A$AP Rocky continues to make creative strides as a musician, but abandoning his bread and butter comes with highs and lows.
A$AP Rocky’s recent musical trajectory has less had to do with adhering to conventional hip-hop norms and more with expressing himself as an artist through sonic experimentation that pushes the genre’s boundaries in new ways.
That mentality is at the core of Rocky’s third album TE$TING, which serves as a canvas for the Harlem native to quite literally “test” different sounds that he’s crafted. While this isn’t the first time Rocky has gone full-on artsy (we got a taste of that on the cloud rap-infused At.Long.Last.A$AP),TE$TING really ups the ante with an album that has moments that are creatively captivating and many that are simply scattered and unfocused.
Let’s start with some of the high points of the album. The lead single “A$AP Forever,” which features a guest verse from Kid Cudi on the album version, is a perfect trippy anthem that utilizes a great Moby sample to create a song that is truly unique in the hip-hop landscape. Cudi’s verse also slides in nicely and the spacey tone of his voice is a welcomed addition to the out-of-this-world vibe of the track.
“Praise The Lord (Da Shine)” has some serious replay value. The fluty melody is infectious and the subtle references to DMX are also a nice tip of the cap to the New York rap legend. Skepta provides a chorus, verse and production on the track and it really feels more like his song than Rocky’s. That said, the ASAP star still holds his own even when exchanging bars with Skepta and there is a definite synergy between their vocals.
Tracks like “Tony Tone” and “Gunz N Butter” also go hard as Rocky is in that perfect pocket between spitting gritty bars and floating on the beat. That’s where Rocky finds most of his success and when he deviates from actually rapping is when Testing starts to lose a bit of its steam and becomes one giant blur.
“Kids Turned Out Fine” sounds like Rocky doing some kind of dollar store Cudi/MGMT impression, while “Buckshots” is essentially a watered down Playboi Carti track that sounds rushed and lacks vision. There’s plenty of instances where Rocky just seems to be fine with sitting back and letting his guests outshine him.
The closing track “Purity” is a fantastic song conceptually, but there’s just way too much going on to listen through and enjoy it when you’re not sitting down and just focusing on the music with a painful amount of concentration. Frank Ocean and a Lauryn Hill sample can’t even save it from the convoluted mess it becomes with beat shifts that are definitely artistic, but serve no real sonic purpose.
TE$TING is not a complete failure by any stretch of the imagination. On the standout songs of the album, Rocky sounds great. Unfortunately he’s facing the same issue so many other rappers have these days, which is simply making the album too long. This would have been a near-perfect Rocky album at 8-10 tracks, but some of the rotten apples weigh this project down from what it could’ve been.
Words by Patrick Cwiklinski – Stream TE$TING on Spotify now.