The Trap Lord returns to stake a claim to his crown
A$AP Ferg, one of the more prominent and well-known members of the Harlem-based collective ‘A$AP Mob’, has been sitting quietly on the back bench for the last year-and-a-half. Perhaps to allow the release of ‘At. Long. Last. A$AP.‘ by his fellow mob-member A$AP Rocky to shine that little bit brighter and longer, or perhaps to simply to take more time with his own follow up to his last album. Whatever reason it was, we’ve finally been given the album in its entirety after much build up; but is it more of what we’ve come to expect from Ferg or is he moving off in a different direction after firmly planting his trap roots?
Well, it’s difficult to say. ‘Always Strive and Prosper‘ had a lot of promise with the pre-released single leading up to its drop. The well-received; ‘New Level‘ was a new-age banger featuring an arguably bigger name when it comes to the word ‘trap’; Future. Produced by ‘Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E’ (props if you’ve heard of him before), the track builds fantastically from a host of sinister strings until the bass drops, introducing a rattling drum line and a melody that would fit the most evil of super-villains. Both artists do well to not let the beat be the main attraction, with each coming through with their own expected braggadocio. The single seemed to state that Ferg wouldn’t be straying too far from the sounds that could be found in his last album at all; the aptly named ‘Trap Lord‘ (released in 2013). While other songs were dropped in the weeks leading up to the albums release, I avoided them in order to have a more cohesive and ‘spoiler-free’ first listen. Having listened to the whole thing and knowing what songs were pre-released in order to indicate what the project would entail, it’s clear to me that this is an album with a case of severe mistaken identity.
Ferg himself described this LP as his “biography of rags to riches” story. In fact, in his first line of the album on the track ‘Rebirth‘, he says to himself that he’s “no longer a lord that’s trapped“. This connotes that he does indeed want to move away from the formulaic and predictable nature of the sub -genre that he’s helped pioneer, in order to explore himself and his upbringing in Harlem. The track itself is a clear indicator of this too, with the immediate intro cut off to make way for a thunder of bouncing synths and g-funk inspired percussion. In relation to the tracks title, Ferg describes his evolution from trap lord to ‘hood pope‘, indicating that he’s witnessed all walks of life that inhabit the ghetto. This progresses immediately into the Skrillex-produced track ‘Hungry Ham‘, a more conventional Ferg tune that pairs him with fast-paced snares and a low, rumbling bass. Despite its obnoxious hook, it’s a fairly enjoyable track and maintains the energy set by its predecessor. Suddenly however, the album takes a completely unexpected turn and hits us with a 90’s house-inspired track entitled ‘Strive‘. While it could’ve been an interesting sidetrack for the MC to take us on (admittedly a strange choice to put it so early on the album), he fills it with the cringe-worthy hook: “You can be you today, you can be you tonight, know you’re feelin’ really great, it’s gon’ be alright“. It has decent feature verse from Missy Elliot, but all in all it feels so out of place.
The next 3 tracks manage to keep a sense of consistency. The mellowed-out, retrospective track ‘Psycho‘ has Ferg describes his uncle embodying this name and his aspirations to be just like him when growing up. ‘Let It Bang‘, another cut that describes the more violent side of the same uncle, has a set of slowed trap-influenced drums and some menacing bass that Ferg (and ScHoolboy Q on feature service) both compliment well, and of course the previously mentioned ‘New Level‘. The track ‘Yammy Gang‘ is commemoration to the late A$AP Yams and features verses from A$AP Twelvyy, A$AP Nast, A$AP Rocky and Ferg himself. The instrumental is one of the most intriguing on the entire cut, with a jumping, almost primal sub-bass powering the string-driven melody, allowing the few names of the mob that appear here do their thing almost effortlessly. My only gripe is that it’s way too short.
It’s here that the album honestly takes a nosedive in quality. The bland pair of trap flagship songs ‘Swipe Life‘ and ‘Uzi Gang‘ aren’t awful, but their beats are so uninteresting and the lyrics so predictable that the two cuts are barely indistinguishable from one another. Both incorporate trunk-rattling percussion and throwaway melodies, with weak, forgettable features from Rick Ross, Marty Baller and Lil Uzi Vert. Sure, they’re bangers; but they’re also throwaways.
We’re then met by two types of tracks; painful attempts at making radio-friendly tracks that fall short a mile before they even began the race, or plain-old boring hip-hop. The first category is spearheaded by the track ‘Let You Go’, a break-up song that I thought I’d never find on an A$AP Ferg joint. But here it is, in all its glory, a blend of simple percussion and a repetitive piano/guitar loop that does nothing for the awfully-sung hook. Speaking of bad singing, the song entitled ‘World Is Mine‘ with Big Sean is by far the worst on the entire LP, with the two crooning their way horribly through dark siren sounds and a chopped and screwed drum line. It’s painful to see a track like this placed on an album with so much potential, with two artists doing something they’re really not that adept at.
It somehow gets worse with ‘I Love You‘, this laid-back R&B type instrumental that only has once short verse from Ferg and is in fact mostly a platform for king of the douchebags Chris Brown to rap over and provide the vocals for the hook. With a title like that, you’d expect the track to be cheesy (which it is) and it fully stands out of place when compared to the rest of the cut. You may like it if you’re a fan of Breezy, but the whole thing just reeks of a ploy to make a radio-friendly track. The skits that litter the track list really have no point to them, merely setting up its following track or indicating that the album is reaching for some sort of conceptual status. One such interlude is the ‘Grandma‘ skit which leads into the final track (can you guess?) ‘Grandma‘. The skit does nothing but establish that Ferg is going to talk about his deceased grandparent, wasting an opportunity where the MC could’ve been authentic and heartfelt. The final track itself is a decent end to the album, a smooth mesh of a rattling drumline, snyths and horns that give it plenty of flavour. Ferg’s singing on the hook is passionate enough for it to be passable, but the verses are stellar, with the rapper keeping a steady flow while conveying his sadness at her passing and how much he misses her: “all I ever wanted was you here with me through all this shit, through this life that I live, through this life that God gave me“.
At points across the project, Ferg shows off his prowess for both lyricism and his choice of production, but too often the LP delves into the murky depths of commercial appeal, blatantly trying to pander to multiple audiences at once. At its best, the instrumentals bang and the energetic passion of the A$AP mob member is a joy to listen to, it’s just a shame that these moments are few and far in-between; overshadowed by far too many lack-luster beats and a lack of the wild personality that could be found on his last album. As sophomore albums go, it’s a disappointment that Ferg may never fully come back from, but I sincerely hope does.
Highlights: Psycho, Yammy Gang, Rebirth, New Level