Whatever you expected from rapper A$AP Ferg’s sophomore studio album “Always Strive and Prosper,” it probably wasn’t this. His latest effort largely ditches the tinted grit and grime of Ferg’s impressive 2013 debut “Trap Lord” to instead construct an unwieldy hip-hop album out of various mismatched parts.
Ferg tries on many different hats over the course of “Always Strive and Prosper,” but none of them fit him quite that well. The album lurches from one style to another, failing to paint a complete picture and preventing Ferg from settling in as a rapper. One moment he’s dodging those familiar Skrillex horns, the next he’s soaring over a pop-house beat. There are R&B jams, gangster anthems and honest attempts at conscious rap all stuffed into the frame here.
There is one hat that fits Ferg quite well: Trap Lord. That’s the path he followed to create monster tracks such as “Shabba” and “Work” for his debut album, and he follows this path for 20 decent minutes in the middle of “Always Strive and Prosper.” Highlight track “Let it Bang” calls upon a snarling Schoolboy Q for assistance, and “Uzi Gang” finds Ferg deploying his trademark wonky noises over an absolutely mad instrumental.
During this part of the album, Ferg brings on willing and able guests — Future, Rick Ross and A$AP Rocky are a few – and delivers several solid verses and hooks of his own. He could do better, but this style of rap music is his strength and he should look to build upon it.
The other parts of the album, the ones that bookend this middle stretch, are befuddling. It begins with a disembodied voice on album opener “Rebirth” telling Ferg “Now you’re the voice of the guys on the corner/And the kids who have no direction, guide them/Through the trials and the tribulations/Teach them the world can be accumulated with patience.”
Ferg takes these words to heart, and puts together a bunch of songs that are certainly earnest, but also extremely clunky. “Get off your ass/And create your life/Cause you’re missing opportunities,” he sings on “Strive.” On “Beautiful People” he implores listeners to “Build a better community, so our children be on.”
These are nice sentiments, but they are delivered sloppily over lifeless instrumentals that feel completely disconnected from each other. “Strive” especially: it’s a catchy track, but saddled with a bargain-bin EDM beat that lands on this album as if it were teleported from another planet, one where Lil Jon bumps shoulders with Flo Rida.
There are a bunch of other misfires. “Hungry Ham,” which cribs production from Skrillex, is a disastrous attempt at a banger. Chris Brown-collaboration “I Love You” is sunk by Brown’s large presence, no surprise there. “World is Mine” is a shameless and lame Kid Cudi bite.
But the main reason why those songs fall flat is that Ferg is so far out of his own element. He’s not a pop artist, and he’s not a conscious rapper. It’s admirable that he would try such wild stylistic ventures, but there are so many artists doing it better in those lanes.
Want to know what Ferg does well? Pull up “Shabba” on Spotify or YouTube, and crank the volume loud. Ferg excels when he brings his visceral but goofy raps to atmospheric trap instrumentals. When he heads down that lane, it works. On “Always Strive and Prosper,” that lane is usually closed and all the open lanes are congested with traffic.
Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.