Darold Ferguson Jr.– best known as A$AP Ferg, a member of A$AP Rocky’s A$AP Mob– brings a tantalizing skillset to the table, a startling versatility and an electricity that not even his more famous friend can touch. He sings (see his star-making debut on Rocky’s “Kissin’ Pink”), he can write (take his bendy, gleeful “Shabba”), and he’s weird– when he’s feeling purple, he channels his inner Fergenstein, a lewder, more hedonistic persona. He also talks big: “I wanna be as known as Jesus,” he told me earlier this year, later mentioning his affinity for artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Warhol. (Sounds like he’d enjoy Jay-Z’s bathroom). He’s funny, he’s got a peculiar style, and he’s got, for a lack of a better word, a sizeable amount of swag. Like Rocky, he’s a uniter of rap audiences and regional sounds, the only other performer in the A$AP crew who’s exhibited that star-like sheen so far. If he were to deliver on that promise with a debut that properly channeled all the potential… next stop, stratosphere.
Trap Lord, Ferg’s debut mixtape turned debut album, probably isn’t that record, though it has quite a few bright spots. While it begins with a fierce, feverish bundle of tracks– the hulking, patois-smeared “Let It Go”, the infectious knocker “Shabba”, the emotional, mythologizing “Hood Pope”– it’s also listless in spots, too reliant on underdeveloped ideas. Some of that can be chalked up to the nature of the record’s existence– like Flockaveli, it was originally conceptualized as a mixtape and only later was transformed into a major label debut. But a fair chunk of Trap Lord finds Ferg trying to figure himself out in real-time– a natural shape shifter, he never stays in the same form for long, switching personalities and flows at the drop of a hat. Where it’s effective on songs like “Hood Pope” and the thundering opener “Let It Go”, it’s less so on scatterbrained songs like “Fergivicous” and “Make a Scene”. For an artist drawing effortlessly from what seems to be a wellspring of creativity and thoughtful tribute, Trap Lord can, at times, feel underdeveloped and skeletal.
But, that’s not to suggest that Trap Lord doesn’t sound great– A$AP Mob still has the best ears in town. The production is leering and paranoid but rippled with muscle. It’s a dark-tinted record, to be sure, sonically and lyrically. The VERYRVRE-produced “Hood Pope” chronicles the loss of a young child; “Murder Something” uses a Kirk Franklin analogy to underscore a particular, graphic ass-kicking; the closing, experimental “Cocaine Castle” uses a crack house as the setting, a location where the protagonist sees “doctors in their suits”, babies, his mom. It’s heavy shit, reinforced by thick, tense production from under-the radar producers like Frankie P, P on the Boards, Snugsworth and HighDefRazjah. The stormy sonic texture is the backbone that the album aligns itself along, a logical combination of Cleveland smoke (Bone Thugs-N-Harmony incidentally show up on “Lord”), Death Row menace, and classic New York rap radio that’s perfectly tailored to A$AP Ferg’s reverential package.
When Trap Lord flashes– Ferg’s speed-it-up-slow-it-down verse on “Work” is pure thrill– it’s brilliant. But despite its status as his commercial debut, it’s easiest to approach it as a low-stakes introduction to Ferg, an artist who, like Rocky and other newcomers like Travi$ Scott, has the ability to push the boundaries of the genre toward more experimental sounds and ideas. Though Trap Lord’s vision is refracted through split personalities– for better or for worse– A$AP Ferg still sounds like a star in the making.