Release Date: May 25, 2018
Label: AWGE on behalf of Interscope
Length: 15 tracks, 52 minutes
Background: as is typical, new york city's creative collective A$AP mob's most popular member, A$AP rocky made us wait quite a while for his third studio album. on ASAP 12vyy's 2017 cut Diamonds, rocky states that he's going to make us wait until Christmas for his forthcoming album at the time; in all reality, he made us wait even longer. throughout his career, his releases have directly coincided with the passing of a friend or loved one. most notably, A$AP mob founder A$AP yams passed away on January 18th of 2015. this happened around the time that At.Long.Last.A$AP was intended to drop, and it pushed the release of the album back just over 5 months to May. the same is true for TESTING, which was released following the passing of one of his sisters. the same is even true for his debut LP, which was released following the passing of rocky's father. this trend is known as the A$AP mob curse, and has been acknowledged by rocky as one of the reasons that he takes such a long time between the release of his projects. the other main reason is to switch up his sound, which was a key element in his third album; to TEST new styles and push the boundaries of hip-hop as a genre by infusing hazy, psychedelic elements to his music more than ever before. rocky is no stranger to drugs, with songs such as L$D and Kissing Pink proclaiming his love for the mind altering substances that shaped the sounds of his first two studio albums. TESTING received mixed reviews upon release, as rocky strayed so far from his signature sound at points that some people felt that the album was sloppy and that rocky had pushed things too far. after nearly three years, this album has aged beautifully in my opinion. thanks to @Pierre Bourne, i decided to give this album the formal review that it deserves given how opinions of the album have changed since release.
1. Distorted Records
- in terms of pushing sound, this song was an exciting way to open up the album. the beat is based around these deep, droning sounds while hard hitting drums lay under the track. this song is a sort of updated take on rocky's rave style music and sits nicely beside tracks like LPFJ2 and Wild for the Night with skrillex. this song was made to mosh to, and the energy that it possesses makes it perfect for just that. in my opinion, rocky's second best intro track behind holy ghost.
2. A$AP Forever (feat. Moby, T.I., and Kid Cudi)
- this track was released ahead of the album as a single to build up anticipation. the track begins with a brief spoken intro by T.I., followed by a potent verse about his roots and current lifestyle with a flow that goes great with the beat from rocky. this is followed by kid cudi, who drops his verse with the themes of freedom, internal struggle, and mental health (a la KSG) along with some great background harmonies. the outro is where the song falls off for me a bit. it samples Moby's 2000 single Porcelain, and although it fits with the psychedelic theme of the album, it runs for a minute and it drags the song out a bit too much for my liking. the song was solid at just over 4 minutes without the outro, and the outro feels unnecessary.
3. Tony Tone
- this track was the real start of the testing portion of the album. rocky drops verses about his upbringing in harlem and how he took influence from harlem legend Tone Wop growing up and into his career. he makes references to the late A$AP yams alongside those to his childhood. the chorus on this track exudes confidence, although it directly contradicts the first few lines of the intro track where he proclaims himself as the best rapper out by saying that he doesn't care about lists and comparisons. regardless, this song is a strong cut and is very telling about rocky's youth and the history of his childhood in harlem.
4. Fukk Sleep (feat. FKA Twigs)
- the fourth track on this album is one of the most hazy and psychedelic on the entire project. rocky elaborates on his current lifestyle, his position in rap and fashion as a trendsetter, and his success in both areas. he also gives a vivid account of his childhood, and how he came from so little to be in the spotlight doing so much. the outro to this track features chilling vocals from FKA Twigs that contrast nicely with the droning instrumental and give a nice send off to this cut.
5. Praise Da Lord (Da Shine) [feat. Skepta]
- this is easily the most popular song off of this LP. rocky has said that he directly avoids making songs that fit the formula of radio hits, but this song re-establishes his place as one of the top artists in the genre in that same area. the flute melody on this track is infectious, and the underlying melody and drums on this track make for a near perfect instrumental. the lyrics on this track are nothing incredibly special, but skepta's feature is top teir and it adds a great complimentary energy to the track, particularly when the two trade bars on the third verse. this song is as popular as it is years after release for a reason, and to me it's the perfect hit song from an artist that doesn't write his songs with the intention of them coming off as hits. given the intention of this song, there are no flaws.
6. CALLDROPS (feat. Kodak Black)
- this song is one of two songs on the album that i feel lacked in execution. it begins as what seems to be an ode to the A$AP mob curse and a ballad from rocky to the loved ones that he lost around the release of his albums. the track then transitions to a verse from kodak black given over the phone due to the fact that he was incarcerated at the time of recording. the message on this song is potent, but i feel that there is a better way to have delivered it. this song is confusing because i'm not entirely sure why kodak was chosen for this feature. it could be a reference to the targeted persecution of black people in america by law enforcement, which is very much a worthy message deserving of its own song. the placement of this feature here does a disservice to this song whereas both messages would make for powerful songs on their own. the saving grace of this song is the mixing and production outside of the obvious low quality of kodak's vocals.
- the icy trap beat on this song is nothing short of awesome. there are unlisted features from playboi carti and smooky margiela on this track as well, the latter of the two delivers a great verse with carti also performing well. essentially, this track is a dual sided story of rocky's wild lifestyle as a kid and as a successful artist in the public eye. the last lyric on the track is "ends with a buckshot", which makes reference to how all of the hard work that went into the transition from being a kid in harlem to one of the most talented rappers alive could all end with one pull of the trigger. very overlooked song in my opinion.
