Showing posts with label bone thugs-n-harmony. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bone thugs-n-harmony. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

video review: 'trap lord' by a$ap ferg

I talk about the new album from A$AP Ferg titled 'Trap Lord', and the reasons why trap music doesn't always work with me.

Oh, and outside of maybe two songs, the album's pretty mediocre. Sorry.

album review: 'trap lord' by a$ap ferg

Here's something you might not know: the term 'trap' often heard in rap and electronica is significantly different than you might think.

You see, in electronica and dubstep, 'trap' tended to refer to a specific type of instrumentation, complete with accelerating 808 drums, an excess of hi-hats, menacing string sections, and moody, darker layers of synthesizers. Now I'll admit right out of the gate that I'm not the biggest fan of this particular musical style, but I can definitely see its appeal, particularly when balanced out with the right lyrics. After all, cold, bleak minimalism can work if you have a performer with enough charisma or force of personality to back it up (which is rare enough in its own right, keep that in mind). 

Unfortunately, the definition of trap instrumentation is very different than what is typically considered 'trap' lyrics, which uses the term much more literally as a reference to the trapped lifestyles that many rappers struggled to escape, the traps created thanks to poverty, societal inequalities, or other such factors. And to be fair, the places where trap instrumentation and trap lyrics are balanced out can lead to some compelling symmetry within the song. Granted, it won't be much of my thing - to me, too much trap music goes for bombast over grit, which loses some texture - but I can appreciate it when it works.

The problem though, as one could easily say if looking at the Billboard Hot 100, is that this symmetry between trap instrumentation and lyrics rarely gets popular in a big way on the charts. Instead, many producers and rappers have co-opted the trap aesthetic and instrumentation to build their conventional rap songs about money, cars, and hos - and believe me, for often than not it doesn't work at all. This is actually for a fairly simple reason, believe it or not: it's hard to glamorize a lifestyle as attractive to the mainstream audience if you pair it with production and instrumentation that is bleak, dark, and makes it seem like the artist isn't having any fun. It makes the songs come across as astoundingly soulless to me, and often far darker than I suspect the artist intended. And sure, it'd be one thing if the rappers were looking to satirize their lives of partying and paint them as hollow or token, but it's clear that more often than not, they're entirely sincere.

And this isn't me coming down against vapid hip-hop either - when placed in the right context, superficial themes in hip-hop (or indeed any genre of music) can work just fine. Hell, this is all coming from the guy who'll defend crunk more than the majority of critics. As I've mentioned before, there's a place for shallow, hedonistic material, and while it might be indulgent, vacuous, or dumb as hell, it can occasionally be rather entertaining nonetheless (basically my general defense for most hair metal). The problem here doesn't come from the luxury raps, but the placement of said raps against a dour, humourless instrumentation that sucks away the possibilities of fun or awesome bombast.

So with all of that in mind, what could I hope to expect from A$AP Ferg, whose debut album is titled Trap Lord (very much analogous to T.I.'s Trap Muzik from 2003)? I've heard reasonable things about the guy from the underground, but I know exactly how much pressure to conform with the mainstream has ruined all too many rappers who had underground street cred. And while I wasn't intimately familiar with his mixtapes, I was a little encouraged that he somehow managed to dredge out Bone Thugs-n-Harmony from wherever they were and pull them onto the album. It couldn't be that bad, right?