In good company, Ferg’s sophomore album, Always Strive And Prosper, had the second-highest first-week totals, opening at the No. 8 spot on the Billboard 200, one spot higher than his 2013 debut, Trap Lord. Despite his indisputable successes with his new project, in Ferg’s world, even the little victories are huge.
For the Harlem-born rapper, it’s been deeper than rap from the jump. With humble beginnings hitting up Swizz Beatz and Chris Brown’s stylists to peddle his custom designed belts to now making a song with Breezy himself, this album is about celebrating how far he’s come while sharing his true, personal story with fans for what feels like the first time. The project is strategically designed as an introduction and a re-introduction at the same time, built on a strong foundation that allows him to finally share his backstory without hesitation.
Ferg identifies more with being an artist than just another rapper, and therein lies the staying power behind his budding career. His “Trap Lord” moniker represents the side of Ferg that is a powerful emcee, captivating audiences and curating a proper party, while Always Strive and Prosper introduces a new persona, aptly titled the “Hood Pope.” This side represents the side of him that is now showered with fame but refuses to drown in it. Then, strip away what we see on stage, and there’s Darold Ferguson Jr. All of these layers make up the artist we’re getting to know collectively as Ferg. And as his vision becomes clearer, his message becomes stronger.
Always Strive and Prosper is an ambitious project that is motivational by nature and Ferg achieves this organically without sugarcoating his lyrics or glamorizing his come-up story. Contrary to providing a forced dose of inspiration, he’s telling it like it is and the strength in that secures that his fans are fans for life. With this project, people can either have a better understanding of who he is as an artist and a person or just enjoy the art. Either way, Ferg is pleased. This is a project entirely his own, made stronger with smart collaborations that season his sound. Regardless of what any critics say, this is a win in his book.
The subtle vulnerabilities that lurk beneath the surface of his unwavering confidence in Always Strive and Prosper make it hard not to celebrate the blood, sweat and tears that went into creating such a personal project. With tracks that invite his family into the frame, both literally through samples and emblematically through his songwriting, he takes it to his roots without neglecting his branches. Through the different moods evoked on different songs, Ferg manages to fill us in on who he is without telling us too much. As a result, not only do fans get to know him, but we are left wanting more. Ferg has more to give, saying with conviction that the life of an artist never stops or slows down, but in the meantime, he’s celebrating this project to the fullest.
BET: Were you nervous to get anyone’s opinion that hadn’t already heard your project?
A$AP Ferg: I wasn't nervous about getting anyone's opinion because I made the music that I wanted to make. It was the art that I wanted to create. I've listened to productive criticism but, other than that, I wasn't nervous about what anyone thought.
To you, is there a difference between A$AP Ferg and Darold?
There has never been a difference to me, but there’s been a difference to the audience because I only let them see a part of me. And now with this album, I showed them more of myself.
Do you think having a strong sense of self has allowed you to create the music you want to create?
I only wanna make the music that I like. People gravitate to you when you’re being yourself. I think you throw people off when you try to be someone or something else. People won't understand your actions. If you're acting like so-and-so this day and acting like yourself another day and another person another day, people will notice that your patterns are off. I feel like, if you are yourself, there's a thread in your different characteristics that each day will connect with each other and that’s the connection that people make with you. As a result, people feel they have similarities and they feel like they can connect with you.
Do you think you would do another project with this many features?
If the project happens that way, sure. I can do an album without features. I did before I put everybody on this album. [Laughs]
The features came because I wanted to put the best product out there and I wanted to remix all my songs to make them better songs. I just felt like that's what Michael Jackson did with Kenny Rogers. When he thought the music was done, they went back and remixed all of these great songs and that's what I did. I used the Michael Jackson method of remixing my own songs to get the best outcome as a result. If this next album calls for features, yeah, and if not, then whatever. It's whatever I'm feeling at the time.
What was your creative process like in regards to collaborating with so many different people?
My creative process is very organic. I'm not reaching out to artists. All my features happened organically. For the Big Sean feature, I just so happened to be hanging out at his house making music. Chris Brown and I weren't planning on making music together, it just happened. And Missy, she genuinely loved the song. Nobody can make Missy get on a song. So that goes to show you right there. Everybody wanted to get on this music. I’m not boasting about it, though. The features mesh well, with ScHoolboy Q and I both talking about our uncles for one example. I wasn’t trying to make hit singles or anything. The features just happened organically, and it was a pleasure.
What do you hope listeners walk away with from listening to this project?
I hope that they learn all sides of me. Learn more about me. The whole objective of this album was to open up. For a long time I wasn't opening up to my fans and the people that followed my music and I felt like because of that people misinterpreted things and they weren't getting a full version of me. I would do things and put art on my Instagram or you know make music with other people, they would be like, "Oh, that's not you Ferg." I’d be like what? I went to art school. What are you talking about?
Did you feel vulnerable this time around?
No, I wasn't vulnerable, I just wanted to share. I didn't have to be vulnerable, I just had to open up. I had to share my thoughts and tell you what I was thinking. I was so used to not being in front of the camera and not sharing my thoughts. It took me a long time to get used to Twitter, for example. I just recently started really using my Twitter. I wouldn't ever let people know where I'ma be at. I always tell myself, I'd probably make the worst celebrity because I like to keep my business to myself. I like making art.
But with making art, people would maybe understand me more if I released more about myself. Next year, I can be more low or whatever the case may be because they understand me now. I walked them through my history and what makes Ferg.
Do you feel more fearless now?
Oh hell yeah. I am more fearless now. A part of me just didn't care. I had nothing to lose. I'm not creating in a box, so I’m just going for it. I'm going to create what I want to create because that's what got me here in the first place. You become a better artist when you are fearless. I’m saying what's on my mind and in my heart because that's what a true artist does. A true artist doesn't hold back because of critics or this, that and a third. Say whatever you want. It can be innovative or change the world or be groundbreaking. I just don't give a f**k anymore.
Do you feel like this album could be categorized as mood music, given that there’s a track for everyone, whether it's a love song or a dance track or what have you?
Definitely. I spent two years working on this, so I made these songs on different days in different moods. I was feeling one way when I made the song about my Grandma. I was feeling like ODB on some days. I was making a bunch of ‘90s house music and rapping off beats like that, too.
As an artist, I'm constantly being inspired and I'm constantly evolving every day. My style, my music, my everything changes everyday. I just want to create.
I try to listen like I’m a new listener every time I spend time with the album. I try to take myself out of my shoes. So, even if people hated it, that's cool too. Feel something. As long as you feel something, I did my job and accomplished what I set out to.
So what’s up next?
I wanna really bang these words into the minds of the listeners that bought my album and are listening to my music because there's a message in there that I can't really reproduce. I can't make these songs again and I don't want to. Once you get the music and you sit down and understand the words, you will love this album.
The life of an artist never stops. Right now, it's promoting the album and continuing to push the message of Always Strive and Prosper, creating visuals, going on tour, creating a great show for people and still creating music. Always creating music.
(Photos: Krista Schlueter/BET)