*HOO HOO HOO HOO*
It’s been almost three years since the Trap Lord dropped his debut studio album to much critical acclaim. With strong singles such as the tone setting, A$AP Yams-assisted opening track “Let it Go” (“ya’ll still in the D-League doing, uhh layup drills” kills me everytime, RIP Yams) and the immensely popular New York street anthem “Work (Remix)” A$AP Ferg burst onto the scene with the confidence of an established veteran artist. Very solid debut project.
Some of the more well-known and established artists in the game have an album drought that lasts about one to two years on average (Jay Z in his prime, Drake currently, T.I. when he’s not locked up). For relevant and popular artists, a three-year absence may signify the beginning of the end of a career. Questions that inquire about the artist’s personal life may germinate throughout the blogosphere like marigolds during the first week of Spring. Did they get consumed by the fame? Did they develop a drug addiction? Are they afraid to fail on the follow-up effort? The Sophomore Slump, even outside of the scope of music, is a realistic commonality shared by humans from all walks of life.
Major motion picture directors, for example, get lambasted by critics all the time for lackluster sequels that fall short of the expectations set forth by the previous film in the series (Exhibits A, B, and C). Last year, the polarizing showrunner for the HBO series True Detective Nic Pizzolatto experienced the backlash of the perceived Sophomore Slump from a plethora of professional critics first hand (including the amateur blogger typing these words). Season One, besides the letdown of a season finale, was captivating from a cinematography and scriptwriting standpoint and many people will agree. Season Two, however, was not the worst show on television in 2015. But compared to the benchmark established by the series with Season One, Season Two was a laughable and awkward mess of a 8 episode presentation.
Was Pizzolatto consumed by the fear of falling short of the laudatory praises of Season One with Season Two? Maybe. The departure of a crucial team member to the vision of the project can also be viewed as a reason for a sub-optimal follow-up (Fukunaga is the Gawd responsible for this incredible tracking shot, and was a linchpin for the success of Season One). In my strong opinion, I believe Pizzolatto ultimately failed with Season Two because he was simply not given enough time to create the product. You can tell that the 2nd Season of True Detective had the potential to be as good or even better than Season One; the premise was great, but the execution of the dialogue, paired up with the cinematography and progression of the storyline was poor. Everything felt rushed. Major plot holes and confusing episodes that required multiple re-watches or additional analysis by TV critic writers are the reasons for low approval ratings for Season Two. I intently watched every episode, read the recaps, listened to podcasts for additional context and it still took me until episode 7 to figure out who the f*** was Stan.
Time constraints and deadlines hinder preparation. Without ample time for preparation, results of success will most likely not come to fruition. The Number 1 Chief Rocka of HBO Michael Lombardo had this to say about the woes of True Detective Season Two: “‘I’ll tell you something. Our biggest failures – and I don’t know if I would consider True Detective 2 a failure (it was lol) – but when we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked – we’ve failed.” Lombardo went on to say “‘Well, you know what? I set him up. To deliver, in a very short time frame, something that became very challenging to deliver. That’s not what that show is. He had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Find his muse.”
From the statements made by the HBO head executive, some interesting parallels can be drawn between follow-up releases from musicians and cinematographers. “…but when we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked – we’ve failed.” I am posting this quote for a second time because I want to stress the magnitude of his statement. As fans, myself included, we expect the artists to churn out quality material on a consistent basis. The abstract deadline of 1 to 2 years before we declare a music act to be washed or irrelevant is completely unfair to the musician. We should just let ’em cook – give the curator enough time to craft a palatable dish for our consumption that is full of nutrition as opposed to a Burger King-esq meal that may satiate our hunger, but in the back of your mind, you know that there was a healthier, more nutritious option that isn’t loaded up with sugary ingredients and other preservatives.
Ferg and his fellow A$AP Mob compatriot Rakim Mayers took their sweet old time to deliver their Sophomore-Slump-breaking albums Always $trive And Prosper and A.L.L.A (At Long Last A$AP), respectively. A$AP Rocky almost had a 2 and a half year drought between albums while Young Fergistein waited about 2 years and 6 months to hit the fans with his most recent project. The increased quality in progression and evolution of the overall sound – lyricism, subject matter, and production – are explicitly evident in both albums, especially in the Trap Lord’s follow-up LP. If Ferg did adhere to the fictionally strict 1 to 2 year deadline, this album could have been a complete sloppy mess that had a couple bangers with enough force to move units, but not enough strength to carry the entire album to favorable reviews.
