Greetings, Glancers! Since starting out on this 2020 journey, a small number of the artists who I had absolutely zero knowledge of at the outset would come to be peripherally known to me by the time I got around to hearing their output. Maybe it was seeing their name in a magazine, on a poster, or someone else recommending them. It’s now 2023 and I still have no clue what Pop Smoke is. Is is a band? A solo artist? Is it indeed pop, or R’n’B, or Rock? I have no clue. Lets see if the album cover tells me anything.
It seems to be a flower? A rose? A chrome rose, shot in darkness? I suppose it suggests darkness shrouding something beautiful? But if I’m trying to guess the genre of music, it could be anything from Pop to Metal. Ah well, lets just get on with it.
It didn’t take me long to learn about the tragic story of Pop Smoke, or Bashar Jackson. Gunned down at the stupidly young age of 20 it’s another story of a talent taken too soon. I didn’t read too much about the details concerning his life or his death, but this knowledge does inevitably lend a certain context and tone to the album. It’s a Hip Hop album and it isn’t wildly different to the other Hip Hop albums I’ve listened to on this journey, at least to my untrained ears. It stays away from the Sci-Fi music and surface imagery of those albums, instead honing in on a more traditionally modern sound. But lyrically, once again, it’s song after song about violence, sex, and wealth. While Auto-tune rears its inevitable ugly head, there isn’t as much of it on Shoot For The Moon, and the vocals are likely the biggest distinction. Smoke has, for lack of a better term, a smokey voice. It’s deeper, rougher than any of the rappers I’ve heard on the 2020 list. We do get the expected host of guest voices, but none of those sink to the annoying depths of some of the failures from the last few Hip Hop albums I’ve listed to.
With that being said, I struggle to write anything else about the album. I can’t relate to it, and it’s not my kind of music. The Production is excellent and it’s more to my tastes than any of those Lil Whatever The Fuck Is Name Is. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s more of an introspective sounding album, but it’s less of a party album than My Turn or Eternal Atake. It still has clear, defined beats, you can still dance to it, cruise to it, chill to it, but it doesn’t feel like the sort of thing which is filled with room filling bangers. It’s more of an album to slouch in a couch to, drenched in low purple neon lights, while other people dance around you to a completely different song. In that sense, it’s an album I could see myself having on the background without giving it too much attention. My Turn or Eternal Atake I would have to switch off, this could just be there doing its thing without getting on my nerves.
It’s not completely annoyance free – some songs such as 44 Bulldog have a lot of annoying vocal tics and shouts which add nothing. Do it once or twice and it would be cool, but on that particular song these tics are incessant from start to finish and are like an annoying child screaming for attention when you’re trying to record an important Zoom call with a client. Compare that to Gangstas which has its fair share of this bullshit, but it never becomes the focal point and the brooding piano riffs are not harmed by the childish grunting and trilling.
Until Hip Hop becomes less about beats and more about… something more, it’s not something I’m ever going to be able to call myself a fan of. I realise that’s a bit of a ridiculous statement akin to saying ‘until Metal becomes less about loud guitars I won’t be a fan’. But I know Metal is incredibly diverse. I assume Hip Hop is more diverse than what I have heard, but when the focus is on beats then I struggle to care. It’s why I don’t care much for EDM or Dance music in general. I need something more, or at the very least something else. I consider Public Enemy and Eminem as two of my favourite artists because they offer more. Their music is almost never focused on beat, and as such their beats are more potent to me. Shoot For The Moon has plenty of potent moments and a lot of the music is darker and more interesting to me than some of the other albums I’ve heard, but then I remember that the lyrics are still focused on crap I don’t care about that the flow and the smarts of individual lines get lost. As mentioned, if I don’t think about it too much, this is a perfectly average album that I can play for some base ambience, but it’s not anything more.
Sales: 4. It has been very successful so far, both in streams and traditional sales.
Chart: 4. I was going to say that I was surprised by how popular this was, given the fact that I didn’t know it existed – but then I remembered I’m both old and do not listen to any kind of chart show/playlist/whatever there is now to tell you what’s popular. Having listened to it, I don’t really understand why it has been so popular versus any other Hip Hop album. I don’t want to attach the whole posthumous thing, but I imagine that had an impact.
Critical: 3. Again, it’s difficult to separate critical thought from the guy’s death, and almost every review speaks of his talent and where he could have gone next. The temptation is always to imagine an improvement, but it’s equally possible he peaked here.
Originality: 2. Not my wheelhouse, but to these untrained ears it doesn’t sound drastically different from a lot of similar music, nor does it seem to be breaking boundaries.
Influence: 3. Too early to say of course, but the fact is that when a young artist dies it does give them a certain mystique which is often more appealing to the listeners and up and comers.
Musical Ability: 3. Sure.
Lyrics: 3. We know it’s going to be about sex and being rich, so what I’m looking for is, at the very least, some funny lines or double entendres about fucking. There’s one or two in there.
Melody: 2. A week after my last listen and I can’t remember a single melody. But there wasn’t anything annoying during my listens.
Emotion: 2. On face value, there isn’t much. Go to 3 or even 4 based on the context surrounding the album.
Lastibility: 3. It’ll last given its success and context.
Vocals: 3. The guest vocals aren’t particularly strong, Smoke himself is much more to my tastes.
Coherence: 3. I may be wrong, but I think this was likely not the final product which Smoke would have wanted, and as such maybe lacks the coherence of what could have been. The context again lends its own retroactive coherence.
Mood: 3. Sure.
Production: 4. Good.
Effort: 3. Fine.
Relationship: 2. Little to me to relate to.
Genre Relation: 4. Sounds by and large like most of the other recent hip hop albums I’ve heard.
Authenticity: 3. I’ll allow a 3.
Personal: 3. This is a very low 3, given the fact that I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I equally can’t say I disliked it. I naturally score high.
Miscellaneous: 3. Again, context pushes this up from maybe a 2.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Shoot For The Moon