The success of a posthumous album often rides on how much it feels like a posthumous album. Heightened by the grey ethics around a post-mortem release, the results of these projects are polarizing to say the least, ranging from the legacy-affirming Circles to the parodic insult of "Jah on Drums." Regrettably, Pop Smoke's Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon (SFTSAFTM) lands firmly in the latter category: the elephant of the rapper's death is not just in the room, but strutting back and forth in front of the camera, dollar bills flying from its trunk.
On first listen, the gap between Smoke's catalog and the radio-ready SFTSAFTM is vast. Gone are all traces of the rapper's place atop the Brooklyn drill movement, booming drill beats replaced by glitzy trap flair and empty basses. 808Melo, the force-behind-the-boards for Smoke's entire career, is entirely side-lined, appearing on just four of the album's 18 original tracks.
SFTSAFTM's features tell the same story. Instead of contemporaries like Fivio Foreign and Rah Swish, we're given a who's-who of radio rap, with artists like Tyga and Karol G creeping their way onto the track list. Often, Smoke isn't even given the dignity of a first verse, with featured artists muscling their way in ahead of the late rapper on tracks like "The Woo" and "Diana." High-quality anthems with Smoke's collaborators -- Trap Manny's excellent "50K," Rah Swish's explosive "Double It" -- are notably absent.
Yet the rapper's sheer charisma still manages to cut through: "44 Bulldog," "Tunnel Vision," and "Make It Rain" are excellent drill cuts, while "Gangstas" provides a refreshing change of pace for the Brooklyn star. While far from a new joint, it's immensely satisfying to finally hear "Many Men" (here titled "Got It on Me") in HQ, too. Other highlights arrive from the unreleased Huncho Woo mixtape ("Aim for the Moon," "Snitching"), but even these have been tinkered with, with Tyga squeezing his way ahead of the Quavo/Pop duo on "West Coast Shit."
While the album holds merit purely on the basis that it gives us more of Smoke's unreleased catalog, the industry tampering is often too much to bear. Though the first two volumes of Meet the Woo lacked the bombast of Smoke's iconic singles, they demonstrated candor in their representation of the drill heavyweight; SFTSAFTM, by contrast, tarnishes the rapper's visionary style with predatory glitz as everyone jumps for a piece of the pie.
© David Crone /TiVo