On the cover of A$AP Ferg’s second album Always Strive and Prosper, the Harlem rapper is draped in white linen, falling into a dark body of water. The artwork, realized by designer Renell Medrano, carries captivating themes of baptism and rebirth. Ferg developed his creative senses through visual arts school and has always embraced the grittiness of his New York heritage in his music, style, and attitude, but as his success grows, his focus is more so now to inspire and educate others by sharing these collected experiences. The new Ferg is familiar, but it’s an enlightened version of himself: a beaconing figure inviting his disciples into the most intimate corners of his kingdom.
“It represents a new me,” Ferg says when we sit down just before the kick-off of his album listening party in NYC’s SoHo adidas store. “I was Trap Lord, and I graduated to the Hood Pope because I travelled the world. I’m older, I’m wiser. Now I can come back to preach to my people.”
Part of Ferg’s storytelling capitalizes on the importance of varied perspective. Included on the tracklist of Always Strive and Prosper are names from all walks of life, joined together under Ferg’s leadership. Think: Future and ScHoolboy Q, Chuck D and Missy Elliott, Lil Uzi Vert and Marty Baller, Ferg’s grandmother and the mother of the late A$AP Yams. As Ferg explains, all of these people have touched his artistic outlook in some shape or form. “I feel like, in a way, all of these voices, these people, these fabrics, makes the cloth that I’m made of.”
And while he was simply paying homage to their influences by recruiting them onto his project, Ferg is simultaneously marking a landmark in modern hip hop culture. He put OGs in the same rooms as the up-and-comers, he brought together his long-time colleagues to celebrate a shared passion for music, he put his dearest family members on songs with his heroes. While he’s not the first to tell his personal story through a varied perspective, in a genre that’s becoming increasingly cut-and-paste and welcoming of imitators, we need these moments of unexpected togetherness in rap. Without them, the culture not only becomes regurgitated and static, but we also lose sight of hip hop’s familial values.
And as The Hood Pope preaches his self-written gospels, taking us on the journey of his rebirth through the sonic and visual components of Always Strive and Prosper, he’s also planting his staff in an important cultural moment, proving the power of perspective in front of all of his successors.
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