A$AP Ferg has long been the workhorse of the A$AP Mob. Whilst A$AP Rocky and Yams received the lions share of press attention as the group’s popularity rose, Ferg has steadfastly remained the most consistently interesting member. On Trap Lord he created an insular sonic world that was very much his own, filled with menacing synth beats and creative braggadocio. Whilst it was a strong record, it was hardly a commercial success, which seems to be what Ferg is courting with Always Strive and Prosper.
A look at the guest list for the album reads like a who’s-who of contemporary hip-hop. The producers include Clams Casino, Skrillex, DJ Mustard and No I.D., whilst the features list ranges from Future to Missy Elliott. It’s evident that Ferg is looking to diversify his sound and audience, and for the most part, he succeeds.
After Rebirth (a pleasant, but brief intro), the first proper track on the album is the Skrillex-produced Hungry Ham. Instead of the wild electro of Wild for the Night (his A$AP Rocky collaboration), Skrillex’s beat for Hungry Ham takes the form of a comparatively restrained swirl of distortion and sirens. It’s urgent and menacing, and makes a good fit for Ferg’s lyrics about growing up in Harlem – “I’m from 143rd, I come from Hungry Ham, ya heard / where the pigs’ll lay you down and make a n***a bite the curb” Strive has a house-styled beat by DJ Mustard, which fits oddly on the otherwise hip-hop based album, but still complements Ferg’s energetic flow well. Missy Elliott’s guest verse once again shows that she is an unparalleled talent, and she embodies an effortless cool.
Let It Bang is the strongest track on the album, and it’s one of the simplest, with Ferg rapping about his Uncle Psycho (a recurring character on several songs) over a minimalist beat. Ferg’s flow varies, and switches up regularly, making him enthralling to listen to. Schoolboy Q’s distinctive growl also lends the song some edge and menace, in his verse. New Level, featuring Future, isn’t quite as distinctive, and suffers from a repetitive hook, but the beat is visceral and intense, and Future sounds positively unhinged.
The contrasting styles of these tracks outlines the main problem with Always Strive and Prosper, which is that whilst each track is individually great, they don’t flow particularly well together, and the album feels like it lacks the overarching tonal consistency of Trap Lord. The material about Uncle Psycho comes the closest to a theme for the album, but he’s restricted to a few songs. However, even if the album doesn’t really add up to more than the sum of its parts, each track is excellent, showcasing the talents of Ferg, and his wide range of collaborators at their best. Ferg exudes potential, and if he were to create a more distinctive concept for his next album, he could easily create a masterpiece.