That whole Trap sound has been grating on the ears for a while now, it was okay in 2010, ’11, ’12 but it’s fast becoming a homogenised and indistinguishable mess. The majority of Trap is mediocre, it possesses none of the credibility of Boom Bap, none of the skill of double-time, it doesn’t possess the hardcore aspects of Gangsta Rap and it unfortunately includes all the worst parts of nineties Player-Hop. Trap really is one of the worst sub-genres in Hip-Hop music, it’s like a fashion show headed by a bunch of weird post-modernist minstrels, showing their gold teeth and strangling their own fucking necks with their gaudy chains. A$AP Ferg’s 2013 album “Trap Lord” was just what the title suggested, Ferg proclaiming that he was the king of Trap, and that might have been fine three years ago but today that type of sound is now out-of-date, so knowing this, Ferg’s follow-up studio album “Always Strive And Prosper” tries to appeal to a wider audience. A$AP Ferg seems to have gone away and created an album that is a only a third Trap, a third Pop, and a third Conscious Rap, and although this may be an attempt at growth and maturity there’s still too much atrociousness amongst the acceptable. The problem with this mixed-bag is that the album sounds like Ferg has frantically rushed to include all kinds of styles and the end result isn’t as good as it could have been.
The album begins with “Rebirth”, a two-step, staccato intro track with vocal pitch-shifting that will undoubtedly appeal to his original fans, but the lyric “a Trap Lord I will remain” instantly becomes a lie when you get to the second song. That song is “Hungry Ham” a Sesame Street sounding club track courtesy of Skrillex, the lyrical content is fine but the pessimistic lyrics don’t quite gel with the upbeat production which I assume is targeted to a generic Hip-Pop-cum-Pop-Step audience.
If that wasn’t “Pop” enough for you there’s the ultra-chart-friendly “Strive”, a horridly corny track that’s somewhere between nineties House and noughties R’n’B-slash-E.D.M. The beat suits Missy Elliot more than A$AP Ferg but it is without a doubt one of the worst sounding songs I’ve heard for a long time, and I’ve listened to Master P’s Empire CD.
Thankfully, “Psycho” is up next and it’s a genuinely nice track, concerning a misfit uncle that Ferg wanted to emulate as a kid, the song contains basic rhyme schemes but they suit the tone of the piece and the production is pleasant thanks to Clams Casino and DJ Khalil. “Let It Bang” is another decent track, slightly formulaic but listenable, but after these two appealing songs there’s “Next Level” a tacky track with hackneyed topics and auto-tune effects. To be fair, the production by Honorable C.N.O.T.E isn’t that bad but the lyrics are corny as a motherfucker, and Ferg seems to have dumbed-down his flow just to appeal to his “Trap Lord” fans. But slightly acknowledging the shortcomings of “Next Level”, Ferg has chosen to feature the craptastic Future, maybe to distract from the song’s obvious below-averageness.
Making this type of backward music popular is slowing any progress Hip-Hop may have made over the last few years. With Ferg pratting around next to a Lamborghini Countach in the music video, and with some scantily-clad model like it’s still the noughties, it really makes you question if Hip-Hop will ever climb out of the doldrums of Hip-Pop. All this overdone, money-centric bullshit really needs to be put in the trash. Yelling “chain with the new bezel” in 2016? C’mon, that’s so trite and clichéd. “I’m on a new level!” he probably means a new level of low.
“Yammy Gang” is next and it’s an overall forgettable song, there’s some decent flows from the mob but that clap sound during the chorus is annoyingly repetitive and far from current. As a lasting dedication to A$AP Yams it doesn’t form a fitting eulogy despite his mother appearing on the end of the track.
“Swipe Life” is another same-same song, and Rick Ross adds nothing to it. Again this pro-consumerism topic is contrived, just listing product after product is one of the corniest concepts in post-nineties Hip-Hop. Then it’s “Uzi Gang” which is more of the same, with rapid drum patterns and high pitch snares. Then all of a sudden the album jumps to a mellow and understated track called “Beautiful People” with an introduction from Chuck D! Once again Clams Casino’s production is solid, that’s not to say the song is perfect in any way, alongside more meaningful songs out there this will be forgotten. It at least breaks up the corniness of the album, and Ferg’s mother gives a decent spoken-word verse, but it has to be said that you can’t “empower people” (as Ferg announces in the song) when a track like this is crammed into a predominately stereotypical album.
