ASAP Ferg takes a more serious and conceptual route on his sophomore album, and the change of pace pays off big time.
From their inception, ASAP Mob has never been interested in conceptual, thematic albums, and that’s fine. Their debut posse mixtape Lords Never Worry introduced the New York collective as a group of emcees that had excellent production, spitfire flows, and earworm hooks, yet no semblance of topical or lyrical ability whatsoever. This is because, even though the Mob are from New York, southern hip-hop acts such as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and UGK are a much larger influence on them than the likes of Biggie Smalls, Big L, or Nas. Throughout the 2010s, ASAP Rocky and ASAP Ferg’s handful of mixtapes and albums continued to expand the group’s sound, creating high quality trap music that put them above the similar acts like Migos and Chief Keef. However, with Always Strive and Prosper, ASAP Ferg has not only distanced himself from the trap music of his past, but has also created the most mature and conceptual ASAP Mob album to date.
For the first six tracks, Ferg raps about an unnamed uncle of his who was his idol during his youth. “Rebirth” is an explosive intro, with a wonky synth beat that synchs perfectly with his insane flow. Lyrically, the Mob member comes to terms with his eventual death, and is telling his family what to do should he pass away before them. It’s a sentiment that makes sense as the album progresses into “Hungry Ham”, “Strive”, the “Meet My Crazy Uncle” skit, “Psycho”, and “Let It Bang”, songs that portray Ferg’s uncle as a man who sleeps with various women, drinks excessively, fights too often, and parties everyday, making him the perfect, lovable figure for a young boy like Ferg to cling onto in his childhood. The New York rapper, as a thirty-one year old man now, still loves his uncle, but has also come to realize that he isn’t a good role model for a young boy. It’s a mature observation, one that’s much more fulfilling than the prototypical gangster, lean-sipping imagery throughout Trap Lord.
However, the biggest strength of Always Strive and Prosper is that Ferg delivers his newfound topical lyricism with the same excellent production, hooks and flow that made his previous album so enjoyable. His chemistry with Crystal Caines on the hook of “Hungry Ham” makes for a fantastic chorus, Missy Elliot and Ferg compete for the best flow on the dancehall track “Strive”, and the grand, explosive atmosphere on “Let It Bang” fit Ferg and Schoolboy Q’s flow like a glove. In fact, a few conscientious emcees might learn a thing in two from Ferg when it comes to making poignant songs whose sonic qualities are as good as their message.
The second third of the album discards the conceptuality of the first six tracks in exchange for straightforward bangers. “New Levels”, the lead single for the album, has a decent Future verse, “Yammy Gang” could easily have snuck onto Trap Lord, while “Swipe Left” and “Uzi Gang” have first-rate Rick Ross and Lil Uzi Vert features. While these are good songs that showcase the ASAP Ferg that we’ve come to love, their lyrical content is diametrically opposed to that of the rest of the album, and dilutes the idea of familial love that he is trying to convey.
This isn’t too much of a disappointment, though, since Ferg saves his best for last. “Beautiful People”, featuring none other than Chuck D of Public Enemy, is actually a gorgeously layered gospel-infused hip-hop song with a touching spoken word ending by Ferg’s mother that’s reminiscent of the “Pop’s Rap” songs on many of Common’s early albums. “Let You Go” is another heartfelt tune, this time about Ferg trying to reconcile with his girlfriend after she accuses him of cheating. Big Sean performs the best hook of the album on “World Is Mine”, a song dealing with accomplishing one’s dream and the hardships that follow, and “I Love You”, a track with plenty of organic piano and percussion, actually has a decent Chris Brown chorus. This leads into the last song, “Grandma”, a heartfelt ode to Ferg’s grandmother where the New Yorker is at his most vulnerable, emotive, and sorrowful. It’s not his best song instrumentally, but his sentiments and impassioned lyricism make the song a fantastic finisher for the album.
With the exception of a few minor faults here and there, Always Strive and Prosper is an excellent sophomore album for ASAP Ferg. Although many would have been satisfied to have another Trap Lord, he pushed himself into uncharted territory, and the risk paid off. With Always Strive and Prosper, we now know about Ferg’s family, his faith, his ambitions, and his past, and his story is more beautiful that anyone ever expected.