Everyone wants to be taken seriously; from the moment we utter our first opinions we desire for them to be met with genuine acceptance rather than dismissed as childish musings. Artists especially strive for this kind of acceptance, pushing their art to more thoughtful places than before.
The past few years have been fruitful in the maturing of artists work with the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Vince Staples and Solange all delivering on years of promise with their most developed works yet. Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky is attempting to follow in their footsteps with his latest album, Testing, but where his contemporaries found themselves within their maturing work, Rocky gets lost in the maze of influences he’s built around himself.
From the start of Testing’s album cycle, Rocky has made it clear this is his “artistic” record. Be it encapsulating himself in a glass cube for hours to a music video that’s visuals mirror that of other artists like Kendrick Lamar. Then came his list of collaborators which included Blood Oranges Dev Hynes, Dean Blunt and Hector Delgado, things were set for a very different A$AP record than we’ve come to expect.
In fact, for a few moments on Testing, this is exactly what we get. Opener “Distorted Records” finds Rocky remaining as braggadocios as ever with a new harsher sound backing up his flow. Surprisingly he does pretty great on the beat, inhabiting its distorted bass with a vocal inflection that gives the track the right level of menace. You really believe Rocky at this moment, that he sees himself as of the greatest rappers of all time and damn all who get in his way.
But soon after this track the album loses that focus and drive and instead becomes an album that finds anyone but Rocky to put in the spotlight. On the remix of “A$AP Forever” a Kid Cudi feature brightens up an absolutely dull Rocky performance, and Skepta is extraordinary on “Praise The Lord (Da Shine)” where Rocky sounds completely out of place.
This is commonplace on Testing, the features and production completely outshine Rocky in almost every instance. Be it Dean Blunts beat work on “CALLDROPS” or FKA Twigs making a welcomed return on “Fukk Sleep” you almost start to forget Rocky is even there.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the closing track “Purity”, which boasts a Lauryn Hill sampled beat and a world-class feature from Frank Ocean. In the way, these two verses from Frank and Rocky play out it showcases the artists who’ve truly reached maturity and the one who is just dressing in what they think that is.
In the end, Testing is just that, a test of how far Rocky can take his style and sound into a high art world. There are some hits like “Tony Tone” or the blissed-out “Hun43d” but none of these moments are not new if you’ve been interested in Rocky’s career. If he truly wants to move into new territory in his career it’s clear that the people he surrounds himself with are not the problem, it’s the lack of substance he brings to the songs that ultimately brings down his work.
On his next project, it would help if Rocky stopped taking other artists work and focus on creating some of his own.
Testing is out now.