Always $trive And Prosper does not seem rushed in the slightest and as a result of his preparation and patience, the maturation of A$AP Ferg has manifested itself into a quality CD with tremendous replay value that will last well into Summer ’16.
My personal favorite off the album
Heading into my audio research of this record, I was in the mindset of “okay, how will this album hold up when juxtaposed with Trap Lord,” which was the wrong way to approach the analysis. Each project, unless it is a continuation of a series, should not have the final results of the evaluation hindered solely by comparisons made to the previous project. It’s best if you treat each project as an independent study. Upon listening to the first couple tracks, not gonna lie, I pretty much was ready to pronounce the album Dead on Arrival; cause of death: the infamous Sophomore Slump. The opening song “Rebirth” is an ominous track with a Tales from the Crypt vibe that is jarring to hear at any time of the day, especially at 9am, en route to work, before any caffeine consumption. It has grown on me during the 20+ complete spins of the album in the preparation of this review and it does make more sense within the context of the rest of the album – it’s literally Fergistein’s Rebirth like the Phoenix rising from the ashes – but I still don’t completely like it. I’m just gonna dub it as an Intro/Prelude/Opening Skit.
The initial awkward suffering lasted about 2 minutes and change before being introduced to the subsequent track “Hungry Ham” which pays homage to the Hamilton Heights section of Harlem where he grew up. I was geeked up in anticipation of this song when I saw that the EDM
producer legend Skrillex was in handling the beat making duties for this track. Skrillex has collaborated with hip-hop such as Pusha T, The Game, and Chance the Rapper to great success. The monumental build up to the crescendo (which is ironically the drop) is paramount to the foundation of any electronic-based instrumental. No qualms with the build up from my end, but the inevitable drop left me completely underwhelmed the first time I heard it. The first 7 minutes of the album were a struggle to get through with the initial hearing but again, the circumstances surrounding my initial listening (miserably tired, on the way to work, without caffeine) was less than ideal.
“Strive,” featuring Missy Elliot, with DJ Mustard handling co-production responsibilities came on towards the end of my train commute into the city and it woke me the f*** up; literally and figuratively, it got me prepared for the grueling 9 hour day ahead of me. An unconventional, deep-house beat for A$AP Ferg on “Strive” produced a potentially massive cross-over hit for the Summer without sacrificing true substance, transparency and motivational depth in the lyrics presented:
Now, we’re really getting into the crux of the album. The first traditional East Coast hip-hop track (complete with an introductory skit) makes an appearance in the form of the story about his crazy ass uncle aptly titled “Psycho.” A genuine smile came across my face in a matter of seconds upon hearing the instrumental. This smile turned into a consistent head nod due to the raw emotion displayed in his delivery and energy in the first verse that was quite reminiscent of Pac.
He was cut like Bruce Lee but he didn’t know karate, he came bloody screaming NOBODY CAN STOP ME, nobody can stop me!, I’m the baddest surviving this planet, 50 n****s better kill me n***a cause I will do damage
A prototypical, grimy and gritty ScHoolboy Q feature (yawk yawk yawk, new Q soon) and a condensed yet quality posse-cut from the A$AP Mob In Memoriam of their co-founder A$AP Yams (snubbed from the RIP segment of the Grammys this past year smh) both lead to the culmination of the most hype track
of all time of 2016 thus far, “New Level” (see above) featuring the codeine connoisseur himself, Desiigner Future Hendrix. The personification of this song is equivalent to one Wim Hof, a man that can withstand all of the elements of nature and is unperturbed by extreme cold. Wim Hof is clearly on the same level as Ferg and Future on this cold ass, certified banger that will ring in the hip-hop community for years to come.
The underlining theme of Darold Ferguson Jr’s most recent LP was established when the title of the album was released. The surprisingly consistent execution of sticking to the game plan by not straying too far away (with an exception of a few weak outliers) from the album’s theme produced such a quality product. At the end of the day, Always $trive And Prosper is about living life to the fullest without settling for complacency. There’s no time to wallow in the mire, if you’re unhappy with your current situation, break out of the course of mediocrity, have an obtainable goal in mind, $tive and keep that internal desire burning deep in your soul and you can achieve greatness. Keep building, don’t become stagnant in your progression, Always $trive And Prosper.
