By: Emmett Robinson Smith –
ASAP Ferg has been on a hot streak. He packed his 2013 album, Trap Lord, with aggressive trap songs, including the menacing “Shabba,” which has maintained popularity and become his calling card. Since then, Ferg has supplied a streak of remarkable guest features on different rappers’ tracks (Meek Mill’s “B-Boy” and Freddie Gibbs’s “Old English” are some standouts.)
Ferg’s rapping prior to his new album established him as ASAP Gang’s aggressive, sharp-tongued bulldog. His nimble, often double-time flow paired with his street-hardened lyrics made Ferg one to watch leading up to his new album, Always Strive and Prosper. This release, though, finds Ferg heading in a musical direction, as he fills the collection with softer, introspective subject matter and more varied production styles.
That’s not to say that he’s abandoned belligerent trap music for good. “Swipe Life” is his best banger since “Shabba,” featuring an undeniable Rick Ross feature over a bed of glass-cutter synths courtesy of producer VERYRVRE. But for every hard-hitting track on the album, there exists a reflective one. This balance makes it clear that Ferg is concerned now more than ever with creating a more cohesive album rather than a jumbled collection of sonic assaults. Indeed, though Trap Lord was thrilling at times, its lack of variety proved tiresome.
Ferg’s stylistic expansion on Always Strive and Prosper pays dividends about half the time. On “Beautiful People” Ferg’s flow is smooth as butter as he prioritizes family and a clear mind over drugs and gangsterism: “I’m the ghetto apostle, come on, follow I’ll lead you / Tell them put down the pipes, liquor bottles and needles / Treat your family right, your mommy ain’t gonna need you,” he preaches. Kendrick Lamar’s influence is evident on the track, in terms of both content and flow. He never reaches Lamar’s heights (who does?) but the song works as a rewarding departure for Ferg.
But the departures don’t always pan out. “Strive” is blatant radio fodder, and it’s ill-fitting on Ferg. DJ Mustard churns out a cookie-cutter dance beat while Ferg slogs his way through the most pedestrian of hooks: “You can be you today / You can be you tonight / Know you’re feelin really great / It’s gon’ be all right.” The song fails because it erases any trace of what makes Ferg great, replacing his strengths – agile flows, hard bars, charisma and a masterful sense of rhythm – with his shortcomings – a terrible singing voice and a lack of melodic sensibility. “Why can’t I make house music?” he said in an XXL interview. You can, Ferg – but it’s important for an artist to know his or her limitations. Luckily, on the sensual, easy-listening “I Love You,” much of the legwork is left to Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign, two of pop music’s current hookmasters. The result here is much more effective.
Though Ferg’s desire to evolve his style is commendable, it’s misguided at times. It’s hard to listen to most of the album without thinking that someone else is doing the same thing, only better. Always Strive and Prosper is worth a look, but it’s difficult to see it being in rotation for anyone for more than a couple weeks. As hip-hop’s most influential figures are dropping high-quality projects left, right, and centre, lesser rappers such as Ferg can’t help but fall by the wayside.
Essential Tracks: “Beautiful People”, “I Love You”.