A$AP Rocky – TESTING, Album Review
A$AP Rocky’s 3rd LP certainly lives up to its name, but can be given credit for little else.
After a convoluted rollout which included promises of a Christmas 2017 release, several panned ‘Dummie’ tracks and a predictable stream of snippets, A$AP Rocky’s ‘TESTING’ has arrived as the follow-up to his well-received ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP.’
Rocky’s promise of an album which “tests new sounds” is certainly realised, but is an experiment which, although punctuated by moments showing potential, ultimately falls flat.
‘TESTING’ is keen to present seemingly the entire sonic landscape. If the listener is not being bombarded by all manner of bells, sirens or distortion, they are surely subject to any of the album’s samples, adlibs or backing vocals.
‘Tony Tone’ shows how this idea can be executed effectively, with the hard-hitting drums, buzzsaw-like guitar and arrogant shit-talk of Puff Daddy creating a menacing and moody track that is befitting of the album’s industrial-style promotion. “I could give a fuck about your clique” Rocky sneers, with the arrogant yet charismatic demeanour his fans have come to know and love.
On the flip side, ‘Brotha Man’ is a cluttered and confused track that loses its identity as Rocky competes with a lazy French Montana hook, an unnecessary appearance from Snoop Dogg and a Frank Ocean verse beginning with “You’re a cornstar / All you fuck is corn, parched”. All this takes place against a variety of vocal distortions and a skeletal beat which attempts to break into crescendo as the chorus commences. Simply put, it is a mess.
There are a number of tracks in which Rocky further deviates from a traditional hip-hop sound, and these form some of the album’s lowest points. ‘Kids Turned Out Fine’ is a bland indie rock attempt which exposes Rocky’s lack of singing ability – his voice noticeably quivers over the guitars which support him. ‘Purity’ features a strong contribution from Ocean with a well-utilised Lauryn Hill sample. A potentially beautiful track is ruined as Rocky attempts a rapid-fire flow which grates against the light guitar and gentle crooning – the mood is killed completely.
The heavily anticipated contributions of Kanye West and Tyler, The Creator are nowhere to be found on the album. Features are provided by a range of rap’s personalities. Playboi Carti and Smooky Margielaa are well utilised on ‘Buck Shots’, but Skepta’s appearance on ‘Praise The Lord’ is a let-down, with the track feeling underdeveloped and closer to something off the Cozy Tapes. Kodak Black features in the form of a jailhouse phonecall on ‘Calldrops’ – a bizarre but strangely authentic moment.
Disappointingly and somewhat surprisingly, ‘TESTING’ emerges as Rocky’s weakest lyrical performance to date. “Took a little detour, but I’m still a rapper / Used to be a d-boy but I’m still a rapper” he states on ‘OG Beeper’, with a stilted delivery that can only be described as uninspired. “Prayin’ for a JFK / All we got was KKK” is one of a number of superficial political comments made by Rocky, this one appearing on ‘Gunz N Butter’, a track sorely lacking in references to the macroeconomic concept.
This is not to say the album is completely devoid of meaningful lyrical content. ‘Black Tux, White Collar’ presents a more introspective side to Rocky’s character, with the reserved delivery of “All my role models either dead or in the pen / I had no choice to be the person that I am” an especially poignant moment. Although the modifications made to the single version are questionable, ‘A$AP Forever’ remains a sterling example of Rocky’s quality when in full flight. His verse is enjoyable and thoughtful; “I’m on my live alone, die VLONE”. The hypnotic chant of “Gang..Gang..” is memorable, and the song remains one of 2018’s best.
“Everything I do groundbreak” Rocky brags on ‘Distorted Records’, a lyric appropriate to the earth-shattering and abrasive opener to the album that continues his streak of quality intros. This may have been true in the past; ‘TESTING’s’ inconsistent nature will surely bring questions about his position in the rap game. It feels as if Rocky was confused about the record; unsure if he was experimenting simply for the sake of it.
On ‘TESTING’, A$AP Rocky has achieved his goal of ‘testing new sounds’ to decidedly mixed results. Whether or not he deserves praise simply for trying remains to be seen.
Favourite Tracks: Distorted Records, A$AP Forever, Tony Tone.
Least Favourite Tracks: Praise The Lord, Brotha Man, OG Beeper, Kids Turned Out Fine.