By Randy Wagstaff
Trap Lord, the debut album from Harlem-born rapper A$AP Ferg, is the fashion designer-turned-MC’s first chance to do what he loves: create. Since giving up fashion design to pursue a rapping career, Ferg has had few opportunities to pursue his own artistic vision, mostly appearing on projects involving the most famed of the A$AP Mob crew: A$AP Rocky. Like Rocky, Ferg could be denounced for sounding insincere (he’s from New York but often raps like he’s from the south), but it seems like neither one limits sincerity to only one version of the self, or only one style. The success of this Jekyll and Hyde act is what ultimately characterizes both Ferg, and his first solo project, Trap Lord.
On “Let It Go,” Ferg establishes himself as an outsized character; he is aggressive, baleful, brilliant: “I’m grippin’ the mac and you under attack/Spit at your back and you takin’ a nap.” The beat is hypnotic and bouncy; Ferg bounds from line to line, effortlessly juxtaposing his gritty lyrical content with the high-energy trap beat, riding snare rolls like he’s riding in one of his “foreign cars.”
But this juxtaposition feels earned on an album where the very next song is a near five-minute ode to a Shabba Ranks, the gold-plated Jamaican dancehall DJ from the 90s. “Shabba,” which features a verse from A$AP Rocky, doesn’t differ greatly from “Let It Go” in terms of beat; it’s the content that takes a drastic turn. Here, Ferg is completely absorbed in flash, trying on references with the solemnity of trying out a new gold chain: “Walk in this bitch with the new Wang/looking like Liu Kang.” Mere minutes after he has vividly described excessive gun violence and threatened to kill off his competition, Ferg flips the switch and begins killing you with laughter: “Me and Rock run trains on the ho/He be like, ‘bitch don’t touch my braids.’” This change in character is not insincere, it is perfectly representative of A$AP Ferg. Like Trap Lord, Ferg is not a cardboard cut-out, but a complex, singular concept that doesn’t fit into one pre-established mould: He is both Batman and Master Bruce.
Later, Ferg turns preacher (see Donnie McClurkin) when talking about the perils of violence and drug abuse in hood culture. He dubs himself the “Hood Pope” on the track of the same name, and uses himself as a vessel for the message he aims to propound. He acknowledges his own indulgences (“And I’m smoking my weed/Put me in my zone”), but is completely unapologetic about them; he asks for purpose, not forgiveness. On the album’s closing track, “Cocaine Castle,” Ferg continues to warn, taking us through “Another day in the crack house” and asking us to consider the consequences: “What about your uncle/He died last year/From the same thing/You kiss that glass to hide your fears.” Ferg barely raps on these two songs, instead choosing to vocalize and harmonize as if the mere mention of drugs has put him under the influence of them. (The interlude of a woman’s despaired memory of a time when she was “lit the fuck up” is made especially gut wrenching by Ferg’s soulful back-end harmonisations.)
Trap Lord is a showcase of musical complexity, and Ferg establishes himself as more than an equal to his more lucrative A$AP Mob counterpart. There is little precedent for a once unknown member of a crew stepping up to overshadow the de facto leader, but after the release of Trap Lord, Ferg is well on his way to accomplishing that.