When news broke of Pop Smoke’s passing a little over a year ago, one of many thoughts ran through my mind; that thought was based on the details about how and why? As one who has been located on a social channel through another user having the ability or software to locate another based on IP address, seeing that he was slowly watched over through his social channels makes the world scarier and adding technology to the list of enemies, falling right under our anguish and doubts with faith. Upon hearing Pop Smoke’s debut album, posthumously released, one could easily hear the young rapper’s talent and exponential growth from his mixtapes. He’s had his fair share of criticism, and though it may not be warranted – it has never benefited Pop to have a plethora of features scribbled throughout. In his follow-up to Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, Faith, continues to remind us of that talent albeit the features and production choices making or breaking the overall need to want to return.
When the features for the track list were unveiled the day before the release date, the amassed hype grew exponentially amongst fans from various communities. On the surface level, they appeal to a broader audience. But with his untimely passing still generating attention, I can’t help but think this was some charitable ploy to get artists he probably wouldn’t work with immediately based on his style and eclectic energy; The Neptunes, and Dua Lipa in particular. Like the eclectic list of features, the album delivers enough obtuse energy you might ponder the intentions behind this project.
The construction of Faith feels like a poor representation of Pop Smoke’s artistry, where at times it feels like they forcing marketability in pop music. Pop Smoke has shown in the past that he is limited when it comes to creating pop records, despite releasing some quality ones. Faith is like if his manager, Steven Victor, studied the first Michael Jackson posthumous album and didn’t learn from the mistakes on it. It’s a butchery of the work that has been recorded from Pop Smoke. You can sense it in some tracks, like “Demeanor” where Dua Lipa’s vocal and performance sounds exactly as it was, a forced add-on.
Fortunately, they allow Pop Smoke to shine as an individual, despite a good chunk of tracks feeling like it would have been best to have left them in the vault. The oddity behind it makes it feel like a beautiful exploration into new territories Pop Smoke had the capabilities to branch into, despite falling short from most of these featured collaborators; especially in the features and partially the production.
Pop Smoke’s keen dominance in New York Drill and Gangster Rap has been a focus for him and us as listeners who saw an ascension in this beautiful hybrid that mirrored two different cultures. And for the most part, the production has great fluidity, but some are pure head-scratchers. “Top Shotta,” for example, is the track produced by legendary production trio/duo The Neptunes, and while the production is fine, the reggae-bounce nature doesn’t mesh well with Pop Smoke’s flows and lyrical style. This goes for the various directions this album takes with his recorded products, like the off-brand and aforementioned “Demeanor” and “Manslaughter,” which takes too many creative choices with the mixing. The Dream doesn’t usually deliver mediocre or yawn-inducing performances, but it begs to differ on “Manslaughter.”
It starts to become a nuisance because you’re delivered, on a silver platter, a project with a minimal margin for error, and it barely leaves that margin. You’re more likely to see the Yankees blow a 5 run lead in the last two innings than think these established veteran rappers would deliver something of substance, but here we are. They orchestrate features like Pusha T, Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, and Chris Brown, and the final products are a bunch of tracks that you’re more likely to skip if you have high expectations for them. Ironically, the new class of rappers outperforms the veterans, bringing their all in tracks where the production elevates their strengths, like on “Genius” with Lil Tjay and Swae Lee or up-and-coming New York rapper Bizzy Banks on “30.”
The moments the album steers itself toward Pop Smoke solo tracks or these tracks with the new class, we are delivered the best tracks on Faith. Other tracks lack an essence of life, mostly because there has to be some empathy to hop on a record and do so with a sense of understanding. “Demeanor” featuring Dua Lipa and “Tell The Vision,” are prime examples of this outside of “Top Shotta.” Dua Lipa and Pop Smoke are some of the most nonsensical pairings between two artists that should have never happened. Dua Lipa’s overly glitzy pop falsetto on “Demeanor” doesn’t compliment Pop Smoke’s overtly twisted and rough ways on the microphone and it’s apparent. The same goes for “Tell The Vision,” which teased potential new, and of quality, verses from Kanye West and Pusha T, only to be left with blue balls from a weak intro and a redundant verse, respectively.
It’s always been evident that Pop has always had the talent, and with what has been said to be in the vault you’d expect better from the producers and orchestrators. But ultimately they took the opportunity to cash in on his legacy to find a happy medium between tracks for the fans and those to reel in the money. And though there is minimal-moral problems with it, you’d think they’d try harder to deliver something of worth, opposed to continuous snooze fests that will easily have you turning this off quicker than the stove when the pasta is burning.