Back in 2011, A$AP Rocky shook the industry down with the release of “Peso.” The brooding production, throbbing bass line and Rocky’s lyrical style forced everyone to reconsider how New York rap was supposed to sound. A$AP Rocky was the future and everyone was prepared to hop in his stylized DeLorean and see where the Harlem rapper would take them on his musical endeavors.
Seven years later, we’re still waiting for Rocky to top this particular moment. His mixtape LIVE.LOVE.A$AP was a refreshing moment in time where Rocky’s subwoofer crumbling production and approach to rhyming that was influenced by Southern hip-hop seemed destined to take over. But his two full-length studio albums LONG.LIVE.A$AP and the psychedelic follow-up AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP didn’t reach the bar the industry set for him. The style was always there but his substance was curiously lacking. Third time’s the charm, right? Well, not necessarily.
Three years after AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP comes Testing where Rocky is at his most experimental as he gives of 52 minutes of attempting to push the musical boundaries as far left as he possibly can. Unfortunately, he’s still style over substance and his efforts at experimentation don’t always click like he wants them to. Make no mistake, Rocky still has his moments. “Black Tux, White Collar” finds the 29-year-old reconnecting with producer Clams Casino and revisiting a sound that helped define him while giving a middle finger to the police.
Strangely enough, one of his finest moments on the album is also one of the least experimental. The same can be said for the album’s closer “Purity.” Flipping the sample to Lauryn Hill’s “I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind” from the MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 album, Rocky is joined by Frank Ocean to deliver the most introspective song on the album. Ocean’s rhymes ride beautifully over the tranquil production while the A$AP Mob head honcho laments about fame swallowing up his life and fervently trying to find room to breathe and enjoy his loved ones.
As for the rest of the album, its experimentation doesn’t quite hit the notes that the Harlemite would have liked it to. Songs like “Calldrops,” where Rocky opts to sing over the melancholy production, don’t resonate. His attempt to add a (literally) phoned in verse from an incarcerated Kodak Black may score points for ambition but the overall execution is lacking.
The same can be said for the psychedelic rock acid trip known as “Kids Turned Out Fine” and the grumbling Auto-Tune stylings of “Fukk Sleep” alongside FKA Twigs. Both sound better on paper than they do in practice. The off-kilter “OG Beeper,” featuring BlocBoy JB adding little more than signature ad-libs, falls flat, while the grating “Buck Shots” takes aim but fails to leave a memorable impression.
Perhaps one of the most alarming things about Testing is the fact that it truly is lacking that one shining moment that A$AP Rocky can call his own. The T.I., Moby and Kid Cudi assisted “A$AP Forever” is on the verge of being one of those moments as the enchanting sample of “Porcelain,” coupled with Rocky’s cocky Southern charm wrapped in a Harlem package, sound like a match made in heaven. However, T.I. and Cudi do more to detract from the song than add to it and the moment ends up feeling completely overproduced and far too experimental. “Purity” ends up being a damn good Frank Ocean song featuring A$AP Rocky more than the other way around. Everything else is a spotty affair of hit and miss that ends up feeling much longer than the 52 minutes that are presented to our eardrums.
Three albums and seven years later, we’re still waiting for A$AP Rocky to live up to his potential. But at a certain point we have to begin questioning whether we set the bar too high based off of a genre-defining moment with “Peso.” Can we truly expect him to eclipse that moment in time? Surely, we should be able to — but with Testing, we’re still waiting.