A$AP Ferg Is the Synthesizer
'Still Striving' blends diverse styles as only the Hood Pope can
A$AP Ferg is back with Still Striving, another strong project from the widely loved Harlem rapper and clothing designer, known for mixing the rugged with the cuddly—something like the Polo bear with gold fangs. His brand-new mixtape—apparently not an official album despite its high quality—consists of more of what we love Ferg for: Tunnel bangers in a Tunnel-less landscape. This time he’s mixing throwback styles with au courant SoundCloud rap or mumble rap or whatever the haters are calling it today. The result is an uptown trap record only Ferg could make: characteristically fun, quasi-mystical, and emotionally real.
Features are many and all over the place, but the wide net works. Ferg connects through sheer charisma with young guys like Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti, and Famous Dex; old men like Cam’ron, Busta Rhymes, and Snoop Dogg; and quintessentially New York rappers like Dave East.
And what do you know? He pulls the team together and keeps things slamming the whole way through. While not quite the project 2 Chainz’s Pretty Girls Love Trap Music was, Still Striving resembles that kingliness: casually expert, confident, personal. When Ferg brags about being a good freestyler and dangerous with the pen, you hear it in the raps. When he mentions his grandma keeping a gun in the mattress, you feel like you’re meeting his family in Harlem.
“Aww Yeah” with Lil Yachty is crazy. Ferg’s inspired, melodic hook shares DNA with his classic “Hood Pope,” and the falsetto ad-libs are perfect, decorating Yachty’s whole falsetto life. The rare solo cut “Plain Jane” is instantly recognizable for its cool-dude A$AP swag. Ferg is effective with his spell-casting chorus of “riding with the mob / alhamdulillah.”
Cam entertains on his verse (nice use of “meticulous”) but lacks energy on the slowed-down “Rubber Band Man,” making the feature feel like a checked-off box. The Busta and Snoop song, “East Coast REMIX,” is the corniest on the tape—even though Busta sounds great. These tracks are my least favorite and still totally listenable. Ferg doesn’t make trash.
His Florida homages work very well: Ferg’s voice booms through the colosseum over the Raider Klan-esque “Mad Man,” and the song is replayable even though Playboi Carti underwhelms after a good opening bar (“move like I’m Batman / Margiela madman”). “Nasty (Who Dat)” rules—imagine a Miami rap revival à la J.T. Money circa 1999, with all three Migos slaughtering their verses.
The uptown NYC vibe remains strong throughout, with producer Frankie P from Washington Heights appearing several times. Too bad Cardi B isn’t involved somehow. “Bodak Yellow” is the song of the summer and resembles a Ferg banger. They’d sound great together.
Displaying his network, Ferg implicitly makes the case that everybody fucks with him and he fucks with everyone. Further within that, since he’s such a staunch New Yorker, he makes the case that by fucking with him, everyone also fucks with NYC in some way or another—a city whose rap world is underrated at the moment due to shitty weed, conservative gatekeepers, relying too hard on Chicago and Atlanta for styles, and not adequately saluting its two best rappers in recent memory, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B.
So Ferg is out here as an ambassador, but of course, New York will always rule. And one reason that’s true is because of figures like Ferg: neighborhood legends who spread love.
In the larger context Ferg has stood out from his associated crew(s)—A$AP Mob and the design-involved AWGE—since day one. He’s discernible by his heart, his creativity, and his emotional intelligence. Not that the “hood pope” is really out here trying to save anyone, but with the recorded sexual violence from A$AP Bari that recently led Nike to discontinue his VLONE imprint, Playboi Carti spending the hottest “Awgest” of his life threatening producers and rappers in text messages over minor slights and unpaid-for beats—not to mention the rape allegations against AWGE member Ian Connor casting a long shadow, the world of A$AP needs something positive to talk about.
Luckily for all the outer messiness, Ferg brings no drama and no bullshit, focused as he is on quality and results. (There’s even a new documentary A$AP Ferg in Liberia, detailing Traplord’s latest design project, creating uniforms for school children in Liberia.) He brings honor upon his house by staying true and doing what his mixtape title says.