I slept soundly on A$AP Ferg until some time last year when I heard the “Work” remix, featuring French Montana, Trinidad James, Schoolboy Q and fellow A$AP cohort Rocky. The energy on that record alone inspired me to pick up 2013’s Trap Lord out of curiosity (and by pick up, I mean “save” on Spotify) and I was pleasantly surprised. I slept on Ferg before this point mostly because of the disdain I have for the music of A$AP Rocky, front-runner of the A$AP crew. Something about this guy in little-sister braids calling himself “pretty” on songs that I couldn’t quite rock to. Nevertheless, Ferg brought something different to the table on Trap Lord and later records like the hilarious “Doe-Active”, which indicated an ambition beyond what his friend was offering musically.
I was fully onboard when I stumbled upon the Complex City Cypher where Ferg appeared alongside RATKING’s Wiki and one of my favorite current rappers, Your Old Droog, with jazz musician Christian Scott and band providing the musical backdrop. Ferg’s compelling verse from the cypher eventually ended up on “Beautiful People” on Always Strive And Prosper, which was much to my disappointment, one of few bright spots on the album.
“Strive” is easily the worst song on the album by far and (because I don’t usually lend my ear to things I think will be horrible) probably the worst thing I’ve heard all year. While I didn’t have high hopes for a Missy Elliott feature, her input ended up being the only salvageable part of the song for me. Ferg’s hook sounds like a rather dry imitation of dance-pop music one would expect to hear from someone not quite old enough to recall when dance and house and hip-hop used to get equal burn on the same urban radio stations. This sounded like Barbie Girl 2016. I’ll be looking forward to a remix at some point of “Swipe Life”, which unfortunately squanders a Rick Ross feature on a song with a weak concept and chorus, but a hard-hitting beat and decent input from Rozay.
The very busy “Uzi Gang” was my first introduction to the recently popular Lil Uzi Vert and I’m not surprised to be saying I won’t be looking for further material from him (the Internets tend to suck at recommending rappers). Big Sean appears on “World Is Mine”, yet again dropping the same middle-school-notebook bars that young rap fans seem inexplicably impressed with since his debut. Needless to say, that song was also a dud. I wanted to enjoy “New Level”, but Future’s guest appearance seemed like a throwaway, as if Ferg could have easily saved his imprint some cash and just paid Future’s vocal stunt double, Desiigner, instead. Oh, and “I Love You” featuring Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign was a dose of guy-with-nosering music I didn’t need in my life.
On the bright side, “Let It Bang”, an ode to wild but troubled uncles, is a song I can’t get enough of and really should have been the standard the rest of the album was held to throughout its production, seeing as how this song was released as a single relatively early on. This was a topic I can relate to personally due to losing two uncles over the past couple of years. Schoolboy Q manages to redeem himself for me after what I felt was an underwhelming last album (Oxymoron) and other recent records like “Groovy Tony” indicate he’s on an improvement streak. “Psycho” worked perfectly as an intro of sorts to “Let It Bang”, discussing the life of Ferg’s Uncle Psycho in an honest but endearing way, while Uncle Psycho himself has some dialogue that bleeds over onto the next track. The dreamy production serves well as a precursor to the energy on “Bang”.
Ferg has displayed the Drunken Master musicality and off-kilter melodic tendencies of an ODB before, but lacks the unbridled creativity to pull off the same chaos here. Ferg at times has the ferocity of a young Busta Rhymes, but seems to shy away from showing and proving that beneath all that energy he can also rhyme well, as Busta often did. Always Strive And Prosper is, to me, a botched attempt at trying to reign in some of the wildness that made Trap Lord so interesting. Even the random, seemingly freestyled loosie he dropped days before the album’s release would have been better than some of the finished records he chose for this album. Ultimately, due to the rather simple palates of many new rap fans, Ferg definitely stands to prosper from the blatantly commercial leanings of this album, but I don’t see where he’s striving to be recognized as an improving MC or one who stands out from his decidedly less creative contemporaries who don’t have the same potential I witnessed on Trap Lord.