Finally after three years of waiting, ASAP Rocky has released his third studio album, Testing. And sadly, no one cares right now. Instead, all eyes are focused on the Pusha T and Drake beef. On top of that, Pusha’s own album, Daytona, hit the streaming services on the same exact night, and outdid ASAP’s as far as critical acclaim goes.
Nonetheless, the long await is over, and the unofficial captain of ASAP Mob is back from the hip hop abyss. To be honest, many of his rollout singles over the past year suffered from a lack of direction and focus, specifically on his verses with the Mob on the Cozy Tapes projects. Even the “ASAP Forever” single released about a month and a half ago sounded void of a catchy hook or memorable lyrics.
Nonetheless, the Harlem rapper surprised fans over Instagram with the release date of Testing. Rocky clearly decides to throw the kitchen sink right off the bat as far as production goes. The introduction track, “Distorted Records” is too short to really praise, but incorporates cockeyed baselines, with ASAP acknowledging those hypnotic acid house chords, especially when he raps, “I can feel the base/from the ceiling to the basement.” The song, while devoid of a structured length, still acts as a solid start.
The inclusion of Kid Cudi on “ASAP Forever” adds life to the lead single, but Rocky’s uninspired verse and beat switch-up suffers from any organization. This album really does sound like Rocky is testing something creatively, but without any clear direction or thematic element.
“Tony Tone” production-wise is very similar to the intro track, and benefits from an infectious chorus from ASAP. Also, the chaos on display throughout the entire three minutes is dizzying, but in a favorable way. The Harlem rapper harmonizes with the instrumentals, specifically when he chants, “stoned-stoned when I’m in my zone-zone/smokin’ on the homegrown, feeling like I’m all alone.” Rocky clearly exercises his best impression of Cudi, who was probably present in the studio when this was recorded.
The soothing base on “Fukk Sleep” makes up for ASAP’s skeletal lyrics that once again, lack any logical direction. The vocal performance from English songwriter FKA Twigs serves as a formidable closer to a fragmented concept.
For a project that presents interesting ideas production-wise, “Praise The Lord (Da shine)” seems derivative of every trap rap song that’s used a flute in the background. Skepta and Rocky’s delivery is both predictable and mundane as well. It’s disappointing, considering Skepta brought a lot of energy to Playboi Carti’s recent release, Die Lit.
Rocky clearly tries to utilize his best Frank Ocean impression on the final half of Testing, especially when he attempts to be more melodic, and employ more beat switch-ups. His pursuits, while subordinate at times, actually come off better than expected, specifically on the more soulful “Brotha Man” featuring French Montana, and guess who, Mr. Ocean. Rocky’s vocal edit is spot-on and Montana’s hook mixes in well with the more funk-inspired guitar riffs.
However, as with most cases throughout this album, for every beautifully sounding track riddled with intriguing edits and vocal distortions, there’s a confusing artistic decision, like on the monotonous “Kids Turned Out Fine.” Or, the lifeless “Calldrops” where Rocky calls Kodak Black from prison to give a verse over the phone. No one can understand what Kodak is saying because of the grainy reception.
Again though, the song following that Kodak blunder, “Buck Shots,” delivers a beautiful Pierre Bourne-style beat, and un-ironically, Carti features on the track. Without many lyrics, both rappers utilize their musical prowess to make an interesting concept (for once).
Rocky thankfully finishes off the album strong. “Changes” contains four polished beat switches, and for once, Rocky is introspective with his lyrics, comparing his own life to others, and questioning what is really important. The Harlem rapper brings back Ocean for the final song “Purity,” which sounds like it could have been featured on blond, based on the spacey acoustic guitar. Frank and Rocky both rap their asses off, and for the first time in Rocky’s career, fans are able to see a look into the insecurities he faces everyday.
The final three tracks prosper because of an actual thematic concept, and honed-in production.
The proverbial “kitchen sink” gave us sprinkles of genius on Testing (i.e. “Purity”, “Buck Shots”), but also sprinkles of ineptitude (i.e. “Calldrops, “”Kids Turned Out Fine.”). After a three-year wait, Rocky seems to know he’s not as good lyrically as he once was, so he puts all of his efforts into the instrumentals. For better or for worse, the leader of the ASAP Mob shows he can still be great, but also shows he still has some work to do.