Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “you must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star”. It’s an obscure quote, but it’s one that Harlem rapper ASAP Rocky is seeming to practice. It’s been 3 years since his last studio album A.L.L.A, and throughout 2018 so far he’s been leaving clue after clue alluding to his new release Testing, which is slated to drop–well, whenever Rocky feels like it. Mystery and confusion seem like an off-kilter way to promote an album, but with each sprinkle of presage, it becomes much more clear that ASAP Rocky is puppeteering this rollout like no rapper has done before.
From the beginning, it’s seemed like the blueprint for Testing is that there was no blueprint at all. Late January saw the release of ‘5IVE $TAR$’, a lo-fi, unmixed stream of consciousness that found its way onto the AWGE Soundcloud page. This juxtaposed the polished, arena-ready singles like ‘Everyday’ and ‘F*ckin Problems’ that skyrocketed his last two albums into success. However, ‘5ive $tars’ was marketed as a ‘Dummie’ track, and followed by two others later in the week. A crash test logo and 3 unmixed songs tagged with the ‘Dummie’ stigma? It was clear that Asap Rocky was fucking with us. This tactic not only left everybody confused and bewildered, but excited for what’s coming next.
The imagery connected to the rollout for Testing plays a major part in sparking the curiosity of the masses. Billboards and Rocky’s personal Instagram have started to act as mood boards, showcasing his mindset and inspiration for this album. Everything from the reoccurring crash test logo, to the emphasis on the yellow palette, is designed to spark the minds of fans, and inspire excitement. It comes across as stream of consciousness, but that’s intentional. The muddling posts, the unclear outcome and the ‘Dummie’ tracks combine to symbolise that this forthcoming album is Rocky conducting a crash test on hip-hop.
Rocky has taken some familiar routes on the journey to Testing but has positioned the path on an obscure angle that strays it far away from conformity. His performance of ‘ASAP Forever’ and ‘Distorted Sounds’ on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon may have seemed like a safe move, but his incorporation of a stage set laboratory showcased that he’s here to resist expectation. The video for his single ‘Herojuana Blunts’ uses drug imagery that is both psychedelic and confronting, representing his aspirations to challenge his audience. Rocky is using traditional outlets like TV and the internet in non-traditional ways, furthering the pandemonium that is this album rollout, and inspiring discourse within the rap community.
Overall, this rollout is a mess. It’s frantic, it’s chaotic and it’s manic, but it’s also enticing and exciting. ASAP Rocky is approaching audiences in new, obscure ways that see your traditional hip-hop fan thinking outside a restricted box. As the release date of this album still remains unclear, billboards and posts pop up everywhere frustrating every rap fan in the world, preparing us to explode when it finally drops. I may be overthinking this journey, and I may be reading into non-existent symbolism, but what I do know is ASAP Rocky made me this way. As he continues to test the waters and use off-kilter promotional tactics to splash us in the face, the hip-hop community is awash in anticipation.