Review Summary: Debut release of the Mob's second-in-line fails to make a lasting impression
Killer Mike’s recent claim “all your false idols are just pretenders” has no better example than A$AP Rocky and the rest of his Mob. By now, A$AP Yams is an open secret in the hip-hop community as a shrewd puppeteer- having taken Rocky from an identity-less Harlem rapper to a bona fide star behind the strength of his Tumblr page and a manufactured identity in just three years. But one star isn’t enough for Yams, who sees himself as the new millennium’s version of Irv Gotti. A January New York Times piece had the man behind the curtain proclaiming A$AP Ferg his next big star. However, with nowhere near as much charisma as Rocky and a sing-song flow partially borrowed from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, turning Ferg into a star in his own right would be a Herculean task for anyone, that is, except Yams.
The rollout of Trap Lord
was perfectly executed: first single “Work (Remix)” diluted Ferg’s somewhat overbearing first verse with young studs Trinidad James, French Montana, Schoolboy Q and Rocky himself, “Shabba” partnered the Mob’s two stars - the same duo who produced 2011’s incredible “Kissin Pink”- and “Hood Pope” unveiled the main attraction along with the pre-order of his album. By slowly introducing the Trap Lord, his sound became more palatable; by the time Trap Lord starting streaming a week before its official release the amount of hype surrounding the album had shot through the roof. A rapper who seemed initially unmarketable all of a sudden became a hot commodity and a lot easier to connect with.
Despite this, Trap Lord
is no easy listen. Ferg is equal parts street grit and drug haze, flaunting his anatomy and hood cred in equal proportion and integrating heavy moans into the drab atmosphere. The sound is definitively his own, but it’s a very minimalist approach. On “Didn’t Wanna Do That,” for example, his voice and skit are far more dynamic than the beat, a stark pounding of 808s and distorted guitar notes. Ferg may not be able to carry a tune, but the way his voice wobbles and wavers over the beats is both endearing and distracting. As he enters the upper register, his voice sounds unsure and as it drops lower he comes off as angry. Switching between the two is a conflict of interest- a happy medium is rarely found- but when the intonations befit the track, Ferg is unstoppable.
Vocal experiments ultimately prove to be a mixed blessing for Trap Lord. The rapping is technically proficient, albeit difficult to evaluate because of its distinctiveness, and erratic. Ferg accelerates certain lines, accelerates others and oscillates at terrifying pace while the beats drag their feet. His energy and attitude seem better fit on livewire beats, and indeed shines brightest when partnered with Waka Flocka Flame on the unabashedly raw “Murda Something,” so working with the supplied instrumentals is something of a disappointment, a cap placed on the potential. Whereas Rocky’s sound and image had been meticulously engineered for Live.Love.A$AP
, Ferg is still unrefined. Occasionally he’s a tougher, colder killer, the next moment he’s carefree, his sing-song vibrantly echoing off the wall. The effect is one akin to Jim Carrey playing the Godfather: an inherently talented performer stuck in the wrong role.
Between the branding issues and hollow beats, Trap Lord seems like a missed opportunity. Instead of having a true, inimitable identity, A$AP Ferg is a cobbled together amalgamation of all things definitively New York that ultimately aren’t compatible when blended. For his part, Ferg is an exciting if divisive performer who is legitimately interesting and able to hold his own against an impressive stable of guest stars- excepting perhaps Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who parlay their appearance on “Lord” into a dominating performance. However, Ferg fails to remain engaging through the entirety of Trap Lord
, and his solo tracks often fall short when trying to reach the bar set by his guest-assisted songs. There is star potential here, but it’ll take more refining before A$AP Ferg becomes worthy of the huge amount of buzz he generated.