Review: ‘Testing’

On Testing, Rocky’s experimentation isn’t as grand as he claims.

ASAP Rocky has been so absent from the rap game that it’s questionable how many listeners are still checking for him outside his fanbase. Since 2015, ASAP Rocky has lost his charm and never seemed to got it back. His debut album, 2013’s Long Live ASAP was a cutting-edge blend of psychedelic cloud rap, however its follow-up, At Long Last ASAP, was mysteriously underwhelming. The promotional campaign leading up to Testing was insanely messy, littered with unofficial singles and confusion as to what tracks would actually land on the album.

Rocky has declared that Testing is different and doesn’t follow the current trends. While the album may be rooted in Rocky’s typical slurred sound, Testing lacks the hooks and gripping raps to give it any other selling point besides Rocky’s usual drug-inducing experience.

The opener “Distorted Records”, though not terrible, takes a literal approach to its title: Rocky rapping over a distorted bassline. The track would have been off without a hook – the first of many lethargic hooks – which loops Rocky’s stuttering recitation of the song title.

Just like Rocky’s last album, the dreamy production of Testing ends up seamlessly blending together to create the feeling of one long track, particularly towards the back end of the album with “Kids Turned Out Fine”,  “Hun43d” and “Changes”. Tracks like these are listenable but are barely memorable when reflecting on the album. It also creates a contradiction with the album’s claim of grand experimentation, when Testing is just your average, druggy, psychedelic ASAP Rocky project. No risks in the experimental vein of Danny Brown, Death Grips or Jpegmafia are taken, artists that Rocky should have taken inspiration from if he wanted to live up to the label of experimental rap.

A pretty instrumental is wasted on the Kodak Black-featuring “Calldrops”, which could have been the standout track on Testing if it wasn’t for the detour in the second half with Kodak Black’s offbeat and off-key verse straight from the jail phone – a trio of unforgivable mistakes on the song that stand no chance of redemption. Besides the fact it is a song designed for Playboi Carti, “Buck Shots” is one of the few moments of Testing where Rocky picks up the pace, bringing life to the production and energy to his delivery.

The other moment of memorability is the highlight “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” featuring production and verses from grime veteran Skepta. “Mask Off” has a run for its money for Best Flute Instrumental that is utilised effectively on “Praise the Lord”, matching Rocky’s and Skepta’s synchronised flows and one-liners (“Pockets loaded, rocket loaded, okay lets rock and roll this / Time to go, lock, stock and two smoking barrels” / “She came, I came, now what’s, my name? / My chain, my pants, my pants with the chain”). The duo’s exchanges on the third verse is another detail that gives “Praise the Lord” the most greatest value of the entire album.

Lead single “ASAP Forever” was replaced with a remix featuring T.I. and Kid Cudi, yet the structure of the remix does not live up to the original, with every portion of the song introduced awkwardly. Forgiving the fact that T.I. does not even have a verse, Kid Cudi’s hums and rhythmic rapping fit the production perfectly, but are let down by the track’s muddled linearity. “Fukk Sleep” nearly unlocks its full potential if it only used FKA Twigs’ heavenly outro as a repeated refrain after Rocky’s chorus.

It’s confusing what Testing is trying to be, like a teenager uncovering what sets himself out from his peer group. Nothing what Rocky raps is interesting or even entertaining when you are exposed to nauseating lines like “My newest President a asshole / I guess that’s why I’m leaving turd stains”. When there’s no cringeworthy lines there’s lyrical contradictions, such as Rocky stating “if I’m in your top 10, mine’s better be the first name” on the opening track only to reconsider the thought two tracks later (“I could give a fuck about a list, ya heard?”)

With a name like Testing, it does not test as much as it claims. Rocky’s musical ability has been lacking for years now, and it’s as clear as ever on Testing. Perhaps his mind is too focused on the fashion.

Rating: 5 / 10

Favourite tracks:  “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)”, “ASAP Forever”, “Buck Shots”, “Fukk Sleep”

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