Zzz… Zzz… Oh, sorry. I fell asleep waiting for A$AP Rocky’s new album to drop. Three years after his sophomore offering, Rocky makes his return to the spotlight. However, leading up to TESTING’s release, I had my doubts. Two promo singles preceded this long-awaited album. Neither impressed me despite my love for A$AP Rocky’s music. As much as I wanted to believe this would be a fire album, I knew better. Flacko built a reputation off of fringe-chic soundscapes and fire singles. His word-bending rhyme schemes contain a unique flair. A leader of the new school, Rocky boasts an impressive catalog. Nevertheless, a crossroads appeared sometime in the last 36 months. Complacency flows through this project, possibly due to his business ventures. Not every artist has the poise to maintain artistic excellence while juggling numerous endeavors. On TESTING Rocky sounds more distracted than ever, glossing over key details.
This release lacks focus. I don’t know what happened. Rocky was an artist I could always depend on for stylish substance. His current form trades structure for atmosphere. Flacko’s lyrics have never been the most intricate or poignant. Yet his words carry an important weight on their shoulders. Although he mostly sounds the same here, Rocky’s rap performance leaves a lot on the table. Many of these tracks feature head-scratching interjections and chopped-and-screwed vocals. The tortoise-esque vocals made sense on his debut mixtape because of its trippy underground production style. Conversely, TESTING suffers from too broad of brushstrokes. Rather than mold his tracks into finely tuned songs, Rocky prioritizes vibes. At times, this approach works. When “A$AP Forever” first dropped, it disappointed me. In a sense, it still does. However, adding Kid Cudi to this cloudy instrumental improves its overall appeal. Additionally, “Brotha Man” grew on me.
In spite of French Montana’s horrid singing, the track’s beat intrigues me. Vocals from Frank Ocean and Snoop Dogg mesh well with the grown-man sonics. I love when the string section slides in, linking the song’s final two acts. Also, the album opens and closes effectively, though both songs need a more dynamic Rocky for signature consideration. The meat of TESTING isn’t terrible. It is underwhelming nonetheless. Following countless phantom release dates, this album does not live up to the hype. Maybe that’s partially my fault, our fault. I dubbed “L$D” a watershed moment in contemporary hip-hop. I stand by that statement. Rocky took rap to a new stratosphere with that record. Unfortunately, it seems the single’s success altered the Harlem product’s outlook on his artistic strengths. Flacko’s suave grit separated his art from his peers. That element disappears here.
Throughout this 15-track affair, TESTING’s guests overshadow Rocky on a consistent basis. While many heavy-hitters appear, this simply should not happen. A$AP is a more compelling artist than he is exhibiting. Years of waiting led up to this: a sleepy, unfocused collection of juvenile ideas. Rocky’s social commentary feels vapid and inessential. Overall his raps give off an improvised air. It’s like he went through this album not knowing what he wanted to talk about. Contrary to previous albums, TESTING features no quintessential A$AP Rocky tracks. Nearly all of these songs drag or lose momentum halfway in. Despite some instrumental ambition, this production palette struggles distinguishing and categorizing sounds. Songs overlap each other too often for my liking. This album reminds me of an aimless neighborhood stroll. Sometimes it’s gorgeous, sometimes it’s dull. I recommend quality headphones here. Still, for a new-age talent like Rocky, penmanship goes a long way.