Music is a big part of a lot of peoples’ lives, providing a soundtrack along each step of
their journey. For some though, music means even more, a personal tool to not only
express their own talents, but to share it with others.
That rings true for Carson, California emcee Ab-Soul – born Herbert Anthony Stevens IV
in 1987 – whose life has been intertwined with music since he took his first breaths.
Born into a family that owned and operated a record store since before his birth, Ab-
Soul was literally in the store since his earliest years. “I had a cradle in the shop,” Soul
said. “We just closed the store last year in April, so my entire life.”
The store – Magic Disc Music – was a big part of his childhood, as well as the West
Coast music scene. His grandfather was responsible for the world famous VIP Records
chain in the Los Angeles area that was a launching pad for the careers of stars like Snoop
Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg. To him though, it was just his family’s business and a
way to learn the music game firsthand.
“It was crazy at first, because it was really something that my mom did for work,” Soul
said. “Music didn’t really resonate for me probably until I wrote my first rap (at 12 years
old). It was kind of bland to me for a long time, it was just business. At the same time,
growing up in that environment I was able to soak up a lot of game, as far as retail and
the marketing side of the business.”
The store helped influence some of the very qualities he now speaks into microphones.
He’s helped breathe fresh air onto a bland scene that sorely lacked it, rapping about topics
that range from the human brain to drugs and society.
“I’m just trying to open the door for a wider range of concepts in popular music,” Soul
said. “I think the subject matter in mainstream music right now is real monotone.”
So far his strategy has worked, with both fans and the business side. He caught the ears
of rising Los Angeles company Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) – home to Kendrick
Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock – years ago and rounded out the talented crew.
“I think everybody is taking it well, how we intended,” he said. “It’s a lot of people that
feel there’s been a void that needs to be filled for a while.”
Along with Ab-Soul, TDE has certainly been filling a musical void in hip-hop. Each of
the artists has a distinct sound and a diverse group of dedicated fans, a fact not lost on the
business-minded artists. Soul is well aware of how important hard work and attention to
detail are for success, saying they make universal “music for humans.”
“It’s a blessing and a privilege and it’s what we sought out to do,” Soul explained. “We
do it for the humans man, fuck your ethnicity. We’re all family in a sense, so we try to
stay firm on that concept and bring everybody up.”
His recent accolades didn’t come without struggle though. Anthony suffered from
Stevens-Johnson syndrome as a child, a virus that causes internal and external fevers.
“My eyes were swollen shut for a few months, I lost my lip skin and it grew back dark,”
Soul said, providing another glimpse at his musical influences. It left him with sensitivity
to light that marks his signature look; an ever-present pair of dark sunglasses and a clue
to the birth of his famous “black lip bastard” chant.
“I’m fine now of course,” Soul said of battling the virus. “But that was definitely a
struggle getting over for a few years. More than anything it’s given me an individual
look,” he said among laughter, before noting it did teach him things. “Nothing can really
stop you. You just have to roll with the punches; I was able to learn that early.”
The lessons life has given him clearly molded him as both an artist and person, as he
emphasized the importance of proper planning in all he does. His wisdom is a valuable
tool as TDE’s talent pool has already been compared to former California powerhouse
Death Row Records.
“We’re fans of the culture first, so we’ve been exposed to the great empire of Death Row,
all of the great groups,” Soul said. “From DPG to the Fugees, everybody. We’ve studied
the whole game and they’ve all had an influence on us. We’ve dissected every potential
powerhouse in hip-hop, so we can apply all the pros and cons and have something
He’s well on his way. His latest project “Control System” was recently released to a large
group of eager fans. It follows his critically-acclaimed pair of “Long Term Mentality”
projects and has sparked passionate conversations among the genre over potential
messages laced into the music, just as Soul planned.
“I think people are taking it exactly how I intended. It’s no set concepts, no set message,
it’s not like a big punchline to get,” Soul explained. “It’s just really making a connection
between all different things that wouldn’t seem like they would connect, just connecting
us all as people. That’s definitely what I set out to do, just to get people thinking.”
His sincerity is evident in his music and thought process.
“I want to continue to document this long term legacy that I have going, just continue to
grow as a person,” Soul says. “Just really want to continue to put out music that can help
people feel good and bring good positive energy.”
When asked to describe himself, he speaks of Einstein, Marley and Lennon. It’s only
fitting. After all, like them, he’s ultimately a person who just wants to make music that
people will remember and relate to.
“These guys have been going for quite some time now and we’re still talking about them.
I definitely want to have that type of imprint.”