On Testing, A$AP Rocky tries to diversify his sound, but ends up coming up short in concepts and execution.
A$AP Rocky has been one of leaders of the new school since he and A$AP burst onto the scene out of Harlem in the early 2010’s. Rocky exploded into the mainstream with Live. Love. A$AP with hits like “Purple Swag“. Rocky built off of this success with his next two albums Long. Live. A$AP and At. Long. Last. A$AP. Since his entrance into the rap scene, Rocky has been a prominent figure in music as a whole. In recent years Rocky has been more focused on fashion and his personal brand than music. This absence, outside of a few A$AP Cozy Tapes albums, has led to an extreme amount of anticipation from fans for this project.
The Rollout for TESTING was confusing to say the least. Rocky released a few incredibly lackluster tracks over the past few months. Thankfully these tracks were just “tests”, because they were far from album ready. All of the confusion led up to a performance art piece by Rocky where he was tested on like a lab rat in a box. Definitely an I interesting promo. So among all the confusion, Rocky dropped TESTING and delivered his most perplexing album yet.
TESTING Opens up with a standout stylistically from the rest of the album with “Distorted Records”. The track features consistent distorted bass throughout. The abrasive production engages the listener from the start. Rocky uses the song to emphasize his place as among raps contemporary elite, calling other new school rappers his “offspring”. The hook, while repetitive, is catchy enough to pass, and fits the vibe of the song well. “Distorted Records” is definitely one of the more aggressive songs Rocky has released.
After “Distorted Records”, is the remix of the lead single “A$AP Forever” featuring Kid Cudi. The remix builds off of the single, by simply adding a verse from Cudi. The production on the track is luxurious with a string sample that plays throughout and a contagious kick and clap drum pattern. Rocky covers his usual topics of fashion, jewelry, and women on his verse with an incredibly rhythmic and speedy flow. Cudi comes in with his vintage singing style that just seems to make sense on the elegant production. Cudi mentions his importance to those struggling with mental health in the last few lines saying “serve up the magic for all of those/ kids that ain’t had someone on they own/ hang on the words, you each have your song.” This rings true as Cudi has been a mental health advocate for years. The outro to the track is also a highlight of the entire project. The outro has beautiful keys and decadent singing form Khloe Anna. Moby is sampled and provides vocals for the track as well.
The run of quality songs continues on the third track “Tony Tone”. The track enlists a guitar sample that simply put, is hard as hell. Rocky spits bars responding to his critics during the verses in his trademark braggadocio. And the hook on this song, the frickin hook! This is definitely one of the catchiest parts of the whole album. At first it sounds like a lullaby, but then Rocky transitions into an in your face style saying “I can give a fuck about a list, Ya heard?” which is just an absolute earworm.
“Gunz and Butter” is another high energy highlight of the project. Rocky attacks American gun politics on the song rapping “AKA AK that you target not from Target but from Walmart, then it’s a-ok.” This is a refreshing twist from Rocky, who usually avoids political issues in his music. The beat is frantic with the lowered vocal samples throughout adding even more aggression to the track. The refrain on the track where Rocky lists guns is the major pitfall of the track. It is incredibly boring and should have been left out.
The track most likely to be a hit on TESTING is definitely “OG Beeper”. Rocky raps over a bouncy piano lead with reverse distortion ringing throughout. The beat is simple enough to give Rocky plenty of room to flow, but is also very catchy. Rocky raps about how even if he is pursuing other creative avenues like fashion, his first love will always be hip hop. “And I modeled Dior, but I’m still a rapper/ Took a little Detour, But I’m still a rapper” are a few lines that sum up the message Rocky is explaining. BlocBoy JB sticks to ad libs to the song which are eccentric as ever. You cannot help but smile when you hear BlocBoy hyping up Rocky in the background.
