Album Review: Pop Smoke – ‘Shooting For The Stars, Aiming For The Moon’

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This week we heard the presumably final, daunting notes from the late-great Pop Smoke on his posthumous debut album, Shooting For The Stars, Aiming For The Moon. 

Pop Smoke was tragically murdered in Hollywood Hills in February, and since then there has been heavy speculation surrounding his estate and of his releases posthumously. It wouldn’t be until months later that 50 Cent would publicly announce his willingness to executive produce Pop Smoke’s rumoured debut album, enlisting the likes Roddy Ricch and DaBaby to add the finishing touches on the unfinished project. Steven Victor, CEO of Victor Victor Worldwide and the manager of Pop Smoke, confirmed in May that the debut album was being completed and was set to release in the summer of 2020. Pop Smoke’s music had already been speculated to be in heavy rotation this summer, regardless of the state of perpetual quarantine we are living in, and this album only added fuel to this fire. This is undeniably the summer of Pop Smoke and it’s truly an incalculable tribulation that he is not here to see that come to full fruition. 

The album itself is a skeleton of the artist Pop Smoke was shaping up to be; a blueprint for the long lineage of success he was building-out before his passing. Though he rose through the ranks of Brooklyn drill with his dark, ominous flows and hyper-realistic imagery, that is not entirely the consistency of Shooting For The Stars, Aiming For The Moon. What is compiled on this record is a metamorphosis of Pop Smoke; he had started the process of figuring out how to radically transform his style without losing the grit that defined his legacy. This is much like the transition 50 Cent delivered from his original unreleased debut, Power of The Dollar to his eventual smash-hit debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Pop Smoke had discerned how to create records that gave the aurora of “21 Questions” and “Many Men”, which he did a rendition of on the album with “Got It On Me”, and had taken the first integral steps towards showing the entire worldwide his larger-than-life stature. 50 Cent’s accention had laid out a direction for Pop Smoke’s career, and the similarities between the two became unequivocally clear on this record. The phrase “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” is a perfect encapsulation of the unfortunate events that transpired within the life and death of Pop Smoke, something that 50 Cent touched on in his New York Times article, “What you see when you talk to me is what happens when you get rich. What happened to Pop is what happens when you die trying.” This encapsulating quote provides commentary on a legacy that is beyond the bounds of reason, even the phrase “posthumous debut” is a disconcerting oxymoron.

The album would have served as a fantastic jumping off point for Pop Smoke to delve into the depths of the lineage of artists like Ja Rule, 50 Cent, and DMX. There is a consistent mix of different genres, styles, and creative choices that speak to the inherent artistry Pop Smoke organically cultivated. He was talented beyond the bounds of convention, and though this album is an unfinished sketch of his vision, that is enough to theorize how stellar his path to stardom would have been. Shooting For The Stars, Aiming For The Moon suffers from the finality of the project, though at moments it seems as though Pop Smoke and his team had fully-fleshed out his creative vision, at others it felt as though the process had just started. We are permanently judging an album, and an artist that never truly had the time to instill the creativity that so beautifully revealed itself throughout this project. There are sentiments of  completed ideas and progressions throughout the project, with records like “Gangstas” and “44 BullDog” arising as some of the pinnacle moments of the album. Though Pop Smoke was not given the opportunity to finish creating this project, it’s obvious his team did the best they could to stitch together the cohesive and exploratory project that Pop Smoke was inching towards completing. 

Pop Smoke’s legacy has been beyond solidified, even before Shooting For The Stars, Aiming For The Moon. All this album did was show us a perfect, succinct preview of what could have been for the kid from Canarsie. The album has moments of pure ingenuity, and others that obviously had not been completed by Pop Smoke in his time on this earth. Regardless, Shooting For The Stars, Aiming For The Moon is a testament to a star fallen too soon. 

Long Live Pop Smoke.