Review Summary: Long live the Woo.
Posthumous hip-hop albums have come far too often in the past 5 years. From emo rappers such as Lil' Peep, and XXXTentacion, to visionaries like Mac Miller, it’s an alarming trend that we are seeing more in recent years. Not since the impact of the '90s East-West Coast rap war, have we seen this kind of death tear the industry again. As for the albums themselves post-passing, it's been boom or bust. We've seen estates butcher their unreleased vault, such as to XXXTentacion, and then we've seen beautiful pieces that offer closure, like Mac Miller's estate did with Circles. The latter can be also said for the most recent big name in hip-hop, Brooklyn's own Pop Smoke, whose up-and-coming career was taken away by a home invasion gone wrong in February. Sadly, in what is his debut album, "Shoot for The Stars, Aim for The Moon", it offers a real, shining glimpse of what could've been.
The reason why these late pieces are hit or miss, is because these labels try hard to turn unfinished content, into something they assume would be the artist’s intended vision. The end result is fragmented, short 90-second pieces that bring shame to the dead. Fortunately, with Pop Smoke’s album debut, this injustice is nonexistent. Thanks to 50 Cent, Smoke’s inspiration, who took control as executive producer for this near-hour centerpiece, Fiddy’s direction gives this a versatile, organic feel. While nineteen tracks feels a bit much, this doesn't feel like a bunch of unused pieces spliced from the vault either; this feels like an actual rap album. Pop Smoke’s tough, raw raps fit perfectly within the sleek, dynamic sound spanning throughout the compilation. Look to the mellow “Enjoy Yourself”, a jam made for summer with sunlit guitar strings, pairing well with the rapper’s fun verses of free-spirit, and Columbian singer Karol G’s smooth vocals. Or the throwback with the summery “Something Special”, a cool twist on the 2003 classic “Into You” by another Brooklyn prominent in Fabolous. The versatility of this album’s sound works so well with Pop that it’s by far, the best production he’s ever had in a work of his to date. It’s the perfect summer hip-hop album.
Another no-no with posthumous content, has been feature overload. It makes the focus on who passed less evident. We’ve seen how EMPIRE handled XXXTentacion’s posthumous releases in that regard, bloating feature after feature. While you do see a good portion of that in Pop’s debut, it doesn’t derive from the main attraction. You’ve got nearly half the album solely to him, with glossy pieces like “What You Know ‘Bout Love” leading the way. Then with “West Coast Sh*t”, a shiny, piano-driven ode to the West, it balances out between Pop’s raspy raps, Tyga’s clever wordplay, and Quavo’s punchy lines. The boastful “The Woo” is another, with Roddy Ricch and 50 Cent himself pairing nicely with Smoke’s take on his deluxe lifestyle, and the nightly, guitar-driven sound. In fact, 50 Cent’s part in this is honestly one of his best in years, and a nostalgic callback to the one that we came to love from the early days of G-Unit. In truth, the features don’t take away from Pop’s talent, but only further enhance it with how well they fit in together.
The sad reality is, is that with “Shoot for The Stars, Aim for the Moon”, this is going to be the last we see of what Pop Smoke was to be for the future of hip-hop. We don’t know if we are going to get any more posthumous stuff from the former Brooklyn up-and-coming, and if we do, the confidence isn’t keen on coming close to being what this centerpiece was. While there are snoozers like the heavily generic “Dior”, and the boring “44 Bulldog”, those dull roadblocks don’t stop the ball from rolling. 50 Cent’s control to the sound is spectacular, the features contribute to Pop’s glamorous lyricism, and it’s accessible. This is an album that will appeal to hip-hop heads alike, especially a good chunk who didn’t vibe with Smoke of his earlier stuff. This centerpiece does justice and glory for the man, and it’s just really sad that he isn’t here to see the appreciation it got. It's simple, long live “the Woo”.