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A$AP Ferg - Always Strive And Prosper (Album Review)

Friday, 29 April 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

It could be argued that a rap clique is redundant if listeners only check for one or two emcees on any given track. When blasting Wu-Tang Clan you might pick out Raekwon’s bravado, ODB’s surreal flows, GZA’s wordplay or Inspectah Deck’s technical wizardry but, by contrast, A$AP Mob has always felt like A$AP Rocky and some random dudes.

When Rocky transitioned to making major label records, though, he floundered creatively. Waiting in the wings was A$AP Ferg, who surprised everybody with the absurdly entertaining ‘Trap Lord’ in 2013. Riding the trap wave of the time, he trampled over obscure southern-style beats with authority and even a degree of comedy.

Anyone expecting ‘Trap Lord II’ will inevitably be disappointed as ‘Always Strive and Prosper’ is far more commercial in its ambitions. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but the prospect of an 18 track project complete with skits and a Skrillex feature immediately sets alarm bells ringing.

Ferg doesn’t entirely embrace pop-rap, instead splitting his experimentation into different sections. Confusingly, he gets the obnoxious chart-oriented stuff out of the way first. Rebirth is a bizarre opener, with inharmonious background vocals and a jarring beat leading into the horrific Hungry Ham, a tribute to his housing project that gets lost in a sea of monotonous vocal hooks.

Strive, a clumsy attempt at a dance-pop anthem, is even worse. Ferg is like a fish out of water, rapping about his ‘Uncle Terry selling rock’ amid a bouncy piano-led beat. After a few listens you realise that these tracks are meant to introduce a specific narrative about Ferg’s aspirations, but it’s hard to notice because the beats are so bad.

This is an issue throughout and Ferg sounds uncomfortable moving out of his comfort zone. He tries to shoehorn in a few conscious tracks during the latter portion of the record, but the results are no better. Beautiful People is more cheesy than empowering, while the Chris Brown feature I Love You might as well be one of the R&B singer’s b-sides (if he even has b-sides).

When Ferg does revert to his colourful ‘Trap Lord’ style he’s infinitely happier. On token bangers Let It Bang and Yammy Gang he’s demonstrably more creative with his flows, lyrics and vocal tones. He references ODB’s persona on the former, illuminating the reasons his own approach is so deliberately eccentric.

Nobody would deny that A$AP Ferg has plenty of personality and his charisma doesn’t just elevate mediocre beats, it also helps to gloss over his limitations as a lyricist. ‘Trap Lord’ might have been formulaic at points, but its single-mindedness worked. Unfortunately, the production on ‘Always Strive and Prosper’ is so tastelessly extravagant that even a showman like Ferg is lost in the mix.

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