Two weeks back, A$AP Ferg released his highly anticipated debut album, Trap Lord. It’s earned solid critical acclaim and fan attention so far. So, does it represent the emergence of a truly exciting new player in the rap game, or is it just another overhyped hip-hop LP with a few hot singles and an abundance of filler?
I came late to the A$AP Ferg party. I’d heard both the original and remix version of “Work” a few times, but paid it little mind, and I completely missed the blow-up of “Shabba” other than seeing Diplo change his Twitter name to “Shabba Shabba Ranx” for two weeks.
Ferg is weirder than your average mainstream rapper. I didn’t realize how weird until I gave Trap Lord a front-to-back listen on its release date. And, by weird, I mean completely uninterested in playing rap by the numbers. Aside from “Work,” none of his other singles should work in today’s hip-hop landscape, but they do. “Shabba” sounds something RZA or Havoc of Mobb Deep could’ve produced with a slightly better drum machine. “Hood Pope” is this bizarro sing-along that sounds like Main Attraktionz discovered melody and Boards of Canada at the same damn time. Miles away from lowest-common-denominator chart-toppers like “Bubble Butt” or (my beloved) “Pop That.”
The album cuts are mostly even more strange, and usually better. “Let It Go” drags you in with a harsh beat that mashes up classic trap and borderline industrial synths, a great foundation for Ferg’s commanding flow. “Lord” is largely a showcase for a Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony guest spot featuring wholesale lyrical murder on a massive scale, and Ferg keeps up with them. That alone is insane.
Then, there’s songs that are halfway ballads – “Fergivicious,” the aforementioned “Hood Pope” and “Cocaine Castle.” The last of those is particularly wrenching, with lyrics like “Doctors in their suits at this cocaine castle/Babies in they Pampers at this cocaine castle.” Like the darkest work of Clipse, Ferg’s narrator takes responsibility for his role in the deaths of his customers. There’s also plenty of menace to go around. “Murda Something” is a brutal banger with Waka Flocka Flame, and “Fuck Out My Face” brings more 90s rap stars out of retirement to wreak havoc, specifically Onyx and B-Real from Cypress Hill.
Much like A$ap Rocky, Ferg deals with plenty of contradictions – between gooned-out violence and thoughtful introspection, swagger and self-doubt. And he’s got a ways to go before he achieves the stardom of Rocky or the staggering artistic talent of Kendrick Lamar, the arguable young kings of the rap game. But this is one of the best rap debut records in quite some time, and seeing it come from a completely unexpected player is exciting.
Oh look, the second banana in a hip-hop star’s posse actually made an album. I mean, that’s better than most dudes manage to do, I guess. Though, are we really unhappy to still lack a solo record from Jasper the Fucking Dolphin or A$AP Twelvy? Do we really lament that Memphis Bleek is still one hit way – for his whole career? (Points if you get that reference.)
It’s clear early on, though, that Ferg is leaning harder on his association with Rocky than he ought to. At the end of “Let It Go,” he’s talking about the success of “Fuckin’ Problems,” a song he wasn’t even on. And then he talks about LONG.LIVE.A$AP. before he finally mentions his own record. Fucking Christ.
The guest spots are crazy uneven. Bone-Thugs is one thing. But…B-Real? Seriously? Cypress Hill stopped being relevant 18 years before this album’s release, and there’s a reason for that. How does he get the call? And then on “Work REMIX,” French Montana shows up alongside dudes who are 9,000,000,000 times better than his best work (Trinidad James, Rocky, Schoolboy Q). I LOVE “POP THAT,” BUT SERIOUSLY, PLEASE STOP LETTING FRENCH MONTANA ON SONGS UNLESS HE’S BETTER THAN HIS COMPANY. So that means like, Wiz Khalifa, Tyga or other talentless fucks.
But the worst offense is, without question, having a skit on the album. “4:02” is almost entirely a sex-talk skit with maybe a minute of singing and then more skit stuff – Ferg bragging about having stolen another dude’s girl while said cuckold screams and cries on the other end of the phone. (I do admit to laughing when I hear the cheating victim say “BITCH YOU BETTER NOT BE WITH THAT NIGGA FEEEEERRGGGG!!!” before sobbing uncontrollably) But it’s just bush-league shit – we’ve thankfully moved away from having skits on rap albums, for the most part, so it’s an inexplicable choice. Also it leads into “Dump Dump,” which would be an okay goon-anthem on a lesser rapper’s album, but makes a huge dent in one made with as much care as Trap Lord. It’s just a fuckin’ bummer.
HEADS. Despite its flaws/things that irritate me, this is one of the best albums of the year.
Liam Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.