It’s been a little less than eight months since A$AP Rocky released Long.Live.A$AP, his much-hyped, much-delayed major label debut. Tepidness aside, Rocky’s album was an undeniable blockbuster: Long.Live.A$AP debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts and spawned a platinum single in “Fuckin Problems.” More importantly, it proved that the so-called “post-internet model” — the Y2K-enabled phenomenon of assembling sounds and influences on the basis of taste, rather than geographical loyalties — wasn’t just an inevitable paradigm shift in rap, but a lucrative one. Pretty Flacko and his Tumblr-famous A$AP Mob were bona fide blog-rap superstars, and even if the aural touchstones that defined their sound weren’t entirely original, the way they rearranged them certainly was.
Now that Rocky’s living comfortably, playing JFK in Lana Del Rey videos and drinking the finest bottled water, it’s about time another member of the Harlem collective proves his worth. It should come as no surprise that A$AP Ferg was the next to get tapped, seeing as how he was the only member of Rocky’s crew who managed to snag a feature on Long.Live.A$AP, on the bonus track “Ghetto Symphony.” With its gleeful rat-ta-tat flow and references to Chips Ahoy!, Big Boi, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ferg’s guest verse offered an energetic diversion from the deadpan materialism of his buddy, and singled him out as the “fun” one in the group. Every rap crew needs a weirdo, and the highly-expressive, wholly unpredictable Ferg was happy to deliver — not only on “Ghetto Symphony,” but also on goofy trap jam “Work,” the one bright spot on last year’s uninspired A$AP mob mixtape, Lord$ Never Worry. With his debut-mixtape-cum-debut-album Trap Lord, the rapper is fiercely determined, not only to transcend the ODB comparisons and “weed-carrier” associations that come with being an enigmatic presence in a rap ensemble, but also to express the hybridized A$AP aesthetic on his own terms. For the most part, he succeeds on both accounts.
Ferg’s palette, like Rocky’s, is defined by a heavy streak of 90s worship. Trap Lord is awash in 808 bumps, dirty-south beats, and references to both Mortal Kombat’s Liu Kang and former dancehall star Shabba Ranks (for whom lead single “Shabba” is named). But whereas Rocky prefers to immerse himself in the promethazine-heavy ooze of Three Six Mafia and DJ Screw, Ferg is more inclined to find himself up in Cleveland, freezing his ass off with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (who stage a dizzying coup on the lush “Lord”). There is, of course, a strong smattering of trap: cocky trunk-rattlers like “Fergivicious,” “Let it Go,” and “Dump Dump,” which comes with 2013’s subtlest refrain: “I FUCKED YOUR BITCH, NIGGA, I FUCKED YOUR BITCH.”
But aside from some stylistic variance, how does Trap Lord differ from Long.Live.A$AP, Live.Love.A$AP, or any of the hundreds of rap mixtapes making the rounds on Datpiff? Indeed, when taken at face value, Ferg appears to be making all the tired, perfunctory lyrical rounds — the threats of grave bodily harm, the boasts about sleeping with your girlfriend — and comes off like a loopier version of Rocky (or, perhaps, a more talented Trinidad Jame$). But later in the album, we realize that Ferg has known throughout that it’s all bullshit and, more importantly, that Trap Lord is ultimately focused on the ugly reality of the #traplife mythos: abandoned babies, kidnapped siblings, shell casings in the street. “Hood Pope” sees Ferg reluctantly becoming a father figure to the disenfranchised, trying to prevent the kids in his neighborhood from adopting the lifestyle he and his crew boast about. “God, he was a little child, he was a good kid for a while,” he sing-songs sadly. “He found the streets and then it got wild/ God, I promise, never again.” “Didn’t Wanna Do That” is a clattering, clambering PSA about the absurdity of street violence, where “guns flirt” and “feel at the pulse” of backpack-wearing kids. And on “Cocaine Castle,” the rapper juxtaposes the illusory, Ambien-masked ideal of the “cocaine castle” with the realistic depiction of the crack house. Prostitutes mingle with reverends, babies shriek from hunger, and halfway through the song, a junkie sobs, “I remember when I was lit the fuck up,” choking on her own tears.
In the final verse, Ferg lies awake in his bed, unable to be lulled to sleep by even the strongest weed strain. “Seems like my whole life fucking been cursed,” he slurs, devoid of even a trace of the braggadocio displayed just songs earlier. “Devil tryna get me in this fucking paradise/ Fucking all these bitches raw just to roll the dice.” Funny-man Ferg isn’t so funny now: he’s nihilistic, self-destructive, threatening in a way that the rest of the A$AP mob could never be — Rocky included. The same could be said for Trap Lord: it’s a fun ride, to be sure, but once the high wears off and all that’s left is the darkness, you can catch a faint glimpse of oblivion. Hopefully we get to peek deeper into the chasm the next time around.