With 21 Savage and Kodak Black exhibiting notable growth on their recent project, does Lil Pump need to follow suit on "Harverd Dropout" to avoid being lost in the shuffle?
At the tender age of 17, Lil Pump attained a feat that many of his predecessors could only dream of with the triple platinum-selling “Gucci Gang.” Where The Sugarhill Gang’s ground-breaking “Rapper’s Delight” remains 2x certified to this day, the Floridian artist’s first foray on to the Billboard Hot 100 left an indelible mark on culture and paved the way for a steady procession of smashes ever since. Recognized as the shortest top 10 hit in over 40 years when it peaked at number #3, this crossover single set the course for Jetski to accumulate a staggering estimated net worth of $8 million. For context, this exceeds the speculated assets of top-tier MCs such as Rakim, MF Doom, Talib Kweli, KRS One and Slick Rick that propelled the genre to new heights in previous decades.
Although it’s by no means news that the industry isn’t a meritocracy, the fact that he has already managed to surpass legends of this calibre in fiscal terms makes for jarring reading all the same. Bolstered by the fact that hip-hop and rap now accounts for one in every three music streams in America, Lil Pump’s appeal didn’t wane for fans, even as the novelty of the track tapered off. Off the back of tracks such as “Eeskeetit,” “Drug Addicts” the surreal Ye’ collab of “I Love It,” and the posthumous team-up with XXXtentacion on “Arms Around You,” Pump never really left the spotlight for any prolonged period in 2018, yet his year remained lingeringly incomplete. Initially set to release on August 17th, 2018 ultimately came and went without the arrival of his delayed sophomore project Harverd Dropout. Parlayed into on-brand Instagram content rather than being formally addressed, it begs the question to as to whether or not the hold-ups are endemic of artistic growing pains on his part or intervention from his label Warner Bros. With that said, his first release of 2019 indicates that his leverage of the public’s attention remains undiminished.
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At the tail end of the year, Pump found himself embroiled in his biggest controversy to date after previewing “Butterfly Doors.” Complete with another hard-hitting trap beat from CBMIX, the trouble all centred on a line and ad-lib that far eclipsed any blowback about his normal drug-addled hedonism. Spearheaded by rapper and actress Awkwafina, the line “Smokin' on dope / They call me Yao Ming 'cause my eyes real low (ching chong)” put the 18-year-old on the docket like never before. Amid accusations of racism and even a diss track from Chinese rapper Lil Yijie, the persona was momentarily placed to one side in order for the man lesser-known as Gazzy Garcia to apologize for his remarks. In the era of “cancel culture,” the track’s impending arrival cast speculation over whether this debacle would have a negative effect on his numbers or postpone its release to allow for changes to be made. Yet, when it arrived on January 4th, the ensuing response displayed no signs of any negative repercussions.
Within an hour of hitting YouTube, the video had amassed 60,000 views and has reached 18 million at the time of writing. With the offending lyrics simply omitted from the final mix rather than redone, “Butterfly Doors” reiterated his commitment to all the mindlessness and inanity that his detractors have chastised him for. Flanked by a fleet of exotic cars with the titular modification and an array of scantily-clad women, Jetski continues to enlist frivolity and excess as the key assets to draw people to his output. The product of both genuine fandom and morbid intrigue of casual listeners alike, his tried-and-tested formula of (give-or-take) two minutes of run time may command an audience, but ultimately brings up the question of sustainability in the long run.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, Lil Pump has been adamant that he was among the originators of the Soundcloud and mumble rap boom that infiltrated the mainstream in recent years. Citing Ski Mask, Lil Uzi, X, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage and close friend Smokepurpp as his fellow pioneers, what’s notable about this contingent of artists is that most have evolved since their embryonic days on the streaming platform. A topical case in point would be the Slaughter King himself, who underwent massive growth and confounded his harshest critics with new project I Am > I Was at the close of the year. In a similar vein, fellow "mumble rapper" and XXL freshman alumni Kodak Black took a more introspective approach for much of his post-incarceration project Dying To Live, and gained plaudits for doing so. By diversifying their portfolio, Kodak and 21 are not only bringing their existing audience on a journey, they're letting the hip-hop community know that they aren't static or stagnant. Lil Pump was enlisted by Black for more of the same on “Gnarly,” a song that Kodak himself revealed he wasn't particularly attached to, it was simply meant to boost his stream numbers. This begs the question, as to whether or not Lil Pump’s typecasting as the "hype" MC will fast-track him to complacency.
One heartening revelation that could point towards a renewed perspective for the rapper is the recent formation of Gucci Gang. Comprised of Jetski, Smokepurpp and Gucci Mane, the ad-hoc supergroup was initially announced for Coachella but it now seems as though they’ll take this project beyond the confines of Indio, CA. Rumoured to be hitting the studio with Scott Storch and Blueface among others, it will be interesting to see whether the presence of wizened veteran Guwop; who famously underwent his own metamorphosis post-prison, and his penchant for mentorship will help to broaden Pump’s horizons in the years to come.
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According to data from social media analytics firm Socialblade and its regression formula, Lil Pump’s YouTube channel is expected to continue in an upward trajectory and garner 38 billion video views by the year 2024. Yet if these resources existed back in 2004, it would’ve doubtlessly estimated that Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, Petey Pablo, The Ying Yang Twins and other crunk stalwarts would’ve remained as popular as ever. After all, even the most sophisticated algorithm cannot account for changes in taste and whilst his sound holds sway over his demographic at the moment, this dominance is tenuous at best; there’s always a new innovation or trend lurking around the corner.
Since its earliest days, Hip-hop is a genre that has adhered to the ethos of destroy & rebuild, and history teaches us that fads can be swept away along with those who refuse to evolve with the times. While Lil Pump still has fans and critics on tenterhooks as we await Harverd Dropout, the output therein will be pivotal in informing us whether he’s heeded the progression of his contemporaries or will continue to cater solely to his preexisting audience. Although either will be profitable and keep him in the limelight in the short-term, mirroring the growth of Savage, Kodak or Ski Mask is far more conducive to leaving a legacy, whereas the latter option could be a fast "route to the bottom."