The May 25 Breakdown: Pusha-T and A$AP Rocky duke it out for hip hop’s top spot
On Friday, May 25, the hip hop world received two of the most highly anticipated albums of 2018: A$AP Rocky’s supposedly avant-garde Testing and Pusha T’s entirely Kanye-produced DAYTONA.
While these projects would never be compared if it weren’t for their shared release date, as Rocky’s New York-swagging, subwoofer-rumbling sound and Push’s traditionally bent, soul-leaning sound reside in completely different arenas of rap, it’s natural for fans (myself included) to have some analytical fun with such a big day in popular music. Personally, choosing just one of these albums to formally review would be a deviation from the natural thought processes of music fans and an ignorance to the drama and power of release dates, so I present a brief breakdown of the hip-hop happenings of May 25.
The most general distinction between these two projects is their respective degrees of experimentation. Pusha T, who rose to relevance as half of the mid-2000s rap duo, Clipse, largely remains in the vein of standard hip hop on DAYTONA — he drops bars about cocaine and disses Drake for ghostwriting through classic rap flow and the bread-and-butter format of a few verses and choruses that both old and young heads can enjoy. The content is safe, and with crisp, undeniably Kanye beats, the album gives fans a comfortable listen, especially with a digestible runtime of twenty-one minutes.
Conversely, as the name indicates, Testing strays from the traditional, and Rocky made this artistic experimentation known during the album’s rollout. Emphasizing his desire as an artist to push sonic boundaries, Rocky claimed his third studio album delivers sounds he’s never heard and might not be fully appreciated until three or four years post-release. These statements scream Yeezus, but Testing is surprisingly palatable today; Rocky certainly plays with futuristic weirdness. “Distorted Records” opens the album with blaringly digitized bass, and nearly every track is filled with psychedelic glitches and pitch-manipulation, but the laid-back flow and pompous lyrics characteristic of the Harlem rapper still manage to cut through the noise. Listeners can even hear an unprecedentedly auto-tuned Flacko on “Fukk Sleep” and “Buck Shots.”
Essentially, DAYTONA vs. Testing is a question of the role of artists in general: Should musicians deliver what’s expected for the sake of immediate reception, or should they strive to dodge expectations and risk temporary discomfort to slowly evolve their artistry and the artistic field as a whole? Pusha T might have delivered the more technically sound project by hip-hop standards, but Rocky delivered a true project. With that said, as aforementioned, DAYTONA vs. Testing is also ridiculous. If either these albums were released a month later, this article wouldn’t exist — it’s purely a coincidence of time and the product of a music lover’s affinity for lofty comparisons. So instead, just enjoy the good hip hop of May 25.