Back in 2016, a viral list hit the net placing rappers in categories of elite, trash, overrated, overhyped and underrated.
ASAP Rocky was listed in the “overrated” category and was none too pleased with it: “A$AP Rocky Overrated? How Sway? N*gga I put a album out once every two years. I see I gotta level up on n*ggas again for 2017. Say less.”
In 2011, ASAP Rocky shook up the rap world with his video for “Peso.” His amalgam of chopped-n-screwed beats, high fashion raps, and lyrical bravado urged everyone to embrace it as another layer to the New York sound. ASAP Rocky was among the first in a long line of rappers to blow up off the internet. In spite of this, after seven years Rocky has yet to reach his full musical potential.
Even with two full-length studio albums, LONG.LIVE.A$AP and it’s psychedelic follow-up AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, Rocky fell short in reaching the bar the industry set for him. The style, the look, a few stand-out songs, and respect from his peers are all there. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kept him out of the Drake, Cole and Kendrick conversation, but something is curiously lacking. TESTING is Rocky’s third album and as the saying goes, “third time’s a charm,” right? Well, not necessarily.
With TESTING, his most “experimental album,” Rocky delivers 54-minutes of him pushing musical boundaries to the limit. The first track we hear is “Distorted Records,” with Flacko showcasing his supreme confidence—the only explanation for him making a buzzing noise the song’s analog, and not caring if it annoyed the hell out of listeners. Another example of this appears on his psych-rock influenced, “Kids Turned Out Fine.”
Nothing about this album is mainstream and I think that was Rocky’s intention. His “cool kid at the table” persona shines through most on the Moby sampling track “A$AP FOREVER.” Rocky chose to replace the original with the remix, adding Kid Cudi and T.I. Rocky missed a chance to bridge the gap between two distinct New York sounds, his and Moby’s, by adding the two out-of-towners to the track.
One of the album stand outs came courtesy of Grime legend Skepta. “Praise the Lord” is built around a simple flute-like riff that will be a crowd pleaser at concerts. Producer Dev Hynes shows out on “Hun43rd” with dark, chopped-n-screwed, auto-tuned production. Puff Daddy appears on “Toney Tone” dropping some of his signature ad-libs as Rocky showcases some of his best rapping to date. On “OG Beeper” Flacko levitates on a beat that was tailor-made for Lil Wayne (just had to put that in the universe). Frank Ocean is the album’s biggest marquee guest. Appearing on two tracks, the soul-drenched “Brotha Man,” and on the Lauryn Hill-sampled “Purity.” On the latter, it seems like Frank Ocean featuring ASAP Rocky instead of vice-versa, but it works and is the most introspective song on the album.
Rocky has always experimented with sounds, but this time around TESTING is spotty and inconsistent, at best. The album has too many songs that minimize his strengths. The auto-tune, gargle-filled, FKA Twigs assisted “Fukk Sleep,” for example, sounds like he recorded it in a closet.
Saying Rocky is “overrated” as a rapper is lazy and outright blasphemous, depending on who you’re talking to. The truth remains that after dropping three albums over a span of seven years, we are still waiting to see if he will live up to his potential. 2011’s “Peso” was his genre defining moment that he’s been unable to recreate or surpass. Maybe the bar was set too high and we should just enjoy the ride.