Pop Smoke’s posthumous debut, Shoot for the stars, aim for the moon, may not be duplicable. It was well the Hip-hop event of a pandemic year that produced hit singles, even when fans of his mixtape work rebelled against everything, from the first artwork created by Virgil Abloh to a variety of collaborations, on which the mentor and executive producer 50 Cent (who helped build the project after the tragic murder of Pop Smoke in February 2020) and, uh, Jamie Foxx (in the deluxe edition). No matter: The massive, award-winning double platinum success of Shoot for the stars felt appropriate for a 20-year-old aspiring rapper who lost his life before taking full advantage of the unique amalgamation of Chicago, New York and British drill styles that had made him a star.
In contrast, trust arrives under completely different circumstances. As the world reopens for business – apparently the Delta variant – the gilded class of mainstream rap is rushing to drop long-standing works. There are acclaimed projects from Tyler the Creator and Brockhampton and rumors of new work from Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Cardi B. There are a crucial debate about whether trust is really intended for the sake of Pop Smoke’s legacy or is just a cash cow for his property and his label. When listening to the results, it feels to an audience whose attention may be elsewhere.
trust has its share of impressive moments. Dua Lipa adds a plum verse to the shabby disco pop of “Demeanor”. “What’s Crackin ‘” with Takeoff suggests that a Pop Smoke and Migos band could be a classic superstar team that never existed. Then there is “Spoiled,” where pop hovers over Pharrell Williams’ inimitable keyboard melodies; it’s a nice moment, even if the texts that women call “spoiled” sound a bit mean. Pusha T rhymes with “Tell the Vision”: “Tyler got the album of the year … for now / But pop is about to happen, I see platinum in the clouds.” Pusha T could be right: whether “real trappers” like it or not, it is possible trust will climb the same commercial heights as Shoot for the stars, aim for the moon.
Still, the fierce intensity that fueled Pop’s breakthrough in 2019, Meet the woo (and to a lesser extent Meet the Woo 2), is inevitably reduced when Rick Ross, Chris Brown, Future, and too many others to mention here, forego mic time. Meet the woo found Pop hammering through one drill string at a time produced by 808Melo, resulting in 30 minutes of charged passion. In contrast, trust consists of audio files that have been put together by producers and unit managers to create something coherent, audible and sometimes even entertaining, but not quite dazzling. Maybe it isn’t an Anthony Bourdain document created with artificial intelligencebut it still feels a little weird.