Rapper's posthumous album shows his versatility and industry-changing potential.
Pop Smoke's latest album Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon (Deluxe), released on July 20, shows what his short, intense flare of a rap career could have blossomed into if he had more time. The album features his characteristic aggressive rap flows, raw lyrics, and gritty vocals, and yet it dares to expand in new directions by highlighting his softer side. Although it provides a long-overdue eulogy to the young rapper from Canarsie, Brooklyn, it is weighed down with heavy doses of cringe-worthy misogyny in several of his songs.
His breakout single, "Welcome to the Party," featuring growling vocals and a nightmarish beat by 808Melo, became an anthem of Summer 2019 for many New Yorkers. In an interview with Genius, Pop Smoke said that he made the song at his house in just 30 minutes over a beat he found on YouTube. "I don't write at all, to be honest. I just go in there and go crazy," he said. His natural talent for rap music helped him gain attention quickly as an artist. Remixes of "Welcome to the Party" by British drill rapper Skepta and Queens rapper Nicki Minaj ignited the song's popularity and propelled Pop Smoke to fame.
When he was shot and killed at 20 during a home invasion on February 19, Pop Smoke was just beginning to enjoy his stardom as the figurehead for Brooklyn's drill music scene.
Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon (Deluxe) also looks into the Panamanian and Jamaican American rapper's upbringing, which was entangled with gangs and violence, as well as his meteoric rise to fame. One of the surprises in this album is Pop’s willingness to show vulnerability, bringing his larger-than-life personality down to Earth as he contemplates his mortality and isolation.
In "Tunnel Vision," "Hotel Lobby," and "Paranoia," Pop chews out the threats from rival gang members that took aim at his life, refusing to back down from them. Throughout the album, he only briefly acknowledges the ever-present shadow of death. "Look, God gave me a lot in some months, but it could go in a second," he says in "Tunnel Vision." These tracks give the album an ominous overtone that makes Pop's life of fame and wealth feel fragile.
One of the most chilling and affecting songs on the album is "Got it On Me," which is a remix of 50 Cent's 2003 hit "Many Men (Wish Death)." In it, Pop stops to stare at his own mortality and pleads with those who would kill him to have mercy instead.
For the most part, Pop's album serves as an homage to his pleasure-seeking lifestyle, but on his song "Imperfections," he finally mulls through his loneliness, which is a theme that had been kept private for the majority of his brief rap career.
While Pop's initial success was due to his knack for laying down gritty, boastful bars, this album features an impressive range of musical talent. Throughout the 34 tracks, Pop swivels between crooning R&B melodies and his traditional drill style, proving that he excelled in multiple musical disciplines.
The album's sheer number of tracks can make it difficult to find its true gems. It displays a range of styles and tones that make it worth a listen from those who were already Pop Smoke fans, and those who are curious to get to know his music. A couple of the songs feel slapdash and trite, but any fan of hip-hop is sure to find several songs to add to their favorite playlist.
Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon (Deluxe), displays some of Pop's best work. "For the Night," featuring rap stars Lil Baby and DaBaby and a dreamlike beat, seems destined for RapCaviar. Though the three artists each deliver their signature flows, they work together seamlessly to show drill music’s potential as a staple of mainstream music.
In “44 BullDog,” produced by MoraBeats and MobzBeatz, Pop's aggressive, bouncing energy makes the song's turbulent and sharp flow one of the best in the album.
Another song that showcases Pop's talent is "Make It Rain," featuring Flatbush, Brooklyn rapper Rowdy Rebel, will please fans of Pop's earlier work in Meet the Woo and Meet the Woo 2. Rebel manages to top Pop's bravado as he bursts onto the beat using a collect call from prison. This duo’s energy is unmatched in the rest of the album.
Although Pop was not known previously for his melodies, he had a talent for them. His songs "Enjoy Yourself," produced by French Montana, and "She Feelin Nice," produced by Wondagurl branch out from his traditional style and show his knack for melodies that exude summertime bliss.
Pop's array of songs in this album can be dizzying as they swap between rhythms and themes, but some of them stand out in startling clarity for their sexual objectification of women. In songs like "Diana," "Mood Swings," "West Coast S---," and "Creature," Pop's depiction of women mimics the stereotypes that have been repeated in countless rap songs. While it would be unfair to judge Pop alone, since misogyny has long been a toxic part of some mainstream rap music, it is important to call it out as long overdue for change.
As a rap album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon (Deluxe) is a rarity. It appeals to more than just fans of Brooklyn drill music as it includes club anthems, haunting melodies and romantic R&B tunes. In his songs, Pop flaunts his aggressive confidence and then lets his guard down, bringing himself back to Earth. While his earlier albums showed that Pop was still coping with trauma from his tragically short life, his newest work is a sign that he was ready to move on, to grow as an artist and a person.
When asked by Vicky Inoyo of Earmilk, an online music publication, how he wanted people to remember him when his career was over, Pop replied that he would want them to know that "Pop Smoke changed the game." It can never be known what his lifelong impact could have been on the hip-hop industry, but what he accomplished in only 20 years is more than most will do in a lifetime.
Myles Feingold-Black. Hey! I'm Myles, and I'm a junior staff writer here at SCO. If I'm not writing a story, you can probably find me winding through Takoma Park either on a bike or in my running shoes. More »