Collective testimony on the life and potential of a rap great...

Pop Smoke’s loss is all the more affecting for what he leaves behind. A talent in ascendance, his sudden, shocking death came at an appallingly early age, cutting him down before he had a chance to truly unpack his gifts.

Debut album ‘Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon’ arrived last year, testament both to his lyrical ability, and his broader standing within hip-hop culture. Since then, a steady stream of features have trawled the bulging vaults, before the commencement of a second posthumous album.

Offering 20 tracks, ‘Faith’ is an attempt to channel Pop Smoke in 360. Less an album, and more a compilation of perspectives, it feels like the process of collating testimony for a trial – each story is different, some overlap, and in there we find the truth.

Moving from gospel to street hustle via huge pop moments and some stellar collaborations, ‘Faith’ contains some truly excellent moments. To hear Pusha T and Kanye West combine on a Pop Smoke track – over a Neptunes beat, no less – is simply a moment for the history books. That Push includes a sly diss towards Tyler is the icing on the cake.

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Gospel driven opener ‘Good News’ sets an elegiac tone, and the feeling of collective salute permeates ‘Faith’. The excellent ‘8-Ball’ matches Middle Eastern tones to an elastic bassline, while Kid Cudi’s solemn lyricism discusses loss, and the luck of the draw. Future dominates on ‘Mr. Jones’, and his voice seems to bring out fresh nuance in Pop’s punchy tones. - It’s not all stellar guests, though. ‘Beat The Speaker’ and ‘Coupe’ are essentially freestyles carved out into individual tracks; a sign of the strength available in those posthumous studio tapes, they illustrate Pop Smoke as a lyrical battler, someone who was constantly pushing himself further and further.

Hugely broad, not everything on ‘Faith’ lands. When the tracklisting was released, some fans raised eyebrows at Dua Lipa’s inclusion – ‘Demeanor’ shows the potential Pop had to cross over, but as a song it’s one of the weakest on here, the closest the record comes to being predictable. The bubbling ‘Spoiled’ also feels a little throwaway, with only a Pharrell appearance serving to raise the temperature.

But perhaps that’s churlish. Constructed with love, care, and attention, ‘Faith’ is a well-intended salute that contains some fantastic music. The spectre of the posthumous album has haunted hip-hop since the exploitation of 2Pac’s legacy, with fans remaining divided over their merits. ‘Faith’ succeeds by offering not ony an elegiac portrait of Pop Smoke, but also a vision of what he could have become.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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