As someone who has been critical of A$AP Rocky’s previous albums, not to mention his complicity with casual racism, I have to give respect when it’s deserved. With his third studio album Testing, Rocky has finally made an LP that flows well from beginning to end, taking the listener on a pleasant ride as he showcases his maturity as an artist. With his previous two studio albums containing sometimes half or even two-thirds lacklustre material, I can say that finally A$AP Rocky has released something that is a pleasure to listen to and more importantly, is coherent.
I read in an interview that Rocky thinks of himself as somewhere between mumble rappers and old-school heads, and since he was born in the tail end of the 1980s, he fits in somewhere between the young and the old. Stylistically therefore, he is ideally placed to please both ends of the Hip-Hop spectrum and with Testing, I think he walks the fine line of street-credibility and radio-friendly material very well. For example, unlike his previous attempts at cross-over Hip-Pop with the likes of Rod Stewart, this time, his Moby sample in “A$AP Forever” feels much more authentic and adherent to Hip-Hop culture…
With this album, the thing that stands-out is the fact that the production is consistent, and whether it’s Hector Delgado, A$AP Rocky himself, Skepta, or FnZ responsible for the beats, sonically, there is a common thread tying the tracklist together. The echoing drum hits and the laid-back melodies not only compliment the raps but they give this album a sense of coherence. I will add however that the “Testing” theme doesn’t necessarily follow-through, and thematically there is little consistency. If you take “testing” to mean “experimental” in terms of music or simply to borrow the aesthetics of laboratory tests, the title is somewhat unconnected with the content if not out-and-out unnecessary. And with the album cover somewhere between Pro Era’s PEEP: The aPROcalypse and Smif-N-Wessun’s Dah Shinin’, the artwork doesn’t match or tie-up with the title either.
The stand-out tracks on Testing are “Distorted Records” (although it could have been a little longer), “A$AP Forever”, “Tony Tone”, “Fukk Sleep” (especially the chorus), and “Praise The Lord” (especially the pan flute melody)…
…You’ll notice that these are the first five songs on the album, from that point onward, although the LP is listenable as a whole, the tracks begin to feel like less like individual songs and more like an elongated chill-out track punctuated by gaps. That being the case, this album isn’t without its flaws; weaker tracks like “Calldrops” and “Brotha Man” could have been removed altogether and sometimes you wish the pigeon coos and “woo” sounds (the usual, overused Trap contrivances) were left off this LP, especially considering the innovation-alluding title. And speaking of pioneering new-sounds, I’ll say that although there’s quick blips of personal content here and there (in “Changes” for instance) the majority of the lyrics offer nothing game-changing or anything in the way of variety. But with Rocky’s flow going from simplistic in “OG Beeper” to more complex in “A$AP Forever”, not to mention the singing in “Fukk Sleep”, this LP at least shows his versatility as a rapper.
Overall, this is undoubtedly A$AP Rocky’s best release since his 2011 mixtape LIVE.LOVE.A$AP. Testing is not without it’s problems but it flows well from beginning to end, you don’t really want to skip past any songs, and the sometimes ethnic, slightly acoustic, and blunted soundscape keeps you in a mellowed-out state throughout, making this a possible summer classic to revisit in years to come.