The twenty-song project contains more filler than substance but the highs are a firm reminder of Pop Smoke’s colossal presence.
The sinister, jolting production on Pop Smoke’s “Welcome To The Party” felt as if it could have been bound to the same fate as Chief Keef’s "I Don’t Like"-- both songs were harbingers of an authentic street voice and both songs faced immediate virality, making it all-too-susceptible for someone like Kanye West or an affiliated party to remix the record while latching on to the emerging sound of the youth. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case, and nor did we end up getting any sort of Kanye West-produced Pop Smoke track at any immediate point after his death (it was apparently saved for DONDA). The fact that the late rapper was signed to Pusha T’s manager foreshadowed that, perhaps, the G.O.O.D Music influence would rub off one way or another.
Maybe, that was what was on display when Pop linked up with Travis Scott on “GATTI,” or when he attempted to replicate Scott’s robotic groans on “Christopher Walking.” Meet The Woo 2, in many ways, followed this template of vocoder-laden bangers with songs like “Shake The Room” ft. Quavo that were positioned for festival stage dominance. His widely palatable take on drill was expanded on and formed the success of his first posthumous album, Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon. Currently, Shoot For The Stars is the highest-selling hip-hop album of 2021, even one year after its release. That’s a testament to what would’ve been Pop Smoke’s trajectory and his own vision. Shoot For The Stars felt like an album that could have been created by Pop Smoke before his tragic passing. A few final touches from his label and 50 Cent is likely what helped the album remain a commercial giant for a year after its release -- a rare feat for an album, let alone a posthumous release. Can the same success be replicated with Faith? Likely not. It’s an album that’s presented as an apostolic gospel from a late rapper, even kicking off with words from his mother explaining the album’s title over “Welcome To The Party.” Again, Steven Victor and Pop’s co-manager Rico Beats brought together a line-up of artists that, for all we know, may have not worked with Pop Smoke otherwise. That’s not to say that they aren’t fans of Pop, but one particular quote from an interview with Nadeska Alexis on Beats1 began circulating moments after the album dropped. “If you notice, I don’t do songs with n***as. My tape ain’t have nobody on it ‘cause I don’t fuck with n***as,” he explained of his featureless debut, Meet The Woo.
No one can truly say whether this statement would stand if he were able to physically bask in his own success. But the outcome of Faith is, well, disappointing. In the past year and some change, a vault of songs from Pop Smoke has leaked on the internet. Many of them were recorded alongside neighborhood friends that ultimately didn’t get their moment to shine on Faith. Songs like “Top Shotta,” originally featuring Eli Fross, initially played towards the adrenaline-rushing sounds pumping through New York City. Due to apparent clearance issues, the song was re-worked with Caribbean-style steel drums provided by the Neptunes and new cameos from Travi, BEAM, and Pusha T, who also appears alongside Kanye West on “Tell The Vision.” The unfortunate part about “Top Shotta” is that, even with star-quality and vibrant new production, it is blatantly obvious that this song’s curation wasn’t Pop Smoke’s doing. His vocals sound mixed for the heavy drill production rather than the upbeat, breezy dancehall-influenced beat, and at moments, his punchlines nearly skip the beat by a millisecond.
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If the album is called Faith, why not put some of that into Pop’s actual vision instead of trying to replicate a Pusha T album? “Top Shotta,” though certainly more bright in its production, feels like an attempt to apply the same concept behind “Exodus 23:1” to a drill banger. Pusha T’s ethos, in that sense, also extends to “Manslaughter” ft. Rick Ross and The-Dream -- another song that faced a similar fate as “Top Shotta” due to sample clearance issues. However, the song benefits from Pop’s take on 50 Cent’s signature rap-sing delivery, which could be the closest thing to hearing Rozay and the Power boss on the same track.
The album, unfortunately, hits its lowest points after the fourteen-song mark. Already filled to the brim with A-List features, there’s a shamelessness in inserting rough Pop Smoke vocals into an 80’s electro-pop record with Dua Lipa. Or bringing Chris Brown into the fold for their take on Ne-Yo’s 2005 hit “So Sick.” It would be far more effective if collaborations alongside artists like Pharrell Williams or Kid Cudi weren’t solely for namesake.
The twenty-song project contains more filler than substance but the highs are a firm reminder of Pop Smoke’s gargantuan presence. “Bout A Million” ft. 21 Savage and 42 Dugg is an excellent glimpse of what could’ve been Pop Smoke’s reign in hip-hop along with the peers of his era. Even though this was likely recorded well after Pop’s passing, there’s synchronicity in the depictions of their upbringing and experiences in different pockets of America. Collaborations alongside Bizzy Banks (even if it is a remix) and Rah Swish are offerings of drill music in an unadulterated way.
With only a fifth of the album consisting of solo tracks, the biggest misstep on Faith is that it’s largely missing the star of the show. Pop’s presence looms on its own. Songs like “PTSD” and even singles like “Dior” became quintessential records in his catalog because they allowed Pop to shine bright without any assistance. No multi-platinum feature to boost streams or force it onto playlist selections -- simply raw, honest rap music that bubbled organically from the streets to the radio.