a$ap ferg is the motivational speaker the world’s been waiting for
The A$AP Mob’s spiritual guru is done with bangers for the masses. His new album, 'Always Strive and Prosper,' is for the kids out there that want to meet the realest, deepest Ferg.
Photography Zachary Chick
In the summer of 2011 Harlem's A$AP Mob became the center of the pop culture universe: the Givenchy wearing, jiggy eye of the storm around them. Of the twelve or so members, it was pretty boy A$AP Rocky who rapidly landed major label deals, magazine covers, and fashion co-signs, while his comrade A$AP Ferg emerged as the masterly "rappers rapper." For Ferg -- Darold Ferguson Jr. to his loved ones -- celebrity wasn't quite the perfect fit that it looked like for Rocky. Ferguson became depressed and built an armor of bravado that was the "Trap Lord" persona we witnessed muggin' through hits like his debut "Work" and 2013's monster, "Shabba."
Ferg was making great music, but it was separate from his true self -- it wasn't an honest extension of his being. After a life-changing encounter with a fan who survived cancer, Ferg carved out a new artistic path that would see his second album re-introduce the rawest A$AP Ferg to his fans.
The new Ferg arrives in Always Strive and Prosper-aka ASAP. It's an album that deals with the uncomfortable realities of celebrity whilst telling intimate tales of his childhood and youth starring family, friends, and lovers. The album boasts verses from Missy Elliot, Rick Ross, Future and Chuck D that sit perfectly next to cameos from his mother, grandma and the mother of fallen friend, A$AP Mob founder, A$AP Yams.
Do you get sick of talking about yourself and your work?
I want people to truly understand where this album is coming from and if that means I need to summarize it a million times then so be it, I'm happy to do that.
After so many conversations, how have you been describing your own album?
It's an open book. For a long time I wasn't sharing real inside details of my life because I wasn't used to celebrity and sharing personal things publicly. I realized in order to go to the highest possible level creatively, I had to make people relate to me in some way. I had been doing some of that through hits like "Shabba" and "Work" -- but I was missing a certain undertone. It was just a skeleton with a heart, and now I'm fueling the entire body and letting you know where I come from and who I was like with tracks like "Psycho," "Grandma," and "Let it Bang." I don't want to be an artist who just puts out bangers, I want to offer a fully formed Ferg to my fans and deliver truth through music.
Did you really have to "relax your limbs" into a place where you could be so open and vulnerable lyrically?
I love that you said, "relax your limbs" right then, damn that's my boy Yams. Yes, it was incredibly hard making this record; I mean I released a lot of truths about my family. These are not just songs, they make certain people in my life feel some kind of way. I'm getting calls like, "I can't believe you put that song out" and I've struggled with a feeling of being selfish. But I was thinking about Biggie and Pac and how they just spoke the truth about everything and I ultimately couldn't put out something phoney. The song "Strive" just wouldn't have worked if I didn't talk about working at Ben and Jerry's, that era of my life has informed who I am now.
You've talked about creative and self growth in comparison to visual artists like Rothko and Picasso, and that you make music to evoke emotion the way their paintings do. Did that revelation come with making this record?
It's always been the case, but I just realized it consciously. I've been studying the masters and their evolution through art and what made them the best to apply to my own work. For me, I met this kid who told me that my music helped him beat cancer. I had dinner with his family and he showed me photos of himself in hospital all skinny with a shaved head going through chemo and he was crying and I had this epiphany that I would rather just make fully realized music for him, than banger after banger for millions. The connection to my fans is real and he helped me be able to open up in the way he shared something so painful with me. He overcame cancer and he is strong and healthy now and wants to rap himself. The story had such a profound impact on me and my approach to making music.
You're almost a motivational speaker on this record.
I motivate through my experience, it just happens. There's nothing too preachy, it can't be corny of course [laughs] I am naturally a person who motivates, in my mob I'm the one pushing, I don't like to be around anyone being lazy.
How do you tune out all the celebrity bullshit?
It was a struggle for a long time, I got depressed about it. My fans, my foot soldiers, they're the ones who pull me out of that world and back into focusing on music, and things that are important to me. I stopped caring about all the generic fluffy stuff and thought deeply about what would have longevity. When I hear artists rapping about the same old stuff, it comes from a fear of change and worrying what people think, which means you're not comfortable with yourself. I'm in a place now where I'm so comfortable with myself, that experience with the kid who beat cancer, that honestly made me feel like a superhero, like I was medicine.
Fashion and clothing is in your bloodline -- you had a label before you were rapping. Do you foresee fashion coming back into Ferg's future?
I just want to make art, and yeah that might include clothing but right now it's not like I have a factory and supply chain lined up. Clothing is so different to music in terms of how it's made and distributed, it's a much longer process, but of course culturally clothes and music are so connected. Clothes can be burnt and torn but music can't be worn.
You seem like an old soul. Do you believe you've lived past lives?
I feel like I'm 300 right now [laughs] I'm messing with you... I don't think I've been to this exact place before but I do feel enlightened.
Text Courtney DeWitt
Photography Zachary Chick