Album Review: Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon
This article originally appeared on Sydney's personal blog, Syd Honcho, and was re-published with permission.
In today’s hip-hop industry, which is inundated with a myriad of rappers working vigorously to create names for themselves, Pop Smoke had already proven himself to be part of an elite group of rising stars well on their way to changing the course of the game. Shortly after his untimely death, I wrote a heartfelt piece on Pop Smoke’s significant impact on the New York hip-hop scene, despite being a newcomer to the space. Most of Pop Smoke’s fans and supporters recognized his singularity, even as he was still trying to define himself. His sound was distinct in comparison to his counterparts, and his charm was a preliminary indicator of his undeniable capacity for star power. Unfortunately, his sudden demise left much to the imagination and the world pondered his uncharted potentiality that had yet to be acknowledged.
Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon is Pop Smoke’s debut album that was released posthumously. Pop Smoke was 50 Cent’s up-and-coming protégé, so it comes as no surprise that Mr. Cent himself took the lead in executive producing the album. Following the Meet the Woo series, fans have been eager to hear the work Pop Smoke completed prior to his death. The release of this album serves as a final tribute to the Woo and a much-needed breath of fresh air during this troublesome summer.
Given the circumstances (and the challenges that often accompany posthumous albums), the album itself is definitely satisfactory. In a way, however, there’ is also a theme of incompleteness throughout the album that mirrors the abrupt end to the Woo’s life. Even when people seem to die suddenly, sometimes it seems that they have an innate sense that their earthly experiences might be cut short. In the album’s intro track, “Bad Bitch from Tokyo,” he raps, “I look my killer in the eyes / I’m talking face to face,” and these lyrics almost seem to indicate an understanding of external threats looking to remove his livelihood. An instinctive feeling that foreshadows his eventual demise. In this case, the
album’s introduction sets a precedent for the entire project and allows fans to use what’s given to reach their own conclusions.
Throughout Shoot for the Moon, listeners are given a very well-rounded sonic experience; Pop Smoke covers a variety of bases, ranging from on-brand songs about hustling and killing, to sultry R&B tracks that display a previously unexplored side of Pop Smoke. There are a few tracks that explore his signature drill sound, such as the catchy “44 BullDog” and “Make It Rain” (which also features local NYC hip-hop treasure Rowdy Rebel). Equally important are the songs that show Pop Smoke’s experimentation with a softer, more melodic sound, such as “Something Special” and “What You Know Bout Love.” It’s clear that Pop Smoke had only scratched the surface of his creative potential and musical expression.
This album was carefully and thoroughly crafted, and 50 Cent’s influences are prevalent throughout the entire project (See: “Gangstas”). Compared to Pop Smoke’s previous releases, though, this album places a heavy emphasis on seeking mainstream appeal, which is evident through the high-profile features and the deviation from his typical sound. Given, it seems that there were a lot of incomplete songs and verses that needed features to finalize the project, but I’m not comfortable with assuming the album was completely authentic to Pop Smoke’s brand and sound. It almost seems as if the most popular rappers at the moment were asked to add verses to his songs, disregarding whether the collaborations would even be a good fit. While the album is projected to perform well on the charts, there’s still a question mark as to whether this project is an honor to his true legacy.
There’s a reason “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior” gained traction so quickly; Pop Smoke’s signature sound attracted fans by being innovative and different. Those songs were testaments to his Brooklyn roots and indicators of the journey that he was only beginning. It feels like Pop Smoke’s fans were given a watered down version of what industry executives and labels wanted his sound to be. I’m doubtful that a project completed by Pop Smoke himself would have excluded artists that are integral to Brooklyn’s local drill scene like Fivio Foreign and included Tyga and Swae Lee instead. Disappointingly, the album has almost been painted as an opportunity to profit off Pop Smoke’s memory.
Regardless, projects can be multidimensional. That’s the beauty of art: The mere presence of dualities and complexities ensures that creative projects are likely to remain within the scope of significant discourse for years to come. I’m earnestly grateful for the glimpse into Pop Smoke’s creative vision and the chance to bask in his unquestionable talent. Although the musical shift was slightly unexpected, I’ve enjoyed witnessing the endless possibilities within his repository. “Got It on Me” is a well-executed remake of 50 Cent’s classic song, “Many Men” (which happens to be one of my favorite songs by 50 Cent), and “Diana” pulls off an impressive sample of the 90s R&B song “Cheers 2 U” (another one of my favorite songs). Including “Dior” as a bonus track allows fans to appreciate the energy that attracted most of us to Pop Smoke in the first place. Holistically, the album allows fans to reach their final conclusions about what Smoke’s life and career could have been.
The album is nicely curated overall and radiates replay value, especially for the summertime. As the world bids its final farewell to the Woo, it’s evident that this album will remain close to our hearts as we accept the loss of one of hip-hop’s brightest talents and treasure the remnants of his talent and flair. From Canarsie to Flushing, Pop Smoke has once again successfully delivered a work of art that will capture the hearts of New Yorkers and provide a sense of consolation in what has been a chaotic year.
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