Saturday, July 20

Album Review: ‘Always Strive and Prosper’

(Courtesy of RCA Records)

(Courtesy of RCA Records)

"Always Strive and Prosper" A$AP Ferg RCA Records

A$AP Ferg has shed his “Fergivicious” demeanor and repented to the “Hood Pope” one in hopes of finding himself.

A three-year period has dramatically transformed the life of A$AP Ferg, from achieving success for his 2013 album “Trap Lord,” to the tragic loss of close friend and A$AP Mob founder A$AP Yams in 2015. Ferg’s second studio album, “Always Strive and Prosper,” is an intimately contemplative record that explores the rapper’s vulnerabilities as a musician, son, boyfriend and role model to his community.

Ferg’s personas – the Trap Lord, Hood Pope and Fergenstein – on previous records bleed into the unifying existence of Darold Ferguson Jr. “Always Strive And Prosper” is split into the three consecutive personalities of Ferg: the Trap Lord who grows up on the streets of Harlem, A$AP Ferg who proudly reps the Mob and the culminating arrival of Darold Ferguson Jr., who embodies the emotional paradox of acknowledging his past while embracing his future at the close of the album.

“Always Strive and Prosper” opens with “Rebirth,” a distressing rendition of a child’s bedtime prayer rapped over a hauntingly descending beat. Fluctuating between lucid verses of hyper self-awareness and guilt shrouded in expectations of others, A$AP Ferg readies the listener for an exploration of his private thoughts and strikingly diverges from previous themes of wealth, women and violence on his 2014 mixtape “Ferg Forever.” Ferg introduces himself as a sensitive man reflecting on honoring his upbringing and creating a positive future for his family.

“Hungry Ham” features an eccentric Skrillex beat that is neither rowdy nor unique. Trap Lord Ferg jumps in, masterfully wrangling the beat as he details the struggles of poverty, violence and drug abuse overwhelming his hometown, Hamilton Heights in Harlem, otherwise known as Hungry Ham.

“Psycho” continues the family-based narrative as it forges a classic East Coast, hip-hop vibe in a story about Ferg’s Uncle Psycho and his admiration of the antics of the hood. In fluid reflections of Harlem, Ferg’s quirky delivery and infectious ad-libs contribute to his conflicting pride of Hungry Ham and the adverse effects of the neighborhood that consumed his family and friends.

The hard-hitting beat of “Let It Bang” bleeds into the strings of “New Level,” which is immediately overwhelmed by Ferg’s signature ad-libs and barks in the background. Ferg attacks the beat effortlessly as his flow swerves over the monstrous horns and creates hype, celebrating his achievements in social mobility.

A dynamic progression from rowdy A$AP Ferg to pensive Darold Ferguson Jr. commences with “Beautiful People,” on which he raps over the spiritual messages of Chuck D and Mama Ferg, Darold’s mother.

“Let You Go” continues Ferg’s grappling with love as he addresses his longtime girlfriend: “I’m conscious of everything I recite / Clench the soul through fingertips when I write / I don’t really know if it’s wrong or right / I feel like God put me here to shed the light.” A much more sensitive artist develops as Ferg sheds his tough facade of a bold rapper for an emotional evaluation of his mistakes.

Ferg closes the album with “Grandma,” a soul-baring song on which Darold laments for his grandmother, ponders the life events she has missed and describes how it translates to his current relationship. The chorus wails for Ferg’s grandmother in the most vulnerable song on “Always Strive And Prosper,” concluding with a sense of unfinished sentiment.

The album chronicles the growth of A$AP Ferg as a rapper and as an individual struggling with the repercussions of his past and the temptations of his future. Navigating intermittent narrative skits, A$AP Ferg holds his own in the exploration of Darold Ferguson Jr. In “Always Strive and Prosper,” Ferg manipulates his goofiness, energy and past style to construct a compelling story of internal conflict and desire for self-acceptance.

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