Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A$AP Ferg - Still Striving Review

If one's ever in doubt about the quality and consistency brought to you by A$AP Ferg in today's bloated Trap era, look no further than the dominance he showed in 2013. Still his two most famous singles, 'Work' and 'Shabba,' revel in imposing style and glorious stature, with complex production that rivaled Ferg's own eccentric and unpredictable flows. On Still Striving, the A$AP Mob kingpin sounds like a shell of his former self, content with reliving the Trap Lord-era through the genre's current lusterless scene. Pieces of the formula have been mapped out for mass consumption, both for fans to intake and artists to replicate. Originality is not, nor has ever been, on Ferg's radar whilst making Still Striving. This, in proportionate opposition to his latest offering: 2016's Always Strive And Prosper. There, he came to conflate the topics of death, with A$AP Yams' absence still looming, fame, with the Mob's continued growth, creativity, with his yearning to be seen as an artist, and youth, with his reflection of an unhinged family, with the acknowledgment that bangers were still necessary. Necessary yes, possible with the introspective conditions applied? No. The struggle, and response, Ferg saw last year can be seen as the number one cause of Still Striving's mass leniency.

Never has Trap, as aggressive, interrogative, and boisterous as it is, been this harmless, shallow, and feeble. In some ways, Still Striving can be seen as a cry for help, amassing an entourage of respectable legends and bubbling newcomers to act as yes men, holding Ferg and his ego high so that all will be forced to gaze. Remember Outkast's 'Return Of The G,' a classic track that lamented Andre 3000 as leader of both the aliens and the gangsters? He only took a hostile tone towards those hecklers because of the creativity he flashed on ATLiens. Quality aside, Ferg does much of the same here, retreating from the outlandish borders where bionic cheerleader anthems ('Hungry Ham') and ghoulish reincarnations ('Rebirth') are rejected and replaced with perverted interpretations of the now-stale past. Rarely does success gleam from an artist regressing, and that much is evident throughout Still Striving, a mixtape that seeks hit after hit, coming up empty because the heart, the vigor, and the ingenuity is nowhere to be seen. That, merely in regards to Ferg's one-note presence and the production's comatose, ignoring the complete lack of thematic ideas and standout verses.

Unsurprisingly, the record's best moments are those in which effort is palpable. A pro for 'The Mattress,' a con for Still Striving, the A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and Famous Dex-assisted remix is the most conceptually-focused track here, which is hilarious because it's about a mattress. But more than that, the bustling beat handled by Digital Nas and the back-and-forth performed by the Mob's head honchos elevate 'The Mattress' to legitimate A$AP banger. A track that would've fit favorably on the surprisingly decent Cozy Tapes Vol. 1. A mixtape which, by the way, acts as clear inspiration for Ferg's heavy abundance of featured spots. Only three of the 14 cuts go solo, with two, 'Plain Jane' and 'Tango,' succeeding in their respective outlook. The former in particular, ripping Three 6 Mafia's 'Slob On My Knob' hook from its heinous home, works because of the classic chorus and a dark, but progressive beat. However, that's about where the praise stops. Like many other one-dimensional albums, moments of interest sparkle here and there, like 'Aww Yeah's' disarming hook or 'Nandos' compelling piano backbone. The former, however, features Lil Yachty who stalls momentum rather than carrying it, something he did successfully when these two teamed up last on 'Terminator.'

To be frank, Still Striving doesn't have many awful moments. It lingers in mediocrity, failing to take any risks. This is why the highs are tempered, and the lows undistinguished. There's one exclusion to that though, and it comes in the form of 'Nasty (Who Dat),' a truly appalling cut that's easily Ferg's worst Trap attempt yet. Bringing along Migos, the genre's heirs, to flaunt and flex without saying anything at all isn't even the worst part. It's Ferg's hook, one that punctures your ears before continuing to twist the drill in deeper with repetition. There is no better example of Still Striving's negligence than Ferg, through shrill autotune, yipping "ay ya ya ya ya ya ya" a hundred times over. Prior to that hideous mark, a string of forgettable bids struggle for attention. Nothing, from the Nav-assisted 'What Do You Do' to the Playboi Carti-assisted 'Mad Man,' attend to be anything but sapless showboating. The lyrics are shallow, frivolous, and half-baked, answering the question as to why Mumble Rap exists; because Trap emcees have nothing interesting to say in the first place. They're typically revered for their flow versatility, Ferg being a textbook example. But here, he's content binging platitudes on the sidelines.

Hollow braggadocio has filled every corner of Hip-Hop since the genre's inception, and that can seen on Still Striving through the periodic legends that disperse the hyperactive ad-libbers like Madeintyo or Migos. This can best be seen on 'East Coast Remix,' a track specifically dedicated to oneupmanship, despite the easy-to-follow theme of east coast dominance tapering off preposterously. The original, a preferred destination, featured the tenacious styling's of Remy Ma, recanted in place of a masculine squadron. Among others, the posse cut features Busta Rhymes, Rick Ross, and Snoop Dogg, three legends from three corners of America. Problem being? Two don't fit the theme remotely, Ross being from the South, Snoop from LA, something Ferg's integrity seems unconcerned with. Both are easily acquirable as well, appearing on a litany of projects, begging the question; why 'East Coast?' It's a good representation of Still Striving as a whole, a mixtape that lacks intangibles, principles, and scruples, replacing them with trendy names and sounds to sustain fame. The faceless Trap Ferg administers here requires no care or hardship, satisfied in releasing bland fills that mimic the scene surrounding it. Still Striving blends into the background, without a splotch or stamp to provide an identity.

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