After three studio albums and countless mixtapes, it seems Ace Hood is as determined as ever to prove himself with the release of Trials & Tribulations. His first studio album since 2011’s Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Ace has spent the past two years soaring upward through the Hip Hop ranks on the back of monstrous singles and star-studded remixes such as DJ Khaled’s “Bitches & Bottles” and Hood’s own smash hit “Bugatti”, the remix featuring heavy hitters Wiz Khalifa, T.I., Meek Mill, French Montana, 2 Chainz, Future, DJ Khaled and Birdman.

Ace is no stranger to the Hip Hop world, but has yet to find a formula for success, struggling to achieve a balance between honest, quality music and album sales. Projects like Hood’s 2012 mixtape Starvation showed signs of promise, whereas this year’s Starvation 2seemed like a step backwards as far as accessibility goes.

Trials & Tribulations plays like an autobiography, making it his most personal and insightful project to date. The introduction starts with a church sermon entitled “Testimony.” The intro sets the tone for the entire album, which showcases Ace’s religious background and also finds him questioning whether he wants to be a man of God or a man of the streets. The title track continues this theme, each line detailing the obstacles Ace has overcome in recent years. He begs for forgiveness while describing his personal demons, and mentions the recent death of his infant daughter, which he holds himself accountable for.

On the following track, “Another Statistic”, the theme is worldlier, with Ace addressing the difficulties young black men face growing up in America. He references the Trayvon Martin incident, describing the fallen teen as “another young innocent brother who met a bully”. Hood even questions the priorities of political figures when citing the Aurora and Newtown shootings on “Fuck Da World.” However, Hood’s attempt to sound conscious and have listeners dig deeper may not ring entirely true, seeing as the artist’s biggest claim to fame is his having woken up in a new Bugatti. This isn’t to say that those issues aren’t worth speaking on, but most of the paying masses want a hook, not sentiment. You can’t knock Ace for trying, though.  

Of course, not all the tracks on Trials & Tribulations are deep or contemplative. Hood clearly aimed for both the club and the street with “Bugatti,” its remix and “We Outchea.” Unfortunately, having been out since January, “Bugatti” is starting to feel a a bit tired. The album picks up again with “How I’m Raised”, the mix of horns, trap style beats and extraterrestrial sound effects complementing the description of a paper-chasing street life; the vocoder on the hook may drive some listeners away, though. Also, on other more pop-oriented tracks like “Rider”, which features Chris Brown, Ace sounds out of place and somewhat clumsy.

Like much of the music coming out of Florida, most of the tracks on Trials & Tribulations are based on a hard-hitting, snare-driven bass foundation - trap music, essentially. It actually works well with Ace’s style of rhyming, but by the time you get to tracks like “Fuck Da World” and “Have Mercy”, you start to feel like you’ve heard this song already. Fortunately, soulful, sample-based songs such as “My Bible” and “Mama” ensure that fans leave Trials & Tribulations with positivity and hope on the mind, so there is diversity here. The piano chords on “The Come Up”, which features Anthony Hamilton, are a much-needed change of pace and bring variety to the album as well.

There is no doubt that Trials & Tribulations is an impressive project from Ace Hood, the question is will the album have lasting appeal? Either way, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. As for his future as an artist, what will set his work apart from the other Hip Hop albums of today is the way he balances his personal approach to making music, as well as how much he’s willing to compromise. Trials & Tribulations may be the album that finally separates Ace from the pack.