8. Gunz N Butter (feat Juicy J)
- rocky and juicy j have amazing chemistry, which also appears on rocky's hit single Multiply from a few years prior to the release of this album. this track is a criticism of the gun laws in america and a commentary on black on black crime. rocky essentially equates purchasing a gun to going to the store to buy butter, and is also a reference to the "guns vs. butter model" which criticizes the american government for allocating funds towards guns and defense, and not to "butter", which is an example of an item that is involved in the social and economic welfare of economically underprivileged peoples, namely black people in this context. this song expands nicely on the referencing at the end of the previous track, and also features uniquely dark production that fits the tone of the song well. also a very overlooked song, mainly because of the lack of knowledge of the references that are made.
9. Brotha Man (feat. French Montana)
- this song features additional unlisted features from frank ocean and snoop dogg. the production here is some of the weakest on the album, and i find the structure of the song to be weak as well. back and forth bars are usually a good sign of chemistry when done well, but i feel that it was overdone on this song to the point that it feels forced, unlike on Praise Da Lord. the lyrical potency and subject matter of this song save it from being a total dud, but this the other song on the album that i feel was lacking from an execution standpoint.
10. OG Beeper
- this song features a brief unlisted feature from blocboy jb. the production on this song is driving and the drums are well executed against the sounds of what i can only assume is a beeper making up the majority of the melody. i'm not old enough to have ever owned a beeper, and i'm willing to bet that most of you aren't either. that being said, this song has always sounded a bit empty to me and i feel like the production was lacking just one more element to make the beat flow better. this was one of the few instances on the album where i feel that the "testing element" is used as an excuse for flaws, but the story of this track is an interesting reference to rocky's youth and the situation that a lot of underprivileged black children in america face.
11. Kids Turned Out Fine
- this is another example of songs feeding off of one another; this song is a more general account of the experience of underprivileged black youth in america. the hazy production and vocal distortion are signature from rocky and they create a smooth overall sound for the track. seems like an odd choice of production style for such a serious topic, but it works in the same way that OG Beeper does to go along with the wild lifestyle that rocky describes on that song. here, it's intended to fit the message of the title of the song and goes to say that the ones who make it past all these troubles have the potential to disrupt the cycle because they turned out fine, more or less.
- this is song screams old rocky to me with the flow and beat selection on the track. almost as if rocky was trying to show us that he still has the skills that made him famous in the first place. the production is a bit more adventurous than his old work, but it is very reminiscent of his older work. of course, it is an updated take, and it incorporates the socially conscious lyrical elements as well as the extra psychedelic production. the brief instrumental intro on this track is awesome, and i think the song is a good example of an artist playing back to their roots but not relying entirely on their old sound for their current success.
- this song incorporates the most psychedelic influence out of all the songs on the tracklist. essentially, this song is an anecdote of how changes in rocky's life have affected him. whether it be changes in his love life, changes in his lifestyle (coinciding with the beat switch), changes in his sound, or even changes resulting from the loss of his father, yams, or his sister, it's all covered here. the production on this track is very airy, and the beat switch comes in at the perfect time. the return to the original melody with additional drums wraps this track up extremely well. the song features an interpolation of International Player's Anthem by outkast, one of rocky's major influences growing up. also, the mixing on this track is great; the dynamics of the sound here and how it changes volume and position to the listener are incredible details that make this track just that much better.
14. Black Tux, White Collar
- rocky and clams casino have produced some incredible songs together. overall, this isn't one of the best but it definitely has it positives. the messaging on this song is made very clear within the first 30 seconds. rocky goes through a few different entendres, playing on the title of the song which i think is very creative. the progression of the instrumental throughout the song keeps it from getting boring even though there are no major changes. the drums in particular help to achieve this effect as they go in and out or change throughout the song. it's a powerful cut overall, and while it might not be boring per se, it is a bit forgettable because of a lack of a defining characteristic in the vocals or the instrumental.
15. Purity (feat. Frank Ocean)
- this song is an excellent and i mean excellent closer. frank's verse is spectacular technically and lyrically while still remaining catchy and interesting. rocky's verse is a very moving account of his emotional and mental state in the context of this album and his past releases. the beat is sinister, working in a sample from lauryn hill's I Gotta Find Peace of Mind to speak on the hectic celebrity lifestyle that comes with rocky's position in culture. the title is an obvious reference to how we lose our purity over time, and this is rocky's way of summing up his story and opening up about how he copes with all that has come his way.
Afterthoughts: i've seen this album referenced as rocky's Yeezus, and i think that misses the point of the album entirely. the socially conscious nature of the album is more in line with that of kendrick lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly than it is with Yeezus. i say this because most of the socially conscious content on this album is not made from personal anecdotes much like on TPAB, whereas on Yeezus, nearly the entire album is a personal account of racism and struggle from kanye. the only similarity between the two of them is that they are influenced by other genres and they use that influence in an attempt to bring those sounds to the attention of the mainstream. rocky has a history of a psychedelic sound where kanye doesn't have a history of an industrial sound, but the point remains the same. before you jump down my throat, no this album is not as good as either of the other two that i mentioned. there are definitely some sonic duds on this project; the genre bending and sound pushing get excessive on tracks like CALLDROPS and Brotha Man to the point where it isn't enjoyable. as i mentioned in the body of the review, there are some elements to tracks that i don't believe fit well, as well as tracks that are lacking something to elevate them to that next level. however, the songs on this album that check all the boxes are some of the best in rocky's discography. for the majority of the album, he did a wonderful job of incorporating new sounds and pushing the barriers of hip-hop as we know it in the mainstream. the idea of this album is great, and for the most part it was executed well. regardless, there were some topical contradictions and ideas thatcame off unfinished to me, and that was the major problem that i had with this album. given the material that was presented on this project, i give this album an 8/10 overall.
next review: childish gambino's Awaken, My Love! or KIDS SEE GHOSTS' self titled album.