Release Date: August 20, 2013
DJ Whoo Kid — the guy who held down in-house mixtape-maestro duties during the reign of 50 Cent and his G-Unit yard birds — told me recently that he detected the presence of the Notorious B.I.G. in A$AP Ferg’s music. Blasphemy or no, the young Harlemite’s full-length debut, Trap Lord, does bear that out somewhat: The 13-track album doesn’t frolic outright in ’90s retroism, but it owes a palpable debt to the bleaker side of his deified predecessor’s music, as though channeling the unyielding and underground-leaning album Christopher Wallace was said to be plotting until Puffy stepped in and tempered the steely “Unbelievable” with the candied “Juicy.” It’s a grave look that serves Ferg well.
Despite coming up in tandem with flashier, fashion-focused crew boss A$AP Rocky, the star of Trap Lord dwells in a danker domain. There’s a cockamamie ad-lib during the opening song, “Let It Go,” that boasts, “It’s lonely at the top, all this shrimp, nobody to share it with.” But what follows largely ditches the trappings of affluence for songs hinged around the dual threat of knocking somebody out (Ferg has various ways to achieve this, from metal things to baseball bats) and unceremoniously violating somebody’s lady (he has a whole crew to facilitate this).
These might be coarse, clichéd rap boasts, but Ferg enunciates them in the same sort of lackadaisical manner that Big used so effectively. When, on “Dump Dump,” he raps, “I fucked your bitch, nigga / And she about to fuck my crew / She just finished with [A$AP] Twelvy,” there’s a darkness to his words that trumps the rudimentary sentiment. It’s Biggie in “Cunt Renaissance” mode. When he adds, “my gorillas live in the zoo” — a directive that includes Bodega Bamz’s Tan Boys — he suggests an acrid sex scene where consent is not exactly required. There’s a discernible threat simmering beneath this record — an effect Ferg skillfully sustains.
Smartly, the production matches this uncouth vibe. Other than the meandering, quasi-psychedelic “4_02” at the album’s midpoint, Trap Lord sounds like it’s been recorded in an ominous metal box: The bass tones boom and linger, filling up the room, while the high-end and snares take on a sinister, yapping timbre. It’s a self-contained zone, all designed to Ferg’s specifications. Sure, Ferg might not have Big’s lyrical knack for a truly spellbinding narrative, but he succeeds in bringing the listener into his shadowy back-alley Harlem world. On his foray into storytelling, “Didn’t Wanna Do That,” he sets up a simple scene: “They told me West got robbed/ Where the fuck them niggas be at? / They took the chain up off his neck / I heard the MAC, started running laps.” You know the story’s going to end with the expected “body on ice,” but it’s to Ferg’s credit that he keeps your attention while relaying his yarn.
There’s nothing on Trap Lord to suggest Ferg will follow A$AP Rocky onto the pop charts, but it’s a rewardingly dark and grounded listen. With its rugged, ribald appeal, it’s the sort of album that you’d imagine Big himself happily enjoying. Just don’t tell Puff.