Ace Hood is still trying to figure it out. After releasing three albums and a bevy of mixtapes, the Florida rapper has yet to find a winning formula for success, both in terms of the quality of his music and in album sales. Certain projects, like last year’s reflective Starvation mixtape, have shown glimmers of promise, while others, including his latest mixtape, Starvation II, have been a step backward. And his proper albums, despite being backed by major promo, have been mostly forgettable and have failed to make a dent on the charts. This hasn’t diminished his support group, though; DJ Khaled still views him as a sort of protégé, while his Cash Money cohorts have decided to welcome him to the family officially by signing him. Thankfully, Ace decided not to squander the opportunity, creating his most personal and insightful record yet in Trials & Tribulations.
The album begins with a church sermon intro, setting a tone of personal conflict. Ace is unsure of whether he wants to be a man of God or the streets, and he devotes a majority of the songs on Trials & Tribulations trying to answer that question. It’s a conflict we’ve heard many times in hip-hop – choosing between a life of crime and innocence – but it can still be compelling when pulled off correctly. Ace manages to be semi-successful at it by mixing together lyrics of self-deprecation and social commentary. On the title track, for example, he begs for forgiveness after listing off his personal demons, from his hustles as a teenager to the recent death of his infant daughter, which he seemingly holds himself accountable for. Elsewhere, on “Another Statistic,” he addresses the difficulties young Black men face growing up, citing Trayvon Martin and how he was “another young innocent brother who met a bully.” He even takes on the Aurora and Newtown shootings on “Fuck Da World” and questions the priorities of political officials in the aftermath. At times, his attempts to sound conscious come off a little too vague and generic, but you can’t knock him for encouraging the listener to dig deeper.
Of course, not all of Trials & Tribulations is introspective. Ace is still aiming for the club on certain tracks. His enthusiasm and rapid-fire flow sound at home over the menacing summer jam “Bugatti” with the warbling hook of Future or on the triumphant “We Outchea”. But on other tracks, like the flimsy Chris Brown-assisted “Rider,” he comes off clumsy and out of place.
The album’s production also holds him back at times. Like most music coming out of Florida right now, Trials & Tribulations is built on hard-hitting, snare-driven bass music. These beats are infectious and perfectly suited for Ace’s relentless style of rapping, but they can get repetitive after a while. By the time Young Chop’s looming backdrop for “Fuck Da World” comes on, you feel as though you’ve heard it a couple times over already. The sample-based production on tracks like “My Bible” and the piano chords on “The Come Up” are a much-needed change of pace.
Regardless of its hiccups, though, Trials & Tribulations is a step forward for Ace. Although he’ll always be best known for tracks like “Hustle Hard” and “Bugatti”, it’ll be his more personal work that’ll separate him from the pack. Perhaps this will be the album that will finally put him in the limelight.—Reed Jackson