A$AP Rocky has yet to find his breakthrough album.
Rakim Mayers, aka A$AP Rocky, has yet to find his breakthrough album. Since he dropped “Peso,” the world has been patiently waiting for him to drop a full-length that would storm the rap world, and however respectful, Long. Live. A$AP and At. Long. Last. A$AP weren’t convincing enough. The gutsy bravado of songs such as “F**kin’ Problems” proves it’s in him, but too often he gets lost in unneeded collaborations and ideas far above his station. Rocky’s latest album, whose very title feels tentative, as if he’s merely trying out something he’s not quite sure of, won’t cement his place at the top either.
Testing features versatile tracks that exude pomp and bravado, and such tracks as “A$AP Forever REMIX” boast high production values, even if the sample of Moby’s “Porcelain” outstays its welcome. But his attempts to experiment sometimes fall short. The reminiscing “Hun43rd,” for instance, details Rocky’s life in Harlem and gives props to 2Pac with a sample of Thug Life’s “Cradle to the Grave,” but it feels like a bleak onslaught of poor lyrics and no real direction. “Fukk Sleep” is a rare glimpse of Rocky’s soulful voice, but it meanders as TKA Twig’s delicious melodies haunt its final beats. One of the better tracks on the album, “Changes” displays Rocky’s insecurity and fragility as he tells us that fame has cost him love. It is in these moments we see a better artist – one who’s not trying too hard – simply pouring his heart out without the need to prove he’s anything other than a talented singer and writer.
Such tracks as “Tony Tone” and “OG Beeper” feature vibrant and gritty beats, and “Buck Shots” adds bouncy melodies, but Rocky’s lyrics don’t push any boundaries, and sometimes fall tonally flat, as when he humblebrags about guns. Furthermore, his enlisted talents often do better with his lyrics: features from BlocBoy J, Kid Cudi and Playboy Carti all show up Rocky’s limitations as a rapper.
“Purity” ends the album on a strong note, with Frank Ocean and Rocky rapping over Lauryn Hill’s “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind.” If only the whole album had such passion and high- quality lyrics. An acoustic guitar nakedly reveals his pain as he raps, “Lose someone every release, it feels like the curse is in me/ Press is gone and I grieve, I share with you my peace.” The hip-hop world can be brutal, he laments, laying bare his soul and sadly acknowledging the trail of broken relationships that have followed him.
For every bad track on this frustrating album, another one offers a distinctive flair and ability unlike anyone else. But, at least as far as making albums goes, Rocky has yet to take his place in the pantheon of hip-hop royalty. Testing is what it says it is, though this far into his career, he should be doing better than merely a passing grade.
– Chris White