On “Rebirth,” a standout moment from his second album, ASAP Ferg makes his mission clear: “Now that you’re no longer a lord that’s trap, you have graduated to the Hood Pope.” The follow-up to his acclaimed 2013 debut Trap Lord sees the Harlem rapper open up with more honesty, humor and charm. Blending trap and EDM beats, Ferg builds on the goofy-but-hard persona he introduced last time out, maintaining an arty weirdness that connects him to the other core members in the music/fashion collective A$AP Mob, while discussing the streets and his life story with precision and ferocity. Consider the one-two punch of “Hungry Ham” featuring Skrillex and Crystal Caines, and “Strive” featuring Missy Elliott; on the latter, Ferg effortlessly rolls out silly, sing-song rhymes above a house-y flow all while reflecting on his childhood. He’s as effective on the Ja Rule-esque banger ballad “Let You Go” and wistful R&B jam “I Love You,” featuring Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign, as he is on the Migos-assisted “Back Hurt” – which features the top contender for the album’s best line: “I’ve never had a ghostwriter/I’m afraid of Casper.” Ferg is earnest without being corny, providing touching space on the album for Tatiana Paulino to pay tribute to her late son, A$AP Yams, and giving his mother, Mama Ferg, room to pay tribute to the beauty within on “Beautiful People.” If the rapper wants to empower people as much as he promises during this song and elsewhere on Always Strive, he’s succeeded. Hood Pope, indeed!