There are some questionably simplistic lines that just miss the point (Even though the bathroom not unisex, we can turn that s**t co-ed//I’ma be f****n’ and suckin’ that p***y while I’m leanin’ over the toilet lol) but the overall sentiment of the album generates and evokes such a potent motivational reaction from the listener. This is the type of album to listen to when you’re down on your luck or if you have recently experienced the loss of a family member. This is also the type of album you bump during a period of prosperity. During the times where you’re in a funk, hearing Ferg’s anecdotes about how he overcame the struggle of going to a job he hates or how he overcame the stress and heartache of losing close family members (e.g. Grandma), can be highly inspirational to his audience; by keeping that burning desire to constantly improve, Darold evolved from a lowly Ben and Jerry’s employee into the world-renowned “Trap Lord.” In a 2013 interview, A$AP explained that “Trapping” doesn’t necessarily mean selling drugs, instead, “Trapping” means hustling, which could be a legal or illegal endeavor. “You trappin’, but you still got the Lord on your conscious.” Whatever you have to do to improve, just know that there’s always a risk involved before the break through of progression. Maybe that explains the first few experimental sounding tracks, but I digress.
Overall, I really liked the entire project from front to back. There were a few tracks that did not fit the construct of the album like Uzi Gang, for example, when there are incredibly deep and powerful songs such as Beautiful People featuring Chuck D & Mama Ferg and World Is Mine where Big Sean shines like the star he is supposed to be. Quick aside: Big Sean, in my opinion, has been on an upward sloping trajectory since the valley of an album Hall of Fame. If SeanDon’s next album is anything like Dark Sky Paradise and his contributions on “World Is Mine,” he will indeed enter a higher echelon of hip-hop artists currently in the game today.
Funny how it all go go, you never could know though
What happened to Tiger was Kobe, you know h**s
Get caught in a photo, lipstick on your polo
And all the trust that you builds right out the door door
Y’all went from lovebirds to looking like Dodos
And that s**t gon’ last, for months it’ll go go
And that s**t gon’ drag, drag on like komodo
Over a b***h that look like Quasimodo, god! – Big Sean
The strength and depth of materials disbursed throughout the album more than make up for the lackluster highlights. Well-placed introductory skits that did not drag on for too long really made this album feel like a complete project that 90s hip-hop fans can enjoy while still having enough reach to entertain the current mainstream audience without sacrificing substance.
“To deliver, in a very short time frame, something that became very challenging to deliver. That’s not what that show is. He had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Find his muse.”
While record companies and fans may pressure an artist to drop new music on a frequent and consistent basis, we should all really take a step back from our demands and fandom to give the artist enough time to create. Debut mixtapes/albums/EPs are more often than not, carefully crafted over a period of several years. The driving force and motivation behind the initial project is that potential breakthrough into the music industry. That hunger for fame, money and/or respect may diminish once obtained. Plus, sometimes, we don’t entirely know all the details for a delay in an album release. There could be clearance issues with samples, there could be record executives that may shelf an album because they think it will sell more units in a particular Quarter, the artist could have experienced severe hardships such as an ill family member or the loss of a close friend. We have no idea what’s going on with them.
We are partly to blame for the Sophomoric Slump for entertainers because of the persistent pressures and irrational dismissals of artists when we are not spoon fed an album every other year. We should just let these people f****** cook a quality meal. A$AP Ferg took his time with the preparation and the presentation shows.There’s something for the kids that love to turn up and there is something for the backpack-rap crowd that loves to analyze lyrics. Always $trive And Prosper will be in rotation for me for quite some time. Prediction: you, yes you, will hear Swipe Life multiple times this summer.
TL;DR – Season Two of True Detective fell way short of expectations, A$AP Ferg’s Season Two did not. JUST LET ‘EM COOK.
A$AP Ferg – Always $trive And Prosper – 4/5
*Can someone help me translate the verbal-to-text ad-lib for him? Is it HOOT HOOT HOOT like an owl or WHO WHO WHO like an elderly person with a hearing aid battery that is waning? Ferg, if you see this, hit me up. If ya’ll have some answers or just want to discuss the album, follow me on the Twitter dot com @eyelesssilas
Follow me on SoundCloud and Spotify (username – eyelesssilas), I’ll make random playlists from time to time.
All my beautiful people, all my beautiful people
I’m the ghetto apostle, come on, follow I’ll lead you
Tell them put down the pipes, liquor bottles and needles
Treat your family right, your mommy and daughter need you