Since A$AP Ferg burst onto the rap scene as the lieutenant of the A$AP Mob back in 2011, the Harlem-bred MC has made it clear that along with grit, guts, and heart, he’s always been one to be ahead of the curve – not riding the wave. Whether it was helping usher in a new generation of kids vying to get their hands on Rick Owens and Balmain or catching flack from New York rap purists for fusing genres to create a sound all his own, he’s done it all with an electric sense of pride. And while fans fell hard for his ability to crank out robust, chest-thumping tracks like “Work” and “New Level” with ease, he’s never backed down from challenging his fan base.
Ferg’s hunger for artistic growth and versatility crystallized into criticism on his sophomore album Always Strive and Prosper. While some stood behind his intimate, self-reflective effort, others weren’t so sure of the dizzying mix of present-day trap and sing-song rhymes over house-y, EDM beats.
Nearly a year since it’s release, he candidly questions listeners and so-called fans “I get a feeling, they want the old Ferg / ‘Cocaine Castle,’ ‘Hood Pope’ Ferg. Got a question to ask, do you know Ferg?” on posse cut “East Coast REMIX” from his second commercial mixtape, Still Striving. With the line that was once drawn in the sand between albums and mixtapes washed over by recurring waves (thanks in part to Drake and Future), Ferg has decided to keep the momentum going after Always Strive and Prosper and test the waters with new material for the world to hear.
Drawing direct inspiration from the name of his last studio album, Still Striving conveys that Ferg’s rising star power hasn’t dimmed a light on his passion for rhyming. “Trap and a Dream,” which articulates his aspirations to be a successful rapper, opens the 14-track project on a lofty level of impressiveness. He sounds focused, ready to plow through opposing forces and leave his mark. It also doesn’t hurt that he brought Dreamchasers frontman Meek Mill along for the ride, who tells the same story from his side of the tracks back in Philly.
With a tracklist relying heavily on guest verses from the likes of iconic (Cam’ron, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg) and rising (Playboi Carti, Nav, and Lil Yachty, MadeinTYO) acts, it feels as if the collaborative nature of the project holds him back from fully shaping songs to their full potential with his coveted and colorful imagination.
But while the collaborations tend to feel more banausic than inspired, the synergy between him and fellow Harlem native Dave East on “Olympian” feels homegrown. East, known for his laidback yet stinging barrage of rhymes, pushes Ferg to go bar for bar unlike any of his previously mentioned peers. It’s also never a bad idea to have his brother A$AP Rocky slide through and reemerge from the depths of Hollywood (“The Mattress REMIX”). When the duo link there’s always an indescribable natural magic that wondrously materializes. Even Playboi Carti and Famous Dex redeem themselves from their earlier, unmemorable placements on the project on this re-up.
In contrast to the project’s star-studded guest list, there are notably only three songs without collaborations, which are undeniably standouts. Ferg is at his most interesting when he commands the stage as a solo act, although the substance could stand a chance of fine tuning. The Kirk-Knight produced “Plain Jane” is a brilliant evolution of the sound that catapulted him to acclaim. Taking cues from “Slob on My Knob” by Three 6 Mafia’s side project, Tear Da Club Up Thugs, it’s minimal but flaunts flashiness in his ability to employ infectious word play with a melodic flow.
Meanwhile, “Nandos” and “Tango” are both crawling and atmospheric in style but deliver a confidential tone that teases his potential for not just good, but great, storytelling that has more to offer than swag and superiority.
All in all, Still Striving is a disjointed balance of Trap Lord and Always Strive and Prosper, in the fact that it just as rough as it is smooth, and without a real concept or message for listeners to grasp. Sure, there’s some bangers within the mess of guests, but if there’s anything to take away from it, Ferg should have no fear in traveling light from now on.
Take a look at our interview and editorial with A$AP Ferg right here.
- Text: Ashley Monaé