A$AP Ferg's dark debut uses repetition to its favor
William Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is a prologue.” Indeed, it really is. Nowhere is that more evident than on A$AP Ferg’s debut LP, Trap Lord. The album is a significant introductory effort from A$AP’s Mob’s next at bat, managing to successfully draw from hip-hop’s storied past and blend it with a variety of popular regional sonic influences. Not an easy feat.
To its best effect, this is evidenced on “Shabba Ranks,” which is all bottom-heavy bass and skittering drums, and finds Ferg dialing into a dancehall influence that you probably wouldn’t hear from most rappers outside of the Tri-state area (That’s certainly not to say it doesn’t exist elsewhere). Then there’s “Lord,” featuring standout verses from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (minus Wish Bone), where the ultimate takeaway comes from Ferg’s parting lines—“Study your scriptures and follow your God/Life in the trap I know times will get hard/I'll pick up your life just abide by the lord/Or ride by the lord.” And the Veryrvre-produced “Hood Pope" expresses that sentiment to a similar effect, with Ferg seemingly singing from street corner in Harlem— “I'm the Hood Pope, these my children/And I'll be their Donnie McClurkin”— while acknowledging that he’s no saint.
Perhaps a downside to the project is its uniformity. Songs like “Didn’t Wanna Do That,” “Fergivicious,” and even “Fuck Out My Face,” which finds Ferg putting Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Onyx in front of millennial listeners (these are obviously guys that even younger hip-hop listeners should know about) all seemingly traffic in the same downbeat double-time tempos and flows. This can wear on a listener over the course of an LP, and becomes somewhat fatiguing. Saying every song sounds the same is an easy way to write something off, but no, here it's actually true. There really is a lot of repetition on Trap Lord.
That’s not always a bad thing, and actually it might be one of the project’s saving graces, because this is a mixtape-turnt-album that has no obvious singles. There is no overwrought attempt at a radio record. There’s no obligatory song for “for the chicks.” There’s nothing for “the clubs,” or whatever that even is these days. Those are the type of songs that break up the flow of an album and perhaps make it more diverse, but often suck the narrative arc out of a project. Even the Waka Flocka Flame-assisted "Murda Something" manages to raise the energy level without sounding out of pocket. Trap Lord is an underground rap album for listeners reared on a decade of 808s and melodic variations of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” melody. It’s the sound of old New York gracefully mixing with the new New York. And it’s really good, basically. —Paul Cantor