• Sam Fleming


It’s pretty hard to make a hit song, but it’s much harder to make a song that actually matters to people. Some artists make top 10 hits for their whole career without making that song which means more than the music. Pop Smoke, on his first full project, made an entire album of songs that transcended the genre and took over an entire city. His newest album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, released five months after his death, shows what an immensely creative and important artist we lost way too early earlier in his career.

The summer of 2019 in New York should be known as the summer of Pop Smoke. His music was inescapable no matter where you were in the city. Every song on Pop Smoke’s debut mixtape “Meet the Woo” became a hit. I don’t remember the last album that you could put on shuffle and no matter which track played there would be a group who would know every lyric, every cadence, and every dance. Coming from Chicago, I’ve witnessed the same thing happen with Chief Keef. One artist pioneering a sound that had been bubbling up for years finally blowing up and taking over an entire city. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Pop Smoke and Chief Keef both took over in the same way: Drill music at its core speaks to everyone.

The night after Pop Smoke’s death in February of this year, the streets of New York were louder than normal. Every car driving past was blaring “Dior” or “Welcome to the party” at full volume, and I wasn’t even in Pop Smoke’s home borough of Brooklyn: a fitting memorial to Pop, whose voice echoed through the streets of New York City for over a year.

It seems like on every posthumous release there are a couple of lines that always hit you right in the feels. On Pop Smoke’s new album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, the line, “God gave me a lot in some months but it could all go in a second,” was the line that hit me. This project showcases Pop Smoke in mid-evolution between Brooklyn-Drill legend and pop stardom. Everything about this project feels like an artist on the brink of having a breakthrough moment and the most heartbreaking part is that he is no longer here to see his success.

There was something unapologetic about Pop’s early music that allowed him to command attention no matter where he was. On the JACKBOYS song, “GATTI,” as soon as Pop Smoke appeared, he completely took over the track, essentially making it his own. There was an entire three-month-long period during this quarantine where the first words my brother said to me every morning would be a Pop quote. I would catch my brother muttering “You cannot say pop and forget the smoke” under his breath while doing homework, or before he went to protests screaming “AK on my shoulder like I’m Malcolm X.” Part of what made pop so immediately lovable is his quotability. His “okay, okay, okay” and “babyyy” transcended their status as ad-libs and became essential parts of any song he was on.

Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon showcases many different sides of Pop Smoke’s music and allows us to see his versatility as an artist. Songs like “Make it Rain” are a throwback to the “MPR” era Pop Smoke sound, and the Rowdy Rebel feature (which was called in from prison) just solidifies it as a new staple for Drill music. The 808s on “Make it Rain” are so strong that I could feel them even through my little laptop speakers as Pop Smoke spits lyrics like, “Make yo momma go whoa there go Pop Smoke. Know the opps can’t stand me.” It also contains one of the best features recorded over a jail phone. Rowdy Rebel adds a whole new energy to every song he’s on even from behind bars.

Most songs on Shoot for the Stars borrow more from mainstream hip-hop than Brooklyn Drill. On the song “The Woo” which features 50 Cent and Roddy Ricch, it’s hard to even tell Pop and 50 apart. Both of their voices fit the mid-2000s beat perfectly and it becomes clear that he was the closest we’ll get to anything as enigmatic as 50 Cent in hip-hop for a long time. The song “Aim For The Moon” is the perfect mesh of a poppier sound with Pop Smoke’s signature growl. Although the signature Brooklyn Drill 808s are there, there’s a great melodic hook delivered by Quavo and it sounds like something that could easily get air time on any hip-hop station.

Although this album showcases the beautiful evolution of Pop Smoke, it is clear that there were still aspects of his sound he was working out. His singing on this project leaves a lot to be desired especially on songs like “Mood Swings.” But, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon falters most when Pop Smoke isn’t on the mic. This album contains an excessive amount of features — 14 in total— most of which are underwhelming. I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to have Quavo featured on any album three times, and a Tyga feature on a Pop Smoke song was the last thing I ever wanted to hear.

The second to last track, “Got it On Me” was yet another punch to the gut. Pop Smoke flips the 50 cent song “Many Men’ and transforms it into a modern anthem. With lyrics like, “I don’t care if you losin still fight back” this song exemplifies what made Pop Smoke special and the unique place he will always hold in rap. The acapella portion at the end of the song is beautiful and the final lyric, “You can run up if you want, cause I got it on me,” is heartbreaking.

Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon honors Pop Smoke’s legacy and shows how much he had left still to give. It’s one of the rare posthumous releases that feel like a real album and has a chance to dominate this summer in much the same way that Meet the Woo dominated 2019. In conclusion: Woo Back Baby.

©2020 by ~quarantine content~.