On TESTING opener ‘Distorted Records’, A$AP Rocky begins by rapping “if I’m in your top 10, mine’s better be the first name out your mouth.” It’s an ambitious way to begin, but not uncharacteristic for the Harlem rapper. Born Rakim Mayers, Rocky believes he’s the most ground-breaking artist of the generation. There’s no denying listening to an A$AP Rocky record is a different experience compared to his rapping contemporaries such as Kanye West and Drake. While Rocky isn’t as revolutionary as he aims on TESTING, he’s pushing the boundaries more than the aforementioned artists.
Rocky wants to pioneer new sounds and create something nobody has heard before, inspiring the TESTING album title. The sounds heard on Rocky’s third album aren’t new, but there isn’t anyone else incorporating unique samples like Rocky is and pulling it off. On the lead single ‘A$AP Forever’ – a song dedicated to his family, friends and his rap gang A$AP Mob – Rocky heavily samples Moby’s seminal trip-hop song ‘Porcelain’. While Moby’s stirring production has been sampled numerous times before, it’s surprisingly never been covered in the hip-hop realm until now. And there’s no rapper that could transform the song into a trap anthem like Rocky has.
With Rocky’s aspiration to experiment and push his brand of hip-hop, TESTING can be jarring, scrambled and overambitious. Too often Rocky and his producers shift the pitch and speed of vocals and beats, while promising samples aren’t used to their full potential. On the Kodak Black-featuring ‘CALLDROPS’, Rocky laments mistakes over a sample of Dave Bixby’s low-fi folk song ‘Morning Sun’. Bixby’s beautifully sparse guitar chords are interrupted by Rocky’s underwhelming singing and numerous warped vocal samples that add little to the track. It’s a similar story on ‘Kids Turned Out Fine’, where Rocky samples Melbourne indie-slackers Good Morning, except with a basic trap beat tacked on besides it and irritating vocal adjustments. Rocky’s ambition pushes him overboard.
TESTING is at its most effective when Rocky keeps it simple, but still retains his desire to innovate. The hometown-appreciating ‘Hun34rd’ is the best example of Rocky’s ability to incorporate unique sounds on the album without overstepping. Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes provides the clean and dreamy production on the track, bringing together Rocky’s love for trip-hop and his trap background with perfection.
Every song on TESTING shows potential, yet not all follow through on the promise. Luckily for Rocky, there are numerous tracks that will overshadow the weaker efforts in the long run. Rocky needs to refine his goals and sound, rather than making an attempt to incorporate every production trick he discovers along the way.