I remember when I was growing up and rappers were able to become popular by having superior lyrical or technical ability. Nowadays, it’s about who has the bigger name or bigger cosign. Every once in awhile an artist will come along who seems like they’re caught in the wrong generation. To me, Ab-Soul is one of the best new artists out today. He suffers from being caught up in the Kendrick Lamar whirlwind but on his own right he is a fantastic artist. An artist better than the rest of his camp, including Kendrick Lamar.

  • http://twitter.com/K1ngEljay K1ng Eljay | Leon Jr

    I had to leave a comment right quick. I feel you on what you mean about Ab-Soul, but every reason you mentioned for Ab-Soul being your favorite is exactly why K.Dot’s mine. All the way down to what you said about the emotion in their voice (which they both do, K. Dot did that a lot on his Section.80 joint).

    But honestly, I haven’t been able to relate to an artist so purely since… hell, maybe since the craziness of Eminem, honestly. lol.

    I don’t think there’s a wrong answer to which one’s a favorite, but I agree wholeheartedly with the bottom line; Ab-Soul needs more recognition outside of my Twitter timeline. He really dropped something special, and I haven’t played an album like this since… well…Section.80.

    Irony. lol.

    • red

      I’m going to have to agree with K1ng Eljay…I was absolutely in love with The O.D. b/c of it’s relatability, and how you can feel everything through his lyrics–the faltering voice–The Heart Pt. 2 is probably my best example.

      They’re both incredible, Schoolboy Q can be cool, and Jay Rock..well he’s Jay Rock. TDE is awesome. I just pray that Kendrick doesn’t ever sign to YM or CM.

    • chaz

      They’re both really good, I think you just favour ab-soul but you know kdot a beast and if he’s sacrificing lyrics for flow,then that’s just how he is.

  • Zahmoonduh

    i think they’re equal as far as rapping is concerned. Kendrick’s the heart pt 2 shows he can rap with emotion just as well an that he’s far from a “rapping machine”. buddy can rap. hands down. These guys are almost mirror images of each other as far as lyrical content and concept of songs go. 

  • http://twitter.com/itsthebino sperry

    i think its trendy to say ab-soul is the best in TDE. i think your opinion is genuine, but generally speaking I feel like people side with ab-soul as the best member in TDE cause they think it makes them look more knowledgable (because kendrick is the obvious pick).

    • http://twitter.com/Catf1sh CHicks

      I genuinely feel that Ab-Soul is better, but I see how you could say that.

    • Suckafreetuck

      You hit the nail squarely on the head bruh. 

    • thabang machimana

      i hear what your saying but ab soul is on another level with his intellectual rap.

  • http://twitter.com/LoneXionc Will

    The song you give as an example of Ab-Soul outrapping Kendrick is a song which Kendrick doesn’t even rap on. Ab-Soul raps, then Kendrick does spoken word which doesn’t rhyme or have a cadence. So that’s not really a fair comparison.

    That said, good read.

    • http://twitter.com/Catf1sh CHicks

      I was comparing it to Drake’s “Buried Alive” where the feature artists verses are so good that the main artist doesn’t even attempt to add a competing verse, but I understand what you’re saying.

  • http://twitter.com/K_Ruudster M Kaarud

    Maybe a solution for Ab-Soul to feature on more Kendrick-tracks? I mean, the hip hop-community today are having a jizz-fest for K-Dot, so by jumping on tracks with him, sooner or later, he will get the recognition he fucking deserves. 
    Would also like to add that the whole Black Hippy movement is one of the best collectives out right now. I’m no YMCMB-hater or anything, but TDE is definitely up there.

    • raj

       Yes. TDE is running LA at the moment, especially with Interscope’s recent acquisition of the company.

    • imgibbs

      Listen to P & P. Ab-soul kilt Kendrick on that verse

  • Marquesnieves

    You guys should do a comparison Kendrick Lamar vs 2pac

    • http://twitter.com/Catf1sh CHicks

      What do Kendrick & Pac have in common that would be worthy of a comparison?

      • Marquesnieves

        They both rap about the same subject most of the time I believe they both in a way are hippies too and they are known to be the best of their eras

        a comparison as in “is Kendrick better? Is he on his way to be better than him?” things like that

  • http://www.ohsofreshmusic.com/ Osfeditor

    Kendrick Lamar for the win, although Ab-Soul isnt far behind. Each has their own uniqe flow/style and it’s what makes the group so good, because each has a different quality.

  • Emm

    On top of this being a beautiful piece, you are correct. He is overlooked and his stories are the kind that make you relate to his struggles, his stories, his life. He doesn’t speak on what he wants, he speaks of what he knows. Thank you for this. It is very much appreciated.

  • WodOffPooH

    kendrick is better…ab doesnt switch flows with impunity…k dot sounds comfortable on a more pop track and on introspective ish…kendrick is better wasy answer…could be easy as this…id rather hear kendricks voice…just as Method man was one of the most succesful Wu not just cuz he could rap but his sound is better….Kendrick doesnt sound like anything out…Ab soul, ive heard dudes like him before. Not to say he is wack at all.

