I’ve been listening to A$AP Rocky ever since I first heard “Peso”. Still, I had always considered him to be a rapper still trying to find his voice. I’d listen with the hopes of being impressed only to leave thinking “not bad.”
When I read Rocky’s Complex interview ahead of the Testing release I felt like this would finally be his magnum opus, his masterpiece, his match to his contemporaries recent milestones in Tyler The Creator’s Flower Boy and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. In his interview he seemed self-aware to a point I don’t think many people will ever truly achieve. With a mind as succinct as his, I felt he must be leading towards the release of something truly significant.
Truthfully, just because an artist has their feet firmly planted on the ground doesn’t mean that they will produce something otherworldly. In fact, a lot of the time it is when artists are at their absolute worst that they make their best work.
But Rocky’s different. He’s been doing this for nearly a decade now, even though to many he’s still looked at as a fresh face in an overcrowded field of superstars, that experience has truly paid off on Testing. Even though we’ve seen him make moves in the fashion industry and take a step back from making music, on this album, he seems determined.
With emotional highs (“Black Tux, White Collar”) and lows (“Calldrops”) the album takes you on a journey through Rocky’s last few years, of course, referencing the passing of fellow A$AP Mob member A$AP Yams and many of his other public and personal memories. It starts off with the appropriately named “Distorted Records” before launching into a refined version of a Tasty! Jam, “A$AP Forever”, this time featuring an infectious verse from Kid Cudi.
After that comes the somewhat annoying and skippable “Tony Tom” before Rocky again regains composure for the album’s “blue period” (“Fukk Sleep”, “Praise The Lord”, “Calldrops”). During the seemingly dark three-track span Rocky gets introspective with the help of FKA Twigs, Skepta, and an imprisoned Kodak Black, who calls Rocky from jail. The collect call is just one of many audio recordings that Rocky has included during this span and throughout the album.
Immediately following his call with Kodak, Rocky seems to be reinvigorated. The album quickly jumps from blue to red with a simple “Free Kodak”. The next track, “Buck Shots”, is a banger and features (although uncredited) Playboi Carti and Smooky MarGielaa, Rocky’s two new protégées. Almost as if to say, “these guys aren’t featured, they’re a part of this”. He follows with banger (“Gunz N Butter”) after banger (“OG Beeper”) after banger (“Kids Turned Out Fine”), only interrupting the good vibes to let Frank Ocean do what he does best on one of the standout tracks from the album, “Brotha Man”.
Rocky missteps on the twelfth track “Hun43rd” where he sounds lazy throughout. But, it’s completely excusable due to what follows. The five minute long “Changes”, which I’ve been referring to as A$AP Rocky’s “Nights” because of how many transitions it goes through, is one of the best songs he’s ever made. The next song, “Black Tux, White Collar”, isn’t bad per say, but seems to only be there to segment the power of both “Changes” and the final song of the album: “Purity”.
“Purity”, featuring Frank Ocean and a sample from Lauryn Hill, is, in my humble opinion, the best song of the year. Opening with an eerie, pitched-down voice singing about finding “peace of mind”, the song sounds as if it should have been on Blonde. Frank takes the lead coming on the mic first and commanding it for more than half of the song before handing it off to Rocky who raps over nothing but a soothing, finger-plucked, acoustic guitar. It’s incredible from start to finish and is the most deserving song of the Tasty! Jam tag that I’ve ever heard.
Overall, A$AP Rocky has shown that he’s grown over recent years and that he deserves to be placed in the same playing field as some of his other contemporaries in Hip-Hop. At the moment, Testing feels incredible, like a full piece of art. That’s not to say it’s perfect, as it definitely has one or two songs you may never listen to again. But what Rocky accomplishes on “A$AP Forever”, “Brotha Man”, “Changes”, and “Purity”, overshadow any doubt that Testing is anything but A$AP Rocky’s magnum opus, his White Album, his “peace of mind”.