A security guard carries a still lit blunt across Sony Hall as the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest‘s ‘Can I Kick It?’ fill the room. It doesn’t take long for more plumes of smoke to appear around the same spot he’s just confiscated it from, and by the time A$AP Rocky appears on stage, the unmistakable smell of weed fills the air. Once the self-proclaimed pretty motherfucker is up on his platform, flanked by what feels like at least 30 other guys, there’s not much point in trying to keep the crowd in check.
Tonight (May 25), Rocky is throwing a party to celebrate his new album ‘Testing’, released just over an hour after the event ends. He announced it to fans on Twitter three hours before doors with a photo of him wearing a t-shirt that read, “CASE STUDY: 001 FREE SHOW”, keeping the exact reason for the last minute set to himself. Those who managed to RSVP before the list was full, or just showed up on the off chance, clearly came to party regardless.
After kicking things off from the audience with a selection of older tracks including ‘Peso’, and recent single ‘A$AP Forever’, A$AP makes his way to the stage to introduce the night. “This ain’t no show, man,” he declares. “It’s a fucking experience.” He’s adamant about the former point throughout the night, repeating it or a variation on it on several occasions. He calls it a listening party, but raps over all the tracks, getting his DJ to stop so he can take the mic alone, or joining the crowd to start mosh pits. He also chastises fans for not listening closely. “Are you actually listening or are you too fucked up to hear anything?” he asks at one point, but you could argue it’s hard not to be distracted when you’ve got such a compelling rapper in front of you.
Rocky doesn’t quite share all of ‘Testing”s tracks with us, but he does run through several of them, building the carnage with each one. ‘Tony Tone’ is more ragged and in your face than on record, while the FKA Twigs-featuring ‘Fukk Sleep’ he introduces as being about when “tomorrow turns into today, yesterday turns into now and shit.” It skips from lethargic beats to little skittering samples and back again, mirroring the peaks and troughs of sleep deprivation.
For Skepta collab ‘Praise The Lord (Da Shine)’, the rapper gets back in the middle of the floor and instructs the crowd how to “do a mosh pit properly” (it involves putting your phone away, FYI). Afterward, he shares some insight into the track. “I love that song for the simple fact when me and Skepta made that song, we was in London high mushrooms and LSD all night,” he says. “I never saw colours like that before. Music never sounded that good before.”
‘Drop$’ provides a rare sombre moment in the midst of the chaos. It features Kodak Black, who Rocky says he called in jail and tells his fans he wants them to “feel the pain in me” on this album. The song itself sounds a bit messy and disorienting live, voice samples overlapping each other as A$AP raps on top. ‘Gunz N Butter’ finds the star giving a speech about guns. “This whole country is capitalising on guns,” he says. “War sells more than pornography, more than drugs.” He leads the crowd in several impassioned yells of “Fuck em!” before dropping the track, which features lines like “I probably should be dead” between gunshot samples.
Before one last track, Rocky has something else to say about ‘Testing’. “I sacrificed a lot of outside time, I sacrificed a lot of pussy cos I wanted to put this art out,” he explains. “I wanted you to know how I felt. This shit was like constipation.” Now he’s finally letting himself back outside, he celebrates the end of the party by inviting his crew back on stage for ‘Hun43rd’, where he’s also joined by a special guest. In the chorus, he passes the mic to Dev Hynes, who sings over the recorded version of his velvet vocals, before handing the mic back to A$AP and getting back to dancing around him.
“This is one of the best, unorthodox listening sessions I’ve been to,” says Rocky in closing. It’s a fitting introduction to the world for his new album, given he’s not exactly the most conventional of artists. That’s part of what makes him so great, though – tonight and beyond.