There’s always an element of cross-generational back-slapping (with the likes of Onyx appearing on “Trap Lord” for instance) but what the hell is Chuck D from Public fucking Enemy doing on an album like this? “Beautiful People” is no “Fight The Power” and if you take into account the content of the rest of the album (namely “Next Level” and “Swipe Life”) you have to question the validity of the sentiment.
“Let You Go” follows on nicely from “Beautiful People” but the chorus is slightly banal, and “World Is Mine” is a catchy joint, this song would have been much better if Big Sean stayed on key, and if Ferg stopped trying to sing it would be a decent addition to the album.
“I Love You” is a tacky, typical Chris Brown Rap-N-Bullshit concoction that only appeals to middle-class girls on the wrong side of 25, and is best forgotten. Then finally “Grandma” as the album’s closing track is a well meaning song, but it’s not great. This final track is at least a refreshing topic for Ferg, it even has a quick blip of a decent delivery, but the chorus and the overall sound is horridly mediocre and it’s not emotional in any way.
“Always Strive And Prosper” is a weird mish-mash of sounds, for me this album is trying too hard to appeal to the masses. Sometimes the production is fine and the rapping is fine (Let It Bang), sometimes the topic is fine but the chorus is awful (Hungry Ham), sometimes the production, the verses, and the choruses are all horridly bad (Strive), but sometimes the beats and rhymes are on point (Psycho) so you come off rather indifferent about the whole experience.
When the flow is listenable (World Is Mine) there’s other distracting things such as shitty singing, and the tracks that have both tolerable beats and rhymes are few and far between. Back on the “Trap Lord” album, “Hood Pope”, “4:02”, “Make A Scene”, and “Cocaine Castle” were about as Hip-Pop as it got, and “Dump Dump” and “Murda Murda” were about as corny as it got, but something like “Strive” is on a whole other level, in fact “Strive” is so shite that the “eight gold rings, four gold chains, two bad bitches, one gold tooth” lyric in “Shabba” is like Du Fu in comparison.
A track like “Strive” is a nasty, wannabe-House mess and a track like “Next Level” is a Hip-Pop catastrophe. Imagine if A$AP Ferg had the balls to make an album filled with songs like “Psycho”, “Beautiful People”, and “Let You Go”, with the occasional “Let It Bang” and “World Is Mine” thrown in, this would be a very different review. In fact if he’d done that, this article would be on my other site instead of here. Like I said in my article about A$AP Rocky’s album, had I been reviewing this on whatwentrightwith.com I’d probably have given “Always Strive And Prosper” a 5 or possibly 6 out of 10. This album isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard by far, yes there’s corny lines and out-of-date sounds; maybe not as corny as 50 Cent these days, maybe not as out-of-date as Master P these days, but not being the worst of the worst isn’t an achievement.
All this hopping between styles is usually done to appeal to an ever changing audience, but since A$AP Ferg isn’t exactly pop culture, you do wonder why he’s trying so hard to appeal to the mainstream. So if this album does crossover it will be because of door-mats who fail to call out the trash amongst the roses. People who follow the entire A$AP Mob without question (or even the entire Beast Coast stable without being selective) are the type of people who eventually run a genre into the ground. I mean sure A$AP Rocky had some talent and he made some half-decent music in his début mixtape and A$AP Nast showed his abilities on “Trillmatic”, A$AP Ferg too is capable of making tolerable music as he’s proven on a few of these tracks, but if this Trap crowd keeps buying lacklustre music like “Next Level” and if publishers like New York Times keep overrating so-so albums like this without being discerning, it can only lead to more Strive’s being produced rather than Psycho’s.
In addition, it has to be acknowledged that as a complete product, “Always Strive And Prosper” is too non-specific. A$AP Ferg seems to be evoking the poster to “American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” on his album cover (that’s probably a coincidence) but then it also looks like he’s been dipped in baby oil! Skin regimes aside, this artwork makes no sense when taking into account the title of the piece, the tracklisting doesn’t come together in any way, and more importantly the various elements as a whole don’t make any sense whatsoever. The “A.$.A.P.” in A.$.A.P. Mob might stand for “Always Strive And Prosper” but in the context of this album (and taking into account the varied tracks and topics) what does that title really mean? Listening to some of the lame features and some of the mediocre production, the album would be better titled “All These Contrived Imposters”.
Always Strive To Be Better.