Looking back at Pop Smokes short but legendary career feels like it was over before it really even started. In the posthumous release of his first commercial album Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon Pop delivers a complete album from start to finish and is a showcase of the lost potential of one of rap’s quickest rising stars. The album is a meld of the grungy bangers of New York’s drill scene, slow jams that help complete any album, and old school call backs paying respect to the history of New York Hip Hop. Though the album has a few flaws that are inevitable when the artist isn’t present for the final cut, it still is a versatile, hard hitting, and ultimately tragic memorial of talent due to the bright future we see go up in smoke.
Bangers vs. Slow Jams
The Album opens hard giving you the trunk bumping bass that made Pop Smoke a sensation in his premier mixtape Meet the Woo, 2019’s summer must own street banger. From the intro “Bad Bitch from Tokyo” all the way to the fifth song “Gangstas” Pop delivers the dark trigger happy lyrics and drill trap his fans have come accustomed to. The following song “Yea Yea” is a pallet cleansing R&B track that is probably my least favorite song on an album I like a lot. The main criticism on his past projects is that his tone and style was mainly violent lyrics and hard drill beats not really showing the artist’s versatility. Aim for the Stars shoot for the Moon shatters that critique by adding R&B and Slow Jams that aren’t forced in and fit with the whole vision of this album as a complete work. “The Woo” is a melodic guitar pick driven song that was made for radio is the mid point and my favorite track on this whole project. In this song we hear Pop sing which leads us into the softer part of the album and deeper into the multifaceted artist he could have been. The heavy R&B section kicks off with “Enjoy Yourself”, “Mood Swings”, “Something Special”, “What You Know Bout Love”, and “Diana” that are all slow jams focused on love and relationships. He changes his focus without sacrificing any of his bravado or any of the over encompassing darkness of underworld glorifying record. This has to be the work of executive producer 50 Cent who was a mentor for the young rapper as well as a huge influence on his previous albums.
50 was the King of gangster rap in the early 2000’s and though his background was from the streets his albums always had slow jams that were centered around relationships and the gentleman-thug persona. “Best Friend”, “21 Questions”, and “Just a Lil Bit” were all R&B slow jams meant to reach a more well rounded group of consumers who didn’t want to only hear about guns, drugs, and war. Shoot for the Moon Aim for the Stars unexpectedly does the same while having tracks about the fast paced life of crime while still rapping about dating and still sounding genuine with all the nasty details. Pop kept to his New York roots influenced by 50 Cent but also pays homage to fellow early 2000’s street icon DMX. Pop’s music uses loud adlibs synced with the drums to deliver effects that make a strong backbone for the beats. Much like how DMX used barking and growling Pop used his coarse baritone voice to add a grit to the album as a whole. Lastly Pop Smoke joins the likes of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur by releasing a posthumous album that went straight to #1 on all the charts. Like their releases this album has a lengthy track list packed with skits, an intro, outro, and a well rounded sound. As a self proclaimed old head this project is a breath of fresh air because it balances paying respect to the Old School while still being unapologetically original.
Plenty of Features, Not Enough Pop
My one critique would be that is simply doesn’t have enough Pop Smoke that could be due the fact that he was murdered six months ago while many of these tracks were being recorded. The album does have a ton of features but some miss the mark while others are a bit too plentiful. Quavo of the rap group Migos is featured on three separate songs and does get a bit repetitive. Lil Baby & DaBaby’s appearance on “For the Night” is good because the artists kept true to themselves and were well balanced with Pop Smoke on the track. In contrast I didn’t like the cameo’s on “Snitching” Quavo leads off and sings the hook while Future closes it out. The problem is Future strays from his style and does a deeper version of his normal flow, this could be in admiration of Pop’s style but it sadly misses the mark. I did like 50 cent’s verse as well as Rowdy Rebel’s jailhouse phone verse because they both are New York rap staples and they delivered on an album that held high importance to the next chapter in the NY rap scene. There are also features from Swae Lee, Roddy Rich, Tyga, KAROL G, King Combs, and Lil Tjay. The features are good quality but it dilutes what brought me here in the first place, Pop Smoke.
With all that being said, I really liked the album. I though that his friends and colleagues cared about him and this project because the final product is great listen bridging old school techniques with the new school flavor. Adding some slow jams really makes this a well rounded album and though there are a lot of features the central message of the piece as a whole is consistent. Sadly, I do fear that we may not hear too much more from Pop Smoke since even this album stretches out what seems to be a small sample size of left over verses and hooks. The rap game tragically loses another young talent to senseless violence and us the rap fans lose out on someone who had enough potential to possibly change it all.