A$AP Rocky new album review: First listen impressions of Testing, track-by-track

A$AP Rocky has been reaching for the top tier of rap for a while but lacks a killer album, will that change with Testing?

Christopher Hooton
Friday 25 May 2018 18:56
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A$AP Rocky official credits and tracklist for 'Testing' album promo

ASAP Rocky has released his new album Testing, which is quite the collaboration. There's guest appearances from Frank Ocean, Ms. Lauryn Hill, FKA twigs, Kid Cudi, Dev Hynes, Skepta, Playboi Carti, French Montana, Snoop Dogg, Puff Daddy and more, production from Juicy J, Moby, Clams Casino and Boys Noize, and a songwriting credit for MGMT's Andrew Van Wyngarden.

I was a big fan of ASAP's breakthrough mixtape, Live. Love. ASAP (2011) but found the subsequent albums, Long. Live. ASAP (2013) and At. Long. Last. ASAP (2015) both lacking. Can he crystalise his talents for this third LP?

Here are my first impressions as I go in for listen number one (continually updated):

1. 'Distorted Records'

We open with a synth tone alternating between clean and dirty, clearing a space. An incredibly nasty beat drops reminiscent of 'Peso' and evocative of a junkyard dog barking through a chain link fence. There's no real hook here, it's more of an intro track, but A$AP does take an early shot at Trump (“My newest president an asshole”).

2. 'ASAP Forever'

After that palette cleanser (dirtier?) we shift vibe to a sped-up Moby sample (that 'Porcelain' track used in The Beach). The track has a pleasantly wavy feel, particularly in the coda with the Khloe Anna vocals, but this is mostly just down to the sample and by the end he's essentially just spinning the Moby song. Kid Cudi's verse is flat and A$AP's stunting lines are a little cliche ("They tryna front on the game / They gon' remember my name / ASAP always come with the flame" etc).

3. 'Tony Tone'

This is more like it. An incredibly

moreish beat centered around a discordant, corrupted guitar riff. This track feels mean, the album narrowing its eyes. Lyrically, A$AP pushes back against political correctness: "People think I'm an asshole, I say anything / Truthfully, I just say what I really think / Like I’m too fresh, man, to me you're under-class-man / Would say 'suck my dick' but that's sexual harassment".

4. 'Fukk Sleep'

Pretty derivative of Migos, A$AP doing his best Quavo over a fairly stock trap beat. FKA Twigs is up soon though, will he waste her like he did M.I.A on 'Fine Wine'? ...No, her section is the highlight of the track, her gorgeous, ceiling-shatteringly high vocal cutting through the murkiness of the beat.

5. 'Praise The Lord (Da Shine)'

Flacko reportedly cut a ton of songs off this album and this should have been one of them. The flute melody is just irritating and feels like cookie cutter trap, the lyrics are trite and not even Skepta can save the track with his guest verse. A low point for the album.

6. 'CALLDROPS'

Off the back of that last song which I will never listen to again comes 'CALLDROPS' , a wash of hazy acoustic guitar with trap bleeding in at the edges. It's an interlude really, a nice one, and a conversation between Rocky and Kodak Black, the latter of whom contributes a weary, defeated verse through a collect call from prison. "Free Kodak", the song concludes.

7. 'Buck Shots'

Probably my favourite song on the album, or at least the most immediately enjoyable. A bass groove underpins some tight production and Playboi Carti always brings the fun. This will go off in the clubs.

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8. 'Gunz N Butter'

The album's starting to hit its stride now. This one, presumably a reference to the guns versus butter government model, has a Live. Love. ASAP feel, the heady, dizzying beat

constantly switching up and being thrown around by gunshots. Also, he's after Trump again: "Prayin' for a JFK / All we got was KKK".

9. 'Brotha Man'

And now the first of two three (I've think he's on 'Changes' too) collabs with Frank Ocean on Testing. Oddly Bill Withers-y musically. Aggressively disliking the French Montana hook which sounds like he's doing Adele karaoke, but the verses are good here. It's kind of a posse cut, with different rappers taking it in turns to show off. Snoop Dogg delivers the shortest verse ever (it's literally just nine words) while Frank is a good fit for Rocky's music (if you missed his track with A$AP Mob, 'RAF', it's a heater). Can't help but feel all this talent is squandered though; '1Train' it ain't.

10. 'OG Beeper'

A$AP recounts how he dreamt of becoming a rapper and then made it happen, over another face-scruncher of a beat, a real head nodder with keys stabbing through a reverse-sequenced beat. Here he references his "detour" from rap the past few years as he dabbled in fashion, modelling for Dior. Now I'm back, he's ultimately saying.

11. 'Kids Turned Out Fine'

I read this as 'Kids Turned Out Fire', which is a track for a later album. We open with a California-tinged garage rock guitar line, which soon takes a tumble and gets punctured by hi-hats. Kind of sounds like Red Hot Chili Peppers sounding through the wall next door from a trap house. A bat is repeatedly taken to the song's framework, until it ultimately collapses into pitch-shifted rubble. A pretty, melancholy track, I've got a lot of time for it.

12. 'Hun43rd'

A$AP reflects on growing up around 143rd street in Harlem. Again, his verses aren't going to set the world alight, and again his guests come to the rescue, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) contributing a spacy, sensuous, 80s-flecked chorus vocal.

13. 'Changes'

It may have taken 13 tracks, but we've got to some real shit. 'Changes' is a love song about regret, A$AP describing how he lost a girl to another man and retreated into the excess of "rich n****" life. Frank offers support with the vocals, and the prom night guitar line is interrupted by an off-kilter beat/verse that bears more listening/analysis. A song for a long walk at night.

14. 'Black Tux, White Collar'

That airy, cavernous production could only be Clams Casino, who's behind all my favourite A$AP songs. The album's getting moodier now and more honest.

15. 'Purity'

Wow, a soulful and experimental end to the album. ASAP and Frank's verses are a-rhythmic and operate like spoken word poetry over a manipulated sample of Lauryn Hill's 'I Gotta Find Peace of Mind'. The beat, like several on this album, is like a bad trip, finding beauty and then blurring it, smudging it, smearing it, turning it inside out. This was definitely an album of two halves. ASAP winds up the album lamenting that focusing on his career has come at the expense of his relationships with the people he loves.

Conclusions: 15 tracks feels like a lot to take in and process in one go and there's plenty to revisit here. Sonically the album doesn't massively push in new directions, though a lot of thought has gone into the production which is schizophrenic and layered. A$AP consistantly lacks good lines but his flow is nice and there are plenty of gems - in fact, there's probably a dynamite 10-track album here.

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