Published May 09, 2016"Always Strive and Prosper brings it back to square one, day one," A$AP Ferg tells Exclaim! about his newly released second studio album. "I wanted to open up to my fans. I haven't let them in for years, and I just thought it was time to let them know what I was up to, how I've grown as a person and how I ended up in front of their television screen."
The last three years have been a rollercoaster — from the highs of his 2013 debut Trap Lord and sold-out shows to the lows of leaving familiarity behind — and Ferg starts the new album by affirming a new name, as the Trap Lord transforms into the Hood Pope.
"Hood Pope is like the Ferg that's travelled the world and appreciates the people," he explains. "Trap Lord was kinda confined to his environment, never really travelled, still finding himself — a little one-sided, you know? Trap Lord was a little darker, more grim, more street, because that was the only element I was around. Hood Pope, that was when I was able to go on tour, travel the world and meet different people. I learned a lot of new things and was able to come back and preach my gospel."
The experiences that influenced Hood Pope are clear on Always Strive and Prosper, including new sounds, concepts and lyrical content.
"This album, I don't consider it taking risks at all, I'm just being myself. It's me evolving, it's a natural me," he says in response to fans whose initial reaction was that Ferg had gone away from what they'd come to know. "As humans, we're supposed to evolve and I feel like a lot of rappers are scared to evolve, but if you just let nature take its course, as a human and an artist, most rappers music would be changing for the better."
He's worked with some of hip-hop's greatest idols, including Missy Elliott ("one of my biggest inspirations besides Michael Jackson"), DJ Premier ("man doesn't even have to speak, it's his talent that inspires me") and Chuck D.
"If it wasn't for Chuck D, I feel like there wouldn't be no Kendrick Lamars, no J. Coles, and people standing up for rights. He was about the people, so that's first and foremost for Chuck D and the whole Public Enemy." Ferg says.
The loss of A$AP Mob co-founder A$AP Yams — who died last year at the age of 26 — is felt and heard not just on Always Strive and Prosper track "Yammy Gang" but throughout.
"That's showing the unity the brothers still have, even though we lost one of the generals," he says. "It makes us want to stick together even more now, because you can't afford to not be there and lose somebody else. Tomorrow's not promised — that's how it affected us.
"I definitely found a new freedom on this album. It's not about putting out something quick and microwaved, something that'll disappear in two months. I wanted to put out a quality album and have every song mean something to me. I wanted to put out a meaningful album, and respect the process."
Always Strive and Prosper is out now on A$AP Worldwide/RCA Records, and you can stream it all below.