A$AP Ferg – ‘Always Strive And Prosper’ Review

The A$AP Mob member’s second album is personal and poppy, and features a guest spot from his mum

As any member of D12 who isn’t Eminem will tell you, it can be hard living in the shadow of a hip hop great. A$AP Ferg is not A$AP Rocky, but he’s managed to establish himself independently as a purveyor of fun trap earworms such as ‘Shabba’ and ‘Dope Walk’.Yet Ferg evidently aspires to be taken more seriously. His second album is a much more personal affair, a result of having mined his formative years for inspiration.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z31Gaczp9VU

He’s certainly not the first rapper to get all nostalgic about the ’hood, but the picture he paints of life in Harlem’s Hamilton Heights (AKA ‘Hungry Ham’) is particularly vivid: his street might “smell like s**t, vomit, urine” with crack dealers on the corner, but it’s also populated by memorable characters doing everything they can to survive. Ferg doesn’t pretend to have been a gangster; instead he touchingly recalls his frustration at working at Ben & Jerry’s, going nowhere and “gettin’ a belly”. There’s even a guest appearance from Mama Ferg.

The problem is that Ferg fails to provide a coherent musical vision to go with these compelling reminiscences. ‘Hungry Ham’ and ‘Strive’ are two of the key lyrics, but they’re paired with annoying cartoon trap and hip house beats courtesy of Skrillex and DJ Mustard respectively. The only productions that complement the narrative are those helmed by DJ Khalil and Clams Casino, whose innovative cloud rap beats helped propel A$AP Rocky to prominence. ‘Psycho’ is a potent swirl of Ghostface-style storytelling, while the soulful sweep of ‘Beautiful People’ (which features a typically wise intro from Chuck D) recalls ‘Graduation’-era Kanye West. Ultimately Ferg sounds most at home on the solid trap bangers, yet his rapping isn’t particularly distinctive – so while Future collaboration ‘New Level’ is a highlight, it just sounds like a Future track.

Trap lord, misty-eyed raconteur or pop crossover star? Ferg’s hoping to be all these things at once – he just doesn’t quite have the charisma to pull it off.

Details

Record label: A$AP Worldwide
Release date: 22 Apr, 2016