Pop Smoke explores new sounds in his first and final album

Aug. 3, 2020, 1:12 p.m.

The posthumous album of rapper Pop Smoke who died last February was released on July 3. “Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon,” a compilation of 19 songs, displays his versatility and gives listeners an album more starkly unique than his older mixtapes. The mixtape was released through the efforts of Pop Smoke’s manager, Steven Victor, and with the help of co-executive producer, rapper 50 Cent, and other featured collaborators.

Pop Smoke, born Bashar Barakah Jackson, had previously released two well-received mixtapes: “Meet the Woo” and “Meet the Woo 2.” His songs “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior” arguably served as the turning point that placed his name on the map. “Dior” is practically an anthem for New Yorkers, and became a staple in the soundtrack of marches in support of Black Lives Matter last month. 

“Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon” stays true to his original style while branching out into new territory.  The raspy, baritone sound that Pop Smoke is known for appears multiple times on this album, through “Aim for the Moon,” “44 Bulldogs” and “Gangstas.” On the other hand, songs like “For the Night” and “Yea Yea” reveal a new side of Pop Smoke that fans weren’t previously aware of. His voice takes on a softer, mellifluous sound that heavily contrasts the gruff voice and drill music he is known for. Drill music is a style which emerged about a decade ago, and involves rap about the violent realities of living in disadvantaged, high-crime communities.

Pop Smoke had a very close relationship with rapper 50 Cent, who served as both Pop Smoke’s friend and mentor. On “Mood Swings” and “Got it On Me,” Pop Smoke sounds unnervingly similar to the Queens rapper. The latter track in particular seems to have been a tribute to his mentor, referencing lyrics (“Have mercy on me, have mercy on my soul // Have mercy on many men, many, many, many, many men”) from 50 Cent’s “Many Men (Wish Death).” “Mood Swings” embraces a more melodic tone, with Lil Tjay featuring in the second verse. 

The album is feature-packed, with appearances made by Quavo, Tyga, Future, Roddy Rich, DaBaby, the aforementioned 50 Cent and others. For the most part, these features do not add much to the album other than establishing the release as more commercial and mainstream than Pop Smoke’s earlier music. Pop Smoke’s signature drill music and originality carry the weight of the authenticity in the album.

Even with these features, Pop Smoke’s lyrics and intent shine through. 

Various lines in the album are chilling, particularly following Pop Smoke’s recent muder. “I looked my killer in his eyes, yeah, I’m talkin’ face-to-face” from the intro track “Bad Bitch From Tokyo” and the verse “Don’t let my heart turn cold” from “Got it On Me,” one of the album’s final tracks, almost eerily foreshadow his unexpected death.

On Feb. 19, Pop Smoke was shot in his house during a suspected robbery. On July 9, six days after the release of “Shoot for the Stars,” five suspects were arrested and charged. Pop Smoke was just 20 years old. 

With the versatility in his first — and final — record, it’s clear Pop Smoke had so much more to offer. 

The deluxe version of his album dropped on what would have been Pop Smoke’s 21st birthday, July 20. 

Contact Amanda Zhu at amandaz9888 ‘at’ gmail.com.

Amanda Zhu is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.

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