Thomas Johnson is the long lost 6th Spice Girl.
On December 5th, nearly a year to the day of his death, A$AP Ferg released a tribute to A$AP Yams. Last week, a previously unreleased A$AP Ferg demo from 2011, “Spice Girls,” found the light of day. The juxtaposition of the two put a few things into perspective:
- Ferg has been and continues to be the best pure rapper in the A$AP Mob.
- His history of off-kilter references has been on point longer than anticipated. Though in hindsight, I must say, a hook centered on the greatest British all-female pop quintet works far better than one on Maroon 5’s pedestrian front man.
- Fame, as it is wont to do, has taken its toll. The best art is a byproduct of pain. True to tradition, Ferg’s output has grown in quality since his days on the rise.
“Spice Girls” is nearly all impulse and wishful thinking. It’s playful and cocky, sometimes self-serious, but mostly naïve and optimistic. It plays out precisely how a become-a-rapper-get-rich fantasy usually does: ditch poverty, fuck around with groupies, and receive shout outs from Scary Spice. You know, the usual. It bounces not unlike “Hot Nigga,” favoring silly debauchery over the latter’s violent nihilism. Tidbits of information—like his mother’s urge to kick him out, or how many times he cried at his father’s death—highlight how quickly his mouth follows his brain. At 22—pre-fame—Ferg could still twist his tongue as far as his sexual references. It’s crazy when you think about it; Ferg was rapping as well five years ago as he is now. Could you imagine if this blew up? That train of thought is redundant I suppose. He has blown up, tasted fame. The irony is the taste it’s left in his mouth.
“Tatted Angel” is the rebuttal. “Spice Girls” was exuberant, proud, covered in gold and drunk. This is glum, sulking, rusted. Probably still drunk. It was a celebration, this is the eulogy.
Hit-Boy’s beat tumbles along, listing along a clouded twilight. A simple drumline undulates, shimmering along in limbo like streams of sunlight, only to be swallowed again in the purgatory. The dawn only squeaks through under the guise of a short saxophone solo, illuminating Ferg’s darkest hour. There’s a glean to it, a sort of unexpected warmth that’s by no means radiance; just light bouncing off headstones.
Everyone and their DJ have some anecdote about being too fucked up, but most sport it as a battle scar more than a bad memory. This year more than ever rap has started to check all the partying. Future’s thinking the purple’s becoming a bit much. Kendrick’s homesick. And the A$AP Mob are in mourning. “Tatted Angel” is the survivor’s guilt. Future eyes deterioration in the mirror everyday, but Ferg had to watch addiction wither and pass his best friend. While Kendrick’s “u” shredded the walls with its fingernails in drunken stupor—agonizing over the fame that stripped him from his family—Ferg knows that bringing family on tour would have done them in. They would have started using. Then they’d be gone.
A$AP Yams died on January 18. Ferg played a concert the next day, touching lightly on the passing in an interview directly following, but mostly spoke on his Ferg Forever. What was he supposed to say? Greif takes times to articulate and Yams was, after all, the thumping heart of A$AP. Almost a year later, I imagine this is exactly what he wanted to say. It’s hard to beat a chest when the heart can’t.
There’s this theory that time is linear and will always correct itself. For example, if one was to return to the past and make slight change, like say, oh I don’t know, killing Hitler, someone else would take his place and history would continue to chug along. In 2011, “Spice Girls” could have been a more danceable “Purple Swag.” Ferg could have, in an alternate reality, been the de facto face of The A$AP Mob. He could have been leading New York’s young renaissance, touring the world, partying, sipping lean with kith and kin. By that logic—Ferg’s too—Yams (or his Bizarro World counterpart) would likely still have succumbed to addiction. Fame would still blow. But the world would still spin, one visionary fewer.
As per the cliché, art imitates life. Following a loss, life can be tumultuous—but that’s a fine adjective to use for beautiful music. Ferg has gone from “I want to be as famous as the Spice Girls” to “I wish I wasn’t famous” in five years. FIVE YEARS. Most rock stars wait until they’re washed up, broke, or on a first-name basis with Dr. Drew for such a sentiment to slide out of their lips. At 27, his music is falling deeper into the resentment of his ability to make it. It’s a twisted circular logic, one that has worked for Kanye, Future, and Earl, to name only a select few. He’s up next it would seem. Even if it doesn’t seem so, life always gets better. Ferg will presumably never be as famous as the Spice Girls, not that he would even want to. At the very least, he’ll have someone watching his back. Marked from birth, all tatted up.