A$AP Mob is a decidedly modernist version of a rap crew. They rep high fashion and veganism; they give equal time to obscene strip club raps and borderline horrorcore. But they’re also ardent hip-hop fanatics, and any student of the game knows a real rap crew needs both breakout star and a wild card. A$AP Rocky has taken on the role of the former and A$AP Ferg has played the latter with aplomb. You could call him an “impressionist” rapper rather than “impressionistic,” in that he can sound like damn near anyone — on his respective standout guest spots from Live.Love.A$AP and Long.Live.A$AP, he flowed like a sing-song screw rapper (“Kissin’ Pink”) and Cookie Monster (“Ghetto Symphony”).
Trap Lord is Ferg’s first commercial release and goes for comprehensiveness rather than cohesion. You get 13 tracks with about as many different styles — Ferg flexes a melodic slow flow on “Hood Pope,” double-time Midwestern spitting on “Lord,” fake patois on quasi-hit “Shabba,” just to name a few. This versatility can work against Ferg; there are times on Trap Lord where you can’t figure out when it’s actually him. Trap Lord lacks the focus and commercial viability of A$AP Rocky’s albums, not to mention a clarity in his self-mythologizing. His lyrics aren’t particularly heady, but contain plenty of fly, quotable nonsense all the same — mostly requests for sexual pleasure and drug confiscation, giving shouts to Five Percenter leaders and sherm in the same damn line.
Although Ferg is a fringe figure at heart, Trap Lord presents him as a middleman, or at least a central hub, where the darker strains of ’90s pop-rap mingle with their current analogues. He draws a logical connection between Onyx and Waka Flocka Flame’s headbanger-hop without putting them on the same track, and then does the same for genial stoners Cypress Hill and Trinidad Jame$. And of course, any rapper making use of melody, occultism and heavy metal imagery needs to pay homage to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony — the Cleveland collective show up on “Lord,” sounding shockingly vital. Trap Lord is a weird one for sure, pitch-black in both sound and spirit at times. But even in its rushed, slapdash state, it’s a labor of love. The dank production and misanthropic lyricism can’t hide its creator nerding out over the past two decades of amoral hip-hop.