But not all of the high energy tracks are as explosive as the aforementioned. “Buck Shots” features a banger beat, but the performances on the song are lackluster to the say the least. Rocky, Playboi Carti and Smooky Margiela all give half-baked verses on the track. And the repeated sample of “Buck Shot” does nothing but clutter the song with an annoying motif. Overall the track just seems like it was building up towards a pinnacle that it never was close to reaching.
“Praise The Lord (Da Shine)” is another track that could have been better executed. The beat, produced by Skepta, is entrancing enlisting a flute sample that is infectiously bubbly. Rocky comes through with great flow during the first verse ,but after this the track loses all of its lust. The hook’s hypnotic flow and tempo repeats itself throughout the rest of the track during Skepta and Rocky’s verses. This becomes extremely tedious.
Rocky stuck to his promise of “testing“ sounds on the project with the slow burners on the track list. For instance, “Brotha Man” is one of the more laid back tracks on the project. The instrumental is definitely the best part of this track. The beat features a glamourous piano melody and evolves throughout. Strings come in during the verses and chorus creating a more dramatic culmination. The verses have Rocky bragging about his wealth like usual, and the pitfalls he has faced in the past and still faces today. Snoop Dogg and Frank Ocean both contribute a few lines to Rocky’s verse, breaking up the monotony of Rocky’s flow. French Montana surprisingly pulls off an emotionally charged chorus. The background vocals add to the beauty of the track throughout the song. Frank Ocean handles the outro in his classic schizophrenic way.
The “Kids Turned Out Fine” is another example of a solid downtempo track on TESTING. Rocky raps and sings to parents on the track who worried that their kids are making bad decisions. Rocky comforts them with the fact that even though kids may be getting into drugs, they’ll be ok and learn from it. Rocky’s singing is not impeccable by any means, but it is raw, and the imperfection adds to the track in my opinion. The reverb heavy guitar melody is haunting and elicits the exact emotion Rocky was going for.
The closing track, “Purity”, follows suit as an acoustic led song. Frank Ocean and Rocky deliver two nostalgia fueled verses that tug on the heartstrings of the listener. Frank gives us his usual poetry with imagery like “rewind Nas track 6, rewind dance crazes” and “salt on a slug, soda on slugged teeth, chewing on nothing.” Lauryn Hill’s pitched up background vocals during the chorus add a necessary contrast to Rocky’s pitched down vocals. Rocky raps about how his fame has made him too busy for his closest friends and family rapping “haven’t checked on my niece in weeks/ months past and months in between/since me and my sister would speak/not a call not a visit in weeks.” This is definitely the most emotionally charged song on the entire project, and is a great closer.
Unfortunately, not all of the laid back cuts on TESTING are up to par. “Fukk Sleep” featuring FKA Twigs is a prime example of this. Rocky tries his hand at the half rapping half auto tune singing that is unavoidable in today’s hip hop landscape. But he fails miserably the track is, to put it bluntly, is a snooze fest. Nothing about the track demands any attention from the listener.
The worst track on the album, “CALLDROPS”, is a failed attempt at the ballad style Rocky was hoping to achieve. “CALLDROPS” is lyrically the worst track Rocky has ever written. The hook: “Eye Drops/Tear Drops/Drop tops/Ice Blocks” is laughably underwritten. The idea of having Kodak Black sing a verse from his prison phone is intriguing, but it does not change the fact that it is Kodak Black singing. Kodak sings horribly out of tune, and the recording of the prison’s automated voice message is just annoying.
A few other tracks, are not as washed out as these, but seem unfinished. Songs like “Hun43rd”, “Changes”, and “Black tux, White Collar”, all suffer from this drawback. While each of them have their respective creative visions, they are not executed well.
Overall, TESTING is A$AP Rocky’s most daring project yet. Many of the songs were risks, but not all of them paid off. The highs of TESTING are towering, but the lows are too ugly to ignore. I commend Rocky for taking chances, but hopefully next time he can pull through with a better overall product.
Highlights: Distorted Records, A$AP Forever, Tony Tone, Brotha Man, Og Beeper, Purity
Lowlights: Fukk Sleep, CALLDROPS, Buck Shots,