A fantastic album from the late rap icon...

Executively produced by 50 Cent and featuring production from no less than 21 producers and 11 features across the album’s 19 tracks (including a special appearance from 50 himself) 'Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon' is the first posthumous release from slain New York rapper: Pop Smoke.

Bashar Barakah Jackson, known on the stage as Pop Smoke, used his experiences on the streets of NYC to define his style. Flawlessly mixing his established smoky voiced lyricism with dark UK drill beats brought to life by British producer 808Melo, Pop made the sound his own and was an influential leader of the scene. Unfortunately, he was silenced before he could truly meet his full potential. Cut down aged just 20 years old and robbed of what would have been a continuation of his developing maturity and commitment to musical expression. We will never see Smoke in his prime. He left us with only three albums and a handful of guest appearances. We can only imagine what the future had in store for this talented young artist.

‘Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon’ opens up with a 48 second intro: 'Bad Bitch From Tokyo'. Pop builds himself up with a series of lip curled ‘yeahs’ before jumping into the track with only 34 seconds to spare. His voice is contrasting, cutting deep with its gravel-throated roughness but also soothing and easy on the ears. In the background, the ad-libbed harmonies show the first signs of the autotune that will dominate the album.

Eerily predicting his death less than a minute into the record, growling over the thick drumbeats, he states: "I look my killer in his eyes, I’m talkin’ face to face...." It’s hard to hear Pop Smoke speak on his own death from beyond the grave, especially when his death is so fresh in our minds.

The album continues with the taut melody of ‘Aim For The Moon’, featuring Pop Smoke joined by Quavo from Georgia trap trio Migos. The two artists work well together, and the chemistry is astounding. If the intro didn’t quite set the scene for the rest of the album, AFTM certainly does. It is a combination that not only works, it works incredibly well.

Pop Smoke cited 50 Cent as one of his main influences, we can see this on show here with the ‘Many Men (Wish Death Upon Me)’ chorus of ‘Got it on Me’ and 50’s ‘What up Gangsta’ on the track ‘Yea Yea.’ Not forgetting the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ Mobb Deep sample on ‘Gangstas’ as Smoke’s mesmerizing flow almost seems to imitate the young Curtis Jackson. There’s something for everyone here, well, not quite everyone. I’d be quite shocked to hear my Nan bumping this out of her Smart fortwo. Impressed yes, surprised, also yes.

2020, while being one of the more memorable years for all the wrong reasons, has had more than its fair share of great rap albums and this 19-track effort from Pop Smoke, certainly deserves a position close to the top of that list. It is so easy to reach in blindly and pull out a well-produced track with a decent guest appearance and Smoke at his lyrical best.

However, the album doesn’t stray too far from the genre, it isn’t by any means innovative. I’m sure if Pop was alive, he would have taken the record in a different direction with less digitisation of the vocals. The use of autotune on almost every track can become overpowering at times, but it all depends on your taste. To mercilessly reference 50 Cent on The Game’s track. You either ‘Hate it or Love it.’

8/10

Words: Mike Milenko

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