Does Lil Pump suffer the sophomore slump? Or is the 18-year old rapper only starting to hit his stride?
Every so often, we get to a point in rap where someone is to blame for everything that's currently "wrong" with rap, with few people, if any, bothering to defend or praise them. In the last couple of years with the so-called “Soundcloud” boom, there have been a lot of candidates for that dubious distinction, but certainly the young man at the head of the pack has to be Lil Pump. Hailing from Florida, the 18-year old known as Gazzy Garcia is a household name thanks to the brain-dead simplicity of his single “Gucci Gang” a record your youngest siblings/cousins treated like the hot meme of the moment while older rap heads acted like it was a veritable sign of the apocalypse. Essentially, this makes him the next in line following figures such as Lil Wayne or Soulja Boy -- who in retrospect were either pretty dope in their own way, or were just not worth commenting on past their 15 minutes (respectively). Harverd Dropout is currently our best gauge for which direction Pump will be headed, at a glance. That being said, it's an album that won't do much to change your current perception of Lil Pump. Which, maybe, isn’t a bad thing.
When we get right down to it, Lil Pump’s public persona is that of a total goofball. Interviews with the rapper usually find him saying dopey remarks or generally being disengaged, and his material doesn’t provide any other real insights to him as a person beyond the fact that he enjoys partying and being an asshole. For whatever reason, plenty of writers, rap experts and otherwise get viciously depressed by the notion that a teenager could be so one-dimensional and vapid, despite being fans of a genre such as rap, where plenty of rappers have clearly shown that they are just interested in saying dumb shit over a beat and getting money. You can see this trend going as far back as early rappers like Positive K or Big L, or even southern snap rappers who had their hot minute like Acafool or Young Joc. Some of these men are beloved, hell people are even nostalgic for them. Yes, Lil Pump raps about Xanax, lean, calling up girls who look like kiddie show stars grown up (sometimes the starlets themselves), and not much else. The real trick is that he can keep doing it without sounding monotonous and cliche-ridden (a fairly difficult task).
Production-wise, Pump knows what he’s doing, relying on a steady cast of faces such as Ronny J, CBMix, Danny Wolf, Cubeatz and others to provide him with obnoxious neon bright synths and thudding bass hits. CBMix himself, best known to casual fans for handling production of Chief Keef’s pop-oriented Thot Breaker as well as contributions to Pump & Kanye’s “I Love It” single, takes care of a majority of the production on Harverd Dropout and clearly understands how to make Pump feel in his bag. On “ION,” which reunites Pump with his favorite tag partner in fellow Floridian Smokepurrp, he lays back for a minimal hypnotic video-game sounding melody while “Butterfly Doors” sounds like a muted take on Zaytoven’s eerie keyboard lines. Most of the tracks tend to stay in the more aggressive rave/trap dichotomy, with a few tracks squelching downtempo to clubby "post-ratchet" grooves such as the Lil Wayne collaboration “Be Like Me” or the goofy “Stripper Name” featuring a particularly inspired YG (and a 2 Chainz verse with much less replay value). The other features are fairly known or recognizable; Kanye’s “I Love It” is safe and its favorability depends on how tiring his shtick has become for the listener in the last year, while Wayne sounds perfectly happy to play around in Pump’s dead-eyed muck. Offset and Quavo’s separate features are both perfectly suitable if disengaged, Lil Uzi Vert is electric and eager after a relatively quiet year. However, the focal point of Harverd Dropout is definitely going to be Lil Pump.
Arguably Pump’s greatest strength as a rapper is his ability to ‘zone out’ and overcommit to a track. Every good Pump record is an endless freestyle where the energy never peters out, and he continues to bounce off the walls spouting nonsense as punchlines like some kind of cartoon character sustaining himself on a diet of sugary breakfast cereals and prescription pills. Since his self-titled debut album however, Pump’s managed to greatly improve as a rapper as far as delivery, flow and energy is concerned, finally gravitating away from repetitive hookiness and becoming close to competent as an MC. Lil Pump’s has figured out what works for him and delivered it consistently. Oddly for Harverd Dropout, it’s singles, like “Drug Addicts,” demonstrate the opposite of this, especially when divorced from its goofy music video-- it doesn't offer much of an engaging listen. Contrast that, however, with the likes of “Nu Uh” or “Vroom Vroom Vroom” where you can audibly hear Pump messing around and you can see the potential for improvement; if he wants to capitalize on it.
Many reviews will probably skate around the opportunity to tell you that Lil Pump’s Harverd Dropout is a mindless listen while doing their best to insist it’s beneath them. The fact remains, this album indicates that while there isn’t more to Gazzy Garcia than meets the eye already, he also hasn’t quite fully plateaued as a rapper yet. It's impossible to tell if this album will prevent him from being forgotten like so many rappers who emerge with a viral trend, but he’s certainly making a case that he doesn’t deserve to be swept out with yesterday’s trash just yet. He might not be one of the most engaging or stimulating personalities, but when he puts himself in position, you can’t say that Lil Pump isn’t still worth a couple laughs.