By Neil MacAlister
Daytona by Pusha-T
Pusha-T is dominating the media right now, not because he just dropped the best album of the year, but because he’s embroiled in (and clearly winning) the most vicious rap beef the genre’s seen in years. It’s consisted largely of subtweets and veiled accusations, but the Drake/Pusha rivalry escalated from zero to 100 real quick.
In the midst of this fascinating news cycle, let’s not forget about the most important thing here: Pusha-T really did just drop the best album of the year. Daytona is the first in GOOD Music’s five-album cycle of seven-track, Kanye-produced projects, and it’s glorious. Every beat immaculately conveys the luxurious lifestyle of “the only kingpin who ain’t sinkin’,” with Pusha exercising his hubris like Tony Montana without the overambition.
Daytona excels in its brevity, with every coke rap and obscure reference carefully wrought and delivered through Pusha’s paradoxical blend of mania and composure. The samples weave in and out with profound dexterity, either complementing or juxtaposing Pusha as needed, with every aspect of the project tailor-made to reflect the lifestyle of a drug dealer-turned-mogul. To put things simply, Daytona is an audible luxury, and the synthesis of Kanye’s production with Pusha’s lyricism sounds even better than ever.
Testing by A$AP Rocky
Testing is receiving a lot of negative criticism, and there’s good reason for that. It’s an overly-ambitious attempt at art-rap, a project that liberally intersperses acoustic guitars, melodic distortion, and experimental genre-mashing in an attempt to elevate rap into some sort of high fashion. It’s certainly a flawed album, one which feels more inclined towards representing Rocky’s signature aesthetic than actually portraying his abilities as a rapper.
Testing is also, however, exactly what I expected from A$AP Rocky in 2018, and it’s one of my favourite projects I’ve heard all year. There are moments of pure, unadulterated beauty that appear throughout the project, as Rocky uses his immaculate ear to craft mercurial, ever-changing soundscapes and interweave sounds, samples, and voices across artistically exciting tracks. The features appear and disappear as needed, with fantastic results. Kid Cudi’s hums revamp the already-stellar lead single “A$AP Forever,” FKA Twigs and French Montana sing their hearts out, Skepta and Rocky flex back and forth on “Praise da Lord,” and BlocBoy JB, Playboi Carti, Juicy J, Dev Hynes, and Mikky Ekko deliver excellent, minimalistic background assistance.
Unfortunately for Rocky, the best moment on the album isn’t even his: Frank Ocean, in typical fashion, absolutely steals the show with his phenomenal contribution to “Purity.” Testing is frequently imperfect, but A$AP Rocky is so aesthetically gifted that a series of questionable artistic decisions nevertheless resulted in a truly beautiful album.