Friday, April 22, 2016

A$AP Ferg - Always Strive & Prosper Review

Before dropping two of the most creative Trap bangers in recent memory A$AP Ferg was just another member of A$AP Rocky & The Mob, a collective only in name since their lead disciple was, at the time, the only worthwhile thing about them. Then 'Shabba' and 'Work' happened and Ferg was immortalized in his new, highly-refined foreign-influenced ignance. They were, and rightfully still are, filthy tracks, sporting vicious flows that mine Reggaeton and supporting beat columns that seek vengeance out of South Asia. It's also what Ferg will likely be most known for, establishing a presence beyond his certified, and stylistic, Experimental Trap will prove difficult. On Always Strive & Prosper he's going to do his best, attempting to appease every divisive crowd he has whilst also aspiring for the charts. The result is one incredibly confounded, unsure of its own existence and where it wants to be, bouncing between ideas at the flip of a coin. At times it's enthralling, others a blundering mess, which, in Ferg fashion, makes the final product all the more attractive. Loopholes sink into the fabric, bending Always Strive to uncontrollable whims, seeing an upstart continue to find his lane within the Mob, Hip-Hop, and music in general.

If there's one aspect of consistency Always Strive achieves it's a continual detriment to its quality throughout the record. There's a couple sidestep's but the prevailing arch sees Ferg at his best early, in terms of content, beats, and creativity, losing it as the LP lingers on. The album begins with a trio of songs that all seek to split listeners with their sheer audacity. The first prominent sounds on opener 'Rebirth' is that of a fiery, Halloween-esque hook with Ferg and a female vocalist that thumps along with a prayer. It's wildly stimulating and a wonderful opener. Take this eccentric barbarism and inflate it to an entire song and you have 'Hungry Ham,' a street obsessed anthem that bounces with such ludicrous vibrancy as seemingly the whole neighborhood appears. A screeching chorus, addictive bridge, and some fun stories of nostalgia compose Ferg's verses. Then there's 'Strive,' featuring Missy Misdemeanor Elliott, which sees Ferg attempt a funky Pop rhythm, succeeding in the verses, failing horribly in the hook. All of this aims to distil listeners into two halves, it's just unfortunate that from there on out he loses the commitment to creativity.

Benefiting the front end even more is a loosely-formulated story revolving around his family and neighbors in the Harlem housing projects Hungry Ham. It lasts through 'Let It Bang' before Ferg, unfortunately, trails off the well-executed beginning due to a lack of concrete ideas. It's when the Future-assisted, and lead single, 'New Level' appears that Always Strive begins to find murky waters. Not that song alone, 'New Level' does an adequate job at merging Atlanta with New York, but everything immediately after seeks to achieve what his notarized bangers set out to do, largely fizzling instead of bubbling. 'Yammy Gang' is far too cluttered and sporadic to make any impact, constantly losing momentum at every turn, while 'Swipe Life' acts as a watered down 'Shabba,' even featuring Ferg's famous flow on that single. The best of the bunch is 'Uzi Gang,' even if it is just a promotional tool for Lil Uzi Vert's come-up crew. That track though loses accolades by effect when 'Beautiful People' arrives afterward, contradicting every message sent with that song by uncharacteristically promoting positivity, something the continued drugs and violence in 'Uzi Gang' hypocritically mishandles.

From then on Always Strive loses much of its traction, with the back half composed of tracks the front would be ashamed of. From the tedious 'Let You Go' that follows a struggling relationship to the shallow and insipid 'I Love You,' that would've sounded dated had it been released in 2008 yet alone 2016, the LP ends with tracks that are both lazy and incredibly derivative. Even 'World Is Mine' uses Big Sean to make a Big Sean track (why?), providing easy fodder for when he says "she tryin' tell me the world is mine, I know that ain't true," despite saying last year that 'One Man Can Change The World.' Small quip aside but it does show Ferg's tendency to just go with whatever sounds good, regardless of how it'll affect his perception. "Conscious thinking, ghetto though" he spits on 'Rebirth,' showcasing this appeasement succinctly. No Ferg, throwing empty promises and diluted bars about bettering the community on 'Beautiful People,' and only that song, does not make you conscious thinking. Always Strive does end on a bittersweet note though with 'Grandma,' a song that returns to the homey feel of the early tracks, making up in Ferg's well-oiled verses what he lacked for singing in the hooks.

Rarely mentioned but following suit with the rest of the criticisms is the production, at times large and in charge, others desolate and entirely lifeless. They tend to recede in quality sequentially like the rest of the album, as Ferg's much-needed energy dissipates when production fails to match. Fervor is through the roof on Skrillex's 'Hungry Ham,' with so many moving elements, making the complete inconsequentialities of 'I Love You's' beat all the more noticeable. Don't think it's only because of more serious content the production took a backseat, 'Psycho' does the same thing early on but succeeds at incorporating intrigue whilst still not being overly distracting. With all that being said it's tough to hate on Ferg. His flows are still unnaturally intricate, his vocals patented, lyrics hardened with a sense of kookiness, making for an overall enjoyable experience even if the quality dips throughout. It doesn't reach the highs of Trap Lord, but the short duration times (only one track exceeds four minutes compared to five on Trap Lord) makes for a quick, feverish journey through ideas without being stuck on any single one. Some, disappointingly so, are better than others.

1 comment:

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