  • anonymous

    listen to “His Pain” by Kendrick Lamar, produced by Bj The Chicago Kid…..would’ve come after Kush & Corinthians on Section.80 but he chose to leave it out and release it after the album….voice cracks and heartbroken flow the whole time with a soft piano in the background…I love Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul. Soul did his thing on “Book Of Soul” and Kendrick did his thing on “His Pain”

  • Flit44

    Kendrick never really had a weak first. If you look at Kendrick’s old stuff. He actually raps about HIS life and personal experiences. They both have heart but Kendrick is a level above.. Just by the delivery of the raps… But its a very hard pick.

  • Stro

    “Both Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q are making a name for themselves in the rap game, but neither has ever outrapped Kendrick Lamar on a song. Ab-Soul has.”

    You chose to illustrate that statement with a song that Kendrick didn’t even rap on. Try again.

    This isn’t meant as a slight to Ab in any way, shape, form, or fashion, but Kendrick is superior in every facet save the ability to connect emotionally with his listeners. If that emotional connection is something that you crave from your favorite artists, then maybe it’s fair to place Ab and Kendrick in the same stratosphere. MAYBE. If you’re more of a “big picture” listener, and are able to view the entire spectrum of artistic aptitude, then there’s no debate. There’s a reason that Ab isn’t as heralded as Kendrick. Ultimately he just isn’t as talented.

  • http://twitter.com/sunuiweather A$AP Sun-Ui

    How about His Pain with BJ the Chicago Kid?  Kendrick sounded like he was about to burst into tears.  That said, I consider them equal

  • http://www.facebook.com/holden.hill.31 Holden Hill

    bold statement, but very well-written. great read.

  • Juri

    I have to say, Ab-Soul is slowly catching my attention after I’ve been listening to nothing but Kendrick for the past year. However, to say that he is better than Kendrick I think is jumping the gun a bit… One song where I would have to agree he out-raps Kendrick is their song Mandatory, but Kendrick more consistently outperforms Ab and his flow is more diverse. Ab-Soul’s wordplay is comparable, but his flow is limited to a certain type of beat whereas Kendrick can slaughter any beat. As far as the voice crack comment, I would just point you towards The Heart pt. 2, and His Pain ft. BJ… All of TDE are the future and the combined talent is astounding, but you gotta give the credit where credit is due.

  • TrenchWarrer

    The thing about their voices just made me realize why i prefer ab-soul to kendrick. Kendrick doesn’t sound like he feels what he’s saying, but Ab always sounds like he is speaking from his heart

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UJXNNOL67NFZ6Z6XG3X7POT7PI Austin

    “The way that Ab-Soul’s voice cracks during “The Book of Soul”, I really don’t believe that Kendrick could’ve pulled that off.” … Have you heard the Kendrick Lamar EP or Overly Dedicated? Go revisit those albums. “Best rapper ever… behind Kendrick” – Ab-Souls words. Now that Kendrick is getting recognition people are starting to nitpick and act like he isn’t the new hope and crutch for true hip hop. I bet a couple of months ago before The Recipe and Swimming Pools hit national audiences you still thought that. Bottom line is Kendrick is easily the best rapper in the game right now, period. You can find interviews from every TDE member saying the same thing. And Black Hippy is by far the best crew. What pisses me off most though is when people try to pit members of Black Hippy against each other. The reason Black Hippy is so great is because of the diversity within the group. Every member has their own personality, style, background, etc… with the one thing in common being that they are all spitting true to the craft Hip-Hop. Instead of comparing Ab-Soul to Kendrick, compare any member of Black Hippy to the rest of the industry.

  • KennethHilson

    Kendrick Lamar got smacked by Tech N9ne on “I Love Music”, but I guess we can disregard that the same way everybody disregards Ab-Souls talent.

    • Shyheim Nwadiei

      Well Tech N9ne was more rapid but Kendrick Lamar got him lyrically, and look at songs like “Rigamortis”, Tech N9ne cannot compete with him AT ALL!

      • Lewis

        You must’ve never heard a Tech N9ne song in your life, if you’re saying, he can’t compete with Kendrick Lamar.

        • Shyheim SingAboutme Nwadiei

          Ok, I’ll let pass your stupidity for a minute. Even if I didn’t even listen to a Tech N9ne song in my life, what reason is there to compare him with Kendrick? Like they’re two completely different rappers.

  • Yell3o

    i think Soul has more powerful songs and better punch lines. It’s hard for me to say/think who’s better though. It might be AB-Soul by a ittle bit

  • Alwinjogreat

    Kendrick is better than soul in many ways soul admits it.
    Ab-soul is better than K.dot in many ways.
    One question is has anybody listened to the heart pt.2 by kendrick . you see just as much emotion as soul

  • TopDawnt

    Who ever wrote this article is retarded. What are your reasons behind comparing kendrick and absoul? Because kendrick is getting all this recognition and absoul isn’t? 

  • Ryu

    We can’t deny that Ab-soul is siq but I don’t believe that his better then Kendrick, Kendrick is better, Kendrick is more relatable that’s why he’s more recognised. Rapper shit Kendrick killed Ab-soul there where each rapper had equal verses Kendrick came out on. Victorious

  • Rar009

    Take a listen to “His Pain” by Kendrick…it was supposed to be the song after Kush and Corinthians on Section.80 and a compliment to Her Pain…it’s his closest thing to Book of Soul

  • Lineker Carvalho

    If you whoever wrote this could reply.
    You’re judging kendrick Lamar by his voice and I think you’re missing out his amazing lyrics. If you heard “Good kid maad city” you should understand that Kendrick raps about his life his real life. Checkout ” the heart pt 2 and 3″ and tell me those songs are from the heart. To me kendrick Lamar is a better rapper than ab-soul. Shout out to him tho also a great rapper.

  • Shyheim Nwadiei

    Well I have to open up on something real quick…..everything you mentioned about AB Soul Kendrick just does better, thats why he is my favorite rapper. He explains about things that actually matter yet he does it in a way more relatable than Ab soul ever was. He even made the albums Section.80 and GKMC, best albums ive heard in my life hands down, and Kendrick has more of an edge than Ab Soul, just making him all the better, more well rounded artist, I love Ab soul, but nawwww, lightyears to go before competing with Kendrick.

  • NLCJ

    I listened to K-dot before Soul pop up on my radar… all i can say about Ab-soul is he is all raw emotion… you can feel his pain & it is almost as if you lived it yourself… one song that stands out… top dawg under dog off longterm mentality… listen to that & tell me you dont want to stand up & take on the world… TDE

  • Buddha

    When did this reviewer start listening to RAP/HIP HOP? He posts an article saying that Ab Soul has out rapped Kendrick… at least have a track where they both go at it, and we clearly see the winner/loser…. And its crazy how he makes the statement that NO ONE HAS OUT RAPPED KENDRICK ON A VERSE…. JAY-Z killed KENDRICK ON HIS ON OWN SHIT. Look at the video of his face when he hears Jay’s verse… and secondly… actually listen to the words Kendrick says on his second verse, he basically admits he will never be what the golden era legends were…. NEVER!

  • Kenny F’n Powers

    You know, everyone is different and everyone has an opinion. First off, i love Black Hippy as a group, the 4 of them have a chemistry i haven’t seen in a long time, and their music is so much realer than 99% of the hip hop of today. I love Q & Rock, but lyrically, Kendrick & Ab are superior as solo artists. Now, personally for me, i like Ab-Soul better Kendrick. Not saying he ‘s the better artist, but i’d say i listen to Ab more of the time than K.Dot. I can relate to Ab so easily becuz of his style. His lyrics, his flow, his message is everything i want to see in a rapper today. He’s not about the $, he’s about the art. But the same goes for Kendrick. Dont get me wrong, these guys are #1 & #2 for me right now, but just in my opinion, Kendricks a 10, and Ab is a 10 1/2. Kendrick no doubt has the buzz right now and im so happy he does, he’s so much better than these other mainstream fools its ridiculous, i just believe Ab deserves the same respect. Like you said, i haven’t really heard anyone that could go bar for bar with Kendrick on a track…except Ab-Soul. Songs like “Turn Me Up” “Illuminate” “P&P” “On Some Other Shit” & ” Zip That, Chop That” i feel Ab outdid Kendrick or at the very least went bar for bar with him. To me, one can be better than the other on any given day, they’re both just that good. But for me, i’d have to go with Herbert Anthony on this one. Either way, As long as peopl are jammin Ab & Kendrick, rather than Wayne & Nicki, I have faith in this new era of Hip Hop. Peace.

  • dynamitefists

    Ab Soul > Kendrick

    Longterm Mentality > Overly Dedicated

    Control System > Section.80

    Ab Souls Album will be better than GKMC

    Oh yeah and Hell Yea > Control

    Ab Soul has a better voice, style, and better messages than Kendrick as well TBH

    Ill give flow to Kendrick and theyre tied on wordplay

  • Bk

    Soulo over Lamar any day!!

  • GGGGG

    AND TWO YEARS LATER WE CONFIRM AB-SOUL IS BETTER

    • Bktfinest

      3 years later, have opinions changed? Kendrick obvious choice in my opinion

  • Edward Harryman

    Soul has better word play. Better lyricism. Kendrick has arguably better flow and more catchy verses. You can’t disagree with this cause you know its true lol.

  • Resq Porter

    I understand I’m three years late,but I’ll comment anyway. That’s a million dollar question but confusing yourself as well. How can you say absoul is better than kdot and then comment, I quote : “Kendrick Lamar often sounds less like a rapper and more like a rapping machine, which makes sense when you consider he’s never had a weak verse.”? To me it doesn’t make sense. I believe in the rap game, especially in TDE, all these cats are not the type who likes publicity stunts. But through good music, they somehow came out of the closet. They are both good and numbers do not lie. Look at where they are at right now? Its 2015, what has each achieved better than the other? Nobody has outrapped kendrick in TDE. Its my opinion. If Dr Dre, and Snoop Dogg see how big the goodkid from madcity is going to be,I have no doubt that kendrick is the man in the game better than ab soul.