Concert preview: “Aggression meets elegance” in rapper A$AP Ferg

By
From the October 31, 2013 edition

When rapper A$AP Ferg insisted he didn’t want to be one of the walking dead during a late October interview it had nothing to do with a potential Halloween costume.

Rather, the rising MC, who headlines Atrocity at Sugar Bar on Thursday, Oct. 31, was explaining one of the reasons he never fell prey to the drug epidemic that dragged down so many growing up in his Harlem neighborhood.

“Because [addicts] looked like zombies, and I didn’t want to look like no zombie,” he said. “I had uncles and shit that was on drugs, and growing up in Harlem you see crack houses everywhere and people slumped in the streets. There were blocks we couldn’t walk through … because there were gunshots all the time.”

These rougher elements are scattered throughout the rapper’s debut album, Trap Lord, surfacing everywhere from the Hamsterdam swirl of “Cocaine Castle,” which paints a hyper-realistic portrait of addiction and desperation, to “Murda Something,” a bloody revenge fantasy that makes “Scarface” feel like a Rated-PG romp by comparison. Thankfully Ferg, born Darold Ferguson, Jr. 25 years ago, balances these violent urges with a more experimental side in a combination he described as “aggression meets elegance.”

“I’m artistic, but I’m from the hood,” he said. “It’s those opposites that attract. It’s the yin and the yang that look so good together.”

So while his words tend toward street-level tales and chest-thumping boasts, his beats are modest by comparison, composed almost solely of airy, ethereal soundscapes that serve as sonic Ambien of sorts. This helps explain, in part, why Ferg almost never raises his voice on the album — no matter the intensity of the situation he might find himself in on a given track.

“I’m not the type of person who likes to scream on things,” he said. “And since the beats I usually choose are slow and ambient, I can use my voice as an instrument to take the song to another level.”

He does this by frequently switching up his flow — the rapper can shift effortlessly from a sing-song tone to gruff outbursts — flashing a technician’s approach he developed in those childhood years spent absorbing music by the likes of the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur and, uh, Kurt Cobain.

“Well not really [Cobain’s] music, but it was his style [and] the way he carried himself,” Ferg said. “He didn’t get caught up in all that Hollywood shit, and I identify with that. I don’t feel like a need to wear jewelry and be caught up in that whole thing. I just want to be a regular guy and make art.”