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A$AP Ferg's Always Strive and Prosper is arena rap in jet-set dance-pop drag

"Always Strive and Prosper"

Release date: 22 April 2016
6/10
AAP Ferg Always Strive and Prosper
27 April 2016, 13:10 Written by Ryan Lunn
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Most contemporary rap collectives are just fads that fade away along with hype, leaving just one, or maybe two - three’s pushing it - genuinely talented rapper(s) in the spotlight.

Odd Future were the perfect example of this - when the hype and controversy around them died down, only Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean (who’s not even a rapper) and, maybe, Tyler, the Creator (who’s better as a business head) were left as the credible propositions in a collective that had over 20 members. And just as it looked like the A$AP Mob only had one promising rapper - A$AP Rocky, who was always destined to become a superstar (A$AP Twelvyy and A$AP Nast are good rappers, but they’re aren’t superstars) - A$AP Ferg stepped up to the task, showing strong determination and desire to step out of Rocky’s shadow.

Always Strive and Prosper is Ferg’s second major label album for Sony, and it comes as a clear indication of his intentions - he wants to be in the charts, and he wants to be huge. Though Ferg may lack the boyish unpredictability of Young Thug or the smart, cartoonish wordplay of Chance the Rapper that makes them superstars, his strength is in the beats and he relies on them to do the talking.

As a rapper, Ferg’s limited. He’s not oafish like Dr. Dre, but he has a stiff masculine growl like Rick Ross (who features on this album) and Killer Mike. But, you can hear the sheer anger in Killer Mike's voice, as he compensates his lack of versatility by channelling his dissatisfaction into hugely moving protest music, meaning he's become the most relevant rapper of recent times. It shows that Ferg can still make it despite his lack of vocal resources. He’s not angry or particularly political, but on Prosper he’s willing to put his emotions on the table, making it worth a listen.

Prosper does let the beats do most of the talking, in terms of Ferg’s ambition at least. Overall, the production is so rich it has its own offshore tax affairs, but the first half of the album in particular,is the sound of Ferg clearly trying to reach into the vacant space for a new rap star in the charts. “Hungry Ham” (featuring chart rat Skrillex), “Strive” and “Let It Bang” are the biggest examples of Ferg compromising his ghetto rap principles in favour of club-ready, MDMA-induced headaches. He’s more than willing to show his chart aspirations, which is by no means a bad thing, but it’s the songs themselves which fall short.

It’s only the try-hard crossover hits that are disappointing, though - they’re kitschy club beats doused in petrol, but without a match to light. However, the second half of the album sees Ferg sounding more honest and personal - more confessional. “Let You Go” and “World is Mine” are both antidotes to Ferg’s hyperbolic ambition - on the latter, he's dismissive of success (“She trying to tell me that the world is mine, but you know it ain’t true”) while sounding deflated and, possibily, beaten.

“Beautiful People” and “Grandma” are the most intimate and vulnerable tracks on Prosper, and also the best. The former features Mama Ferg (Ferg’s mum, duh) and the latter brings the album to a close with Ferg revealing his insecurities about signing to a major label and admitting that, above all, he just wants to make his family proud (“All I ever wanted was a minute with my grandma/I would tell her how I made it”) - Ferg may occasionally try and reach too high, but his feet never leave the ground in the process.

The guest stars on Prosper are the biggest example of Ferg’s aspiration to become a pop-rap star - he’s hoping for a commercial breakthrough with the chart-bumping tactical inclusion of Skrillex and Chris Brown alongside the, unfortunately, wasted guest verses from rap heavyweights like Missy Elliot, Schoolboy Q and Future, which get swept underneath Ferg’s delusions of grandeur. Always Strive and Prosper is arena rap in jet-set dance-pop drag, and while A$AP Ferg’s talent occasionally flickers when it’s directed in the wrong places, it shines brightest when he’s just being himself.

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