It was a bittersweet moment for fans when Pop Smoke’s album ‘Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon’ was released on July 3, 2020. The album comes almost five months after the tragic death of the artist during a home invasion in February 2020. Following the tragedy, acclaimed rapper and producer 50 Cent finished the album for Pop Smoke, by incorporating a range of features from hmself, DaBaby, Quavo, Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, Swae Lee and more, therefore ensuring the album reached its deadline. What followed the release was a sharp rise to success with an array of hits reaching the charts and the album itself debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Posthumous albums, where an album is released after the artist has passed, have often made a huge impact on the music industry. When an artist sadly passes away there is frequently an influx of sales and streams from their music as fans realise there will be no more music from them. Music journalist Dan Hancox describes the music industry as becoming “increasingly skilled at selling the work of the deceased to us – or, increasingly, selling it back to us; having repackaged the things we all bought the first time round.” From Tupac, Mac Miller, Juice Wrld, Michael Jackson, David Bowie and more, there has been a long list of artists whose music consuption has skyrocketed upwards after they have gone.
The success of ‘Shoot for the Stars’ was not a surprise to those following Pop Smoke’s rise to fame. With an array of hip-hop features added to the album and a sound that is best described as US rap meets UK beats, notably from the influence of East London producer 808Melo, fans were lapping up the tracks from the immensely talented artist. Four of the songs reached the top 40 of the Hot 100 and were the most streamed songs on the album; ‘Dior’, ‘For The Night’ featuring Lil Baby and DaBaby, ‘Mood Swings’ featuring Lil Tjay and ‘The Woo’ featuring 50 Cent and Roddy Ricch. All four songs amounted to an incredible 1.12 billion combined streams in the United States.
While the standouts of the album were identified in the first few weeks after it’s release, as time goes on it’s clear that each of Pop Smoke’s tracks tend to rotate in the spotlight as a new song gains popularity. While there is no one reason for the changing momentum of each track, the TikTok trend culture certainly plays a huge part in the ongoing rise of Pop Smoke’s final album. ‘What You Know Bout Love’ is a prime example of this as the hit took off after the introduction of the popular dance that accompanied the song on the app. The dance made such an impact on the song’s popularity that a montage of fans filming themselves doing the dance challenge was included in the music video, along with features of Pop Smoke himself. Along with the dances, the likes of ‘Mood Swings’ was a prominent feature in TikTok comedy sketches that uses the riff from the lyrics. TikTok US music editorial lead William Gruger describes Pop Smoke’s music as inspiring a “breadth of creativity from the TikTok community throughout this past year.”
Compared to the likes of hip-hop great A$AP Rocky, there’s no denying Pop Smoke was an artist on the rise. Born as ‘Bashar Barakah Jackson’ and raised in Brooklyn, Pop Smoke only ventured into the music scene at the end of 2018. Originally hoping to play as a professional basketball player, he abandoned the dream after discovering he had a heart murmur. In 2019 Pop Smoke was well on his way to becoming an icon with the release of his tracks ‘Welcome to the Party’ and ‘Dior’ which lead into the release of his second mixtape ‘Meet The Woo 2’ on February 7, 2020.
Although Pop Smoke’s latest album has a heavy influence of the Brooklyn drill sound that he is known for, it was his slow R&B tracks that took centre stage upon its release. Not surprising to manager Steven Victor however as he describes a young Pop Smoke who played a bunch of R&B tracks to him to describe the influences on his music style. It’s clear those influences have pulled through as his most notable R&B tracks ‘For The Night’ and ‘What You Know Bout Love’ have proved to be huge successes from the album. With a recognisable baritone voice, Pop Smoke’s music provides a unique sound to the classic hip-hop scene. On one hand you have the soulful R&B tracks that make the rounds on the charts and TikTok trends, and on the other you have that underground hip-hop vibe with tracks like ‘Tunnel Vision’ and ‘Make It Rain’ with the latter featuring a creative jail phone verse from Rowdy Rebel.
A deluxe version of ‘Shoot for the Stars’ was released on July 20, 2020, which is the day that would have been Pop Smoke’s 21st birthday. Following its debut on the Billboard 200, the album was replaced by another posthumous album – ‘Legends Never Die’ by Juice WRLD – who passed away at the age of 21 in December 2019. The close proximity of the albums success highlighted a sad reality of the hip-hop scene where young up-and-coming artists were passing away far too soon, with hip-hop musicians such as Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle also making the list.
While some of Pop Smoke’s success can be attributed to the shock of his death, there is no doubt the artist has a talent that shined throughout his music. With many albums riding off the success of one smash hit, it’s evident this is not the case for Pop Smoke as fans continue to discover new songs from the album that make their way to the charts. Although we won’t be seeing any new music from the artist, we most definitely haven’t heard the last of him as new remix’s and undiscovered hits emerge from what he has created in his short time in the music industry.
It can be a difficult time for fans listening to the makings of an artist that is no longer present, however many can find comfort in the fact that no matter how quickly their life was cut short, the artist will always live on through the music and perspective that they shared with the world.