RCA

When A$AP Ferg named his 2013 debut album, Trap Lord, the title and the cover art were perfect descriptors of what the eventual project would be. Trap Lord established what Ferg was all about. He was a trap rapper, talking about the drug trade on the streets of his hometown Harlem. The sound of the album was as dark as the black-and-white picture of Ferg that stood out in the middle of the cover. The entire aesthetic of that cover image was almost more heavy metal than hip-hop and matched with the dark trap bangers that made the album.

So it's no surprise that with Ferg's sophomore album, Always Strive and Prosper, the title gives a perfect glimpse of what listeners are to expect. Trap Lord excelled generally in that one zone of trap rap, but on this album, he strives to expand further out of that realm. The end result is the rapper creating more sonically diverse music and showcasing a much more personal side.

It's a similar move to what the A$AP Mob's de facto leader A$AP Rocky did. Rocky broke out with Live.Love.A$AP, which mostly served to introduce listeners to his style. On Rocky's two follow-ups, Long.Live.A$AP and especially last year's At.Long.Last.A$AP, he built upon that existing style he established on his debut and expanded it into new territories and showed more of himself.

That's exactly what Ferg does on Always Strive and Prosper. There's the base of what is expected to be heard from his releases because of his first album, but now that his music is familiar, he twists all perceptions of what he's previously unleashed.

The first thing that listeners might notice is that the album is generally a little bit more accessible than Trap Lord. It's not nearly as dark, especially when it comes to the production. Skrillex helps turn "Hungry Ham" into a club-ready banger. On "Strive," Ferg and Missy Elliott rap on a straight-up bouncy track that's night-and-day unlike what we've come to expect from the A$AP sound.

Another big difference is Ferg's tendency to get more personal and political. On "Beautiful," he strives to empower Black people. He recruits Public Enemy's Chuck D to provide the introduction, where he says, "We got our ways, but ain't we human beings too?/If our lives don't matter, no lives matter/Thus life is in our future, dying is unacceptable/Living for what we believe in is life itself/And that in itself is beautiful, aight." Ferg himself says, "I wanna empower people, wanna empower people/White, purple and yellow, and all of my browner people/We can be positive, don't let negativity kill you." These are powerful messages from the man previously most famous for tracks like "Shabba" and "Work."

The most emotional point of Always Strive and Prosper comes at the tail end of the record, on the track "Grandma." It's a touching tribute to Ferg's late grandmother, as he wishes she was still around to see him and his friends rise to success, but at the same time is happy that she no longer has to suffer through all the pain she went through on this earth. It's a softer side of Ferg that he didn't present much on Trap Lord.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Ferg album if we didn't get any of those more traditional trap bangers and he delivers those as well. "Let It Bang" is a tribute to selling crack on the streets and features a spazzed-out Schoolboy Q and production from one of trap's innovators, Lex Luger. "New Level" has Ferg and Future bragging about how they've hustled to a new level of prosperity that they had never seen in their lives before. "Uzi Gang" is a union between the A$AP Mob and rising street rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who meshes extremely well with the A$AP crew.

A$AP Ferg is on a new level of ambition on Always Strive and Prosper. That title is the rapper's motto for the project and he accomplishes both. Not only does he strive to become a better, more diverse artist, he definitely prospers in more ways than one as he continues to make a name for himself as one of New York's biggest talents.

See 25 Best Projects of 